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How to win friends and influence people (on Twitter)

For $5, someone in the Bahamas or maybe Lithuania promised to add 3,000 followers to my Twitter account. This is unquestionably a bad Idea.

I did it anyway.

I lost $5 to someone in the Bahamas, and later that day, American Express called to tell me someone attempted to charge $4,532 worth of designer handbags to my card.

There has to be a better way to get Twitter followers, and find people to follow.

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Social media services like Twitter promise to connect us to long lost friends and introduce us to new ones, people with similar taste from all across the Earth to share ideas and talk. But most of the time, they don’t do anything to fulfill that promise. Join Twitter and you’re presented with a list of suggested accounts to follow that runs the gamut from obvious to insulting. What, you didn’t want to hear updates from Kim Kardashian? You aren’t interested in the latest from Justin Bieber? Why the hell not?

There has to be a better way.

Meet Ben Landis, a man selling an answer.

“For a couple years I was very much in the shadows. I thought the moment that they found out I exist they might shut me down,” he told Digital Trends.

There are 307 million active users on Twitter, and Landis wants to help you meet them through his business Fanbase – launched in September of 2015. And not just the Kardashians of the world, but the right people, the ones you might like to have a meaningful conversation with. Twitter is the platform hundreds of millions of people use to communicate, but it does nothing to improve the quality of conversation or facilitate new interactions. A service like Fanbase is the missing piece of the puzzle; it helps you gain social connections and meet the right people. Think of it as relationship management.

“The basic idea is, we find relationships that are good for each other,” Landis explains. “It’s like real life.”

Landis is a 29-year-old musician from New Hampshire via Los Angeles. After graduating the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, he set out to make music – chiptunes, or retro video game music.

“Music from the 80s, the original Mario brothers? I write songs like that.”

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His album was titled Adventures in Pixels, and Landis quickly realized that making it in the music industry is a near impossibility. He started reaching out to people on social media to sell his record, and somehow, against all odds, found a way to make it work. Not the music of course — again, that’s nearly impossible. But getting in touch with people? That he could do.

“All the people I knew at Berklee and all the musician friends I had were asking, how did you do that? And can you do it for me?”

The new Fanbase service is just the first formal version of a service he’s been providing to people since December of 2012. In that time Landis has helped over 600 people collectively gain over 25 million real followers on Twitter.

“When my clients gain followers, the views, engagement, and clicks on their content soar,” he explained.

How does he do it? His operation involves following and unfollowing people based on proprietary algorithms. Clients enter some information about themselves, and about the audience they aim to connect with. Based on that, the service builds relationships, encouraging those that work and ending those that are unproductive. On the surface, it’s simple relationship management.

“I measure which relationships are valuable and which people are valuable and make sure that the client keeps the important ones while getting rid of the others,” he explains. “I use all the tools at my disposal to create targeting lists, to perform that targeting, and to filter the results for quality.”

“Astronomers deal with redshift and blueshift. I deal with following and unfollowing.”

There has to be a better way to get Twitter followers, and find people to follow.

Fanbase is relatively young, and doesn’t have a huge client base yet. Landis has over a hundred paying clients, and Digital Trends is one of them. But the service is far from alone. There are dozens of others aiming to increase your follower count on Twitter, with names like Tweet Rocket, TribeBoost, Good Audience, Flock, Narrow, MyTwitterManager, and EasySocialGrow, not to mention apps like Tweepy, Twinfollow, and Twiends. The list goes on and on. The basics behind most are similar.

“An essential part of utilizing Twitter is, of course, the act of following others accounts,” Joe Sturgess of Tweet Rocket explains on his site. The challenge is “ensuring that those you follow are not only relevant to your account but are also likely to return the favor and follow you back.”

“Grow your presence by following others and engaging one-on-one with those interested, and willing, to interact,” explains Flock. Seems to make sense, but how does it sit with Twitter?

Twitter declined to comment for this article, and has no official policy on these services. But Landis and others are concerned about the limelight. The company’s record suggests fears may be warranted: Twitter shut down the political service Politwoops for several months, citing terms of service violations. It bought Meerkat-competitor Periscope in March and promptly cut off access to the other service.

Related: Twitter trying to boost engagement by removing ads for top users

To hear Landis tell it, Fanbase is a boon to Twitter, the solution to a thorn in its side. “Twitter’s been trying to give people a list of people they’re following. I want to help them discover people who they ought to follow,” he explains. “It boosts real results. The stuff that counts.”

We’ll see if Twitter sees it that way.