I've been using Twitter to research and promote my work for years. But I never knew much about my followers or if they were retweeting my posts. (That would be a good sign that they're interested in my writing.) In other words, I didn't know if the time I was spending on Twitter was helping me build my brand.

To find out, I decided to test one of the dozen or so Web-based dashboards that let you manage and analyze accounts on multiple social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. After researching a variety of options, I settled on Sprout Social, a midrange tool in terms of features and pricing. The service costs $9 a month for a pro plan and $49 a month for a business plan with added features, including Google Analytics integration. My goal: to double my number of Twitter followers, to 800, in one week.

After signing up for an account, I logged on to my dashboard, which features colorful charts with analytic data, including follower demographics, and a toolbar for performing a variety of tasks. I wasn't surprised by the demographic data: My followers split 50-50 between men and women, most of them older than 30. After perusing their profiles, I learned that most of them work in public relations.

I wanted to build a bigger following among tech enthusiasts, writers, and editors. So I went to the Discovery section of the Sprout dashboard and searched for new contacts using various keywords, including technology and writer. Within seconds, the screen filled with dozens of profiles of Twitter users who matched my terms. I followed 100 or so people who seemed the most interesting or had large followings. Then, I spent about an hour on Sprout each day, retweeting posts, scheduling tweets to be posted at different times, and checking my stats.

By the end of the week, I had added only 70 new followers—far below my original goal. But I realized that the quality of my new connections was more important than sheer numbers. Many of the writers and editors I had begun following were now following me and retweeting my posts. Each time an influential person retweeted something I wrote, my follower count shot up by about a dozen people. When Sprout retweeted a post about my social media experiment, it reached 14,000 people. I thought: If only Ashton Kutcher would retweet me, I'd be a celebrity!

I plan to continue using Sprout every day. I would recommend the service—or, depending on your needs, one of the other dashboards out there—to companies looking to build stronger social media communities and measure the success of their efforts.