An author friend once noted this advice on promotion via social networks from a book marketing professional: follow and you will be followed. Essentially this means one should set up a Facebook or Twitter account, then seek to follow and friend anybody with similar interests – an author, other authors and readers; a musician, others in the field.

While it may appear to be a good idea in theory, let’s look at the result: if you were to blindly select a thousand people on Twitter to follow, chances are a good-sized percentage will follow back. Sounds good, huh? In theory, you might think you can convert all these followers into customers or clients, but consider why many people are on Twitter in the first place: to market their own products. What is more likely to happen is that a thousand people will follow you with the intent of converting you to purchase their goods. A top turn-off for some who choose to follow Twitter users is receiving that initial automated greeting message – you know the one, there’s usually a URL and a pitch. You haven’t read one of the person’s “tweets” yet and already they’re on the hard sell.

In order to get the most out of social networks as a means of promotion, a few things you’ll want to bear in mind are:

It isn’t necessary to follow everybody who follows you. If you follow too many Twitter folks the chain of messages received becomes diluted. Posts from people you truly want to follow may get lost in the shuffle of numerous advertisements. True, you want people to follow you, so it’s important to set your profile up as one that contains pertinent content, yet doesn’t appear to constantly hustle readers. If, however, you are set on using Twitter to promote your business, set up a separate account for personal use.

To become attractive to Twitter users, be an expert. “Socialization” is the key to succeeding in any social media network. Not only should you use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to relay information on your favorite subjects, but you should interact with users as well. If you sell sporting goods, ask followers and friends what brand baseball bat or glove is the best, or who they think will win the Series this year. Put a personality behind the avatar and you may find people will recommend their friends to follow you.

Don’t be afraid to promote other things. If you see a news item related to your line of business, share it. Never feel as though you are helping “the competition” in any way. In fact, sharing this information could help you in a way, as it might inspire followers to “re-tweet” your findings and credit you. This in turn could lead to more followers, and perhaps more business.

Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer specializing in articles on Virginia web design.