Participation vs The Fire Starter
Twitter is predominately an engagement platform. It's like you're having a relationship with 1,000's of people all at once, you listen then engage. Sometimes you engage then listen and sometimes you just put something out there without engaging or thinking or listening just to see what flies back.
How engaging your content is, is not reflected by the number of people that clicked the link, retweet you, or perhaps repost as their own. Being engaging is about creating a reaction, it's when someone takes an active interest, it's when others are inspired to take action as a result. That action could be a sign-up, a registration for something or it could be commenting on your blog post, replying to your tweet with their own thoughts or sharing the post with a contact of theres they know will be interested too.
You can participate by just listening and then replying, contributing to the discussion, answering the question etc. Or you can participate by igniting the conversation. As a fire starter, engagement and the reaction you create is much more diverse. Polarizing your community sparks debate but can also challenge peoples desire to follow you. Of course being polarizing is completely optional (it's quite fun though).
Being a Fire Starter is about being proactive. Starting hashtags, weekly discussions or other activities to highlight and intensify activity amongst a core group of fans. Fire starters are people that ask questions and ignite action. You can be a fire starter if you have 30k or 3k or 300 followers, it's not about how many people engage its about what action that engagement ignites.
How you measure and report on this is beyond me. I'd like a "Conversation metric", so I could say "Today I started or participated in 27 conversations that reached xxx number of people"
The old saying goes, "you get out what you put in". I think being a conversation starter or even just the lubricant is the most beneficial social networking you or your brand can do.
I guess you either take the softly, softly approach and participate when you're invited to or you take the bull by the horn and get in amongst it.