Want more Twitter followers for your business? Twitter can be a great way to market to and engage customers—but the key word is “engage.” Ten engaged followers are much better than 100 passive auto-followers or, heaven forbid, 10,000 paid followers.

Here are six ways to build and maintain an engaged Twitter audience for your business:

Provide. We can’t all be witty or insightful or clever. But we can all offer something: discounts, samples, promotions, advice... offer something of value. Followers will appreciate the gesture, and if what you offer really is worthwhile, they’ll spread the word for you.

Twitter offers are also a free way to sense-check customer interests and do a little market research; if you offer a promotion and no one is interested, you learn more about your market—without spending money on conventional advertising. Use special offers and promotions to find out what customers value. When you hit on the right mix, your current followers will retweet to their friends... and your following will grow organically.

Talk about others. A great way to make a connection is to simply respond to something another person or business tweeted and mention them. Most people can’t resist checking out what other people say about them, so slip in something like @[insert Twitter name here] to make sure they notice. (Be honest: Don’t you spend way more time checking out who talks about you than you do checking out your Twitter steam?)

But don’t tweet or retweet unless you also feel your audience—and potential customers—will benefit from what you send. Always think value first, potential connection second.

Play in your sandbox. It’s tempting to tweet about a broad range of topics. Don’t. Stick to your area of focus.  For example, I’m an avid MotoGP racing fan, so I follow @MotoGP. I don’t want tweets about bike manufacturers or motorcycle safety or epic rides; I can get that elsewhere. Too many off-topic tweets and I’ll unfollow.

The same is true for you. Choose a niche and stay there. If you’re a green space architect, be that guy. You will slowly build an engaged following when people know they can get lots of useful information—and zero fluff—about your niche.

Any followers not interested in your niche are of little to no value anyway.

Forget the schedule. Many people recommend following a tweet schedule to create a sense of consistency. That’s fine, but only if every tweet is valuable to your audience. Never tweet just because your schedule says you should.

Tools like Buffer let you schedule tweets.  That’s great if you want to be sure to tweet at a specific time, like to announce a contest or a limited-time offer. Scheduling also lets you tweet when your followers are more likely to notice. So by all means schedule individual tweets, but never become a slave to an arbitrary tweeting schedule.

Only tweet when you have something valuable to provide or say.

Be quick... Commenting on breaking news is smart, since timely relevance attracts interest. But there’s a definite timeliness window; fall outside it and you always lose. Either tweet breaking news about your niche immediately, or wait a few weeks or months and let hindsight and reflection add flavor to your tweet. If you can’t be (relatively) first, let it go. Never send out stale tweets.

And be responsive. An incoming tweet is like an email; whoever sent it expects a response—a relatively quick response. Make it a goal to answer tweets within one to two hours max. Remember, engage is a verb—if you’re lucky enough to have someone initiate the process don’t spoil it by waiting too long to respond.