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Broadcasting! That’s what Twitter is all about! Right, you just throw your message out there and see what sticks. It’s like testing spaghetti!

Well, hold on a second…maybe the spaghetti method works if you’re Zappos or Starbucks and you already have over 1.5 million followers. But if you’re just starting out on Twitter or trying to get people to engage, you have to do more than just broadcast. You have to join the conversation and talk to people instead of at them. If you don’t, you’ll get nothing but big fat unfollows.

The only place to start is with relevance. Relevance is perhaps the most important attribute in pushing your message to customers. Particularly online, customers don’t pay attention to irrelevant conversation. They don’t spread the word if they can’t relate. I’m not dying to chat about the new airplane like design of the new 2012 Pagani Huayra sports car, so I’m not a valuable follower. But I know plenty of people who are stoked to share it with their friends and family and perpetuate the brand and product. They are who you want.

Relevance is king, in advertising, content, and especially in social media. You must remain relevant to cut through the noise, and reach your target audience, and this often means sharing information from a variety of sources – not just your stuff. Once you have their attention you’ll be able to inject your sales pitch and product offerings here and there. But the key to success in social media is 80% interesting and relevant conversation and 20% sales.

So what do I share?

Well first you need to know your audience. What kind of information is relevant to your target demographic that is also fairly relevant to your product or service offering? Is there a Twitter hash tag on the subject?

For example if you’re a clothing company you may join the conversation about the given season on hashtags like #heatwave or #AC. Share links offering tips to keep cool, entertain the family indoors, or keep kids safe in the heat. All topics that are useful and relevant to anyone tweeting on these hashtags and still relevant enough for you to inject a tweet about your latest summer line or promotion.

A simple twitter search will uncover these hashtags and once you’ve found them you can use them to find relevant content on the subject that is already out there that you can tweet or re-tweet. I’ve found a new tool that’s in beta that I love for this. Strawberry Jam will search on a Twitter hashtag and pull the most popular tweets on that tag for you.

Once you’ve found some good stuff to share get it out there; tweet it, retweet it, comment on it. Join the conversation and keep it going.

You’ll need to share relevant content on a regular basis. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to use Hootsuite’s scheduling and publisher features. The publisher works like a publishing calendar where you can keep track of the days, times, and tweets you’ve scheduled to post through the scheduling feature. Extremely user friendly, but if you get stuck you can always watch Chris Brogan’s tutorial for quick instructions.

Scheduling your tweets will allow you to get a good sense of how much of the day you’re visible to your followers as well as the type of content you’re posting.  This allows you to keep a steady flow of content moving through your stream and because you did your research that content will be of high quality and will be highly relevant to your followers. Soon you’ll start to gain traction and find that all of a sudden you’ve got a large follow base and actual engagement!