There has been loads of media attention directed toward Twitter, the 140-character micro-blogging service that allows people and businesses to communicate with their "followers." In addition to being embraced as the next big thing for marketing your company, a number of small business owners have flocked to the blogs to explain how Twitter has helped them build customer relationships and add new names to their customer management database.
If you've never used Twitter before, you may want a few pointers for how to make the best use of the service. Here are some ideas:
What are your needs?
Just as there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for how to grow your business, there is no single method for using Twitter that will fit all companies. Make sure you assess your particular needs before you start sending out Tweets.
First of all, despite what some die-hard Twitter fans may claim, the service isn't for everyone. If you're running a plumbing business in a small town, sending out messages may not drive much additional business your way. But if you're looking to expand your reach, build your brand, network with other business owners, or communicate directly with customers, give it a try.
Link to quality content
There are a number of ways you can gain followers on Twitter, which will ideally result in some new contacts for your customer management database. One of the best ways is by posting links to quality content.
You can link to press releases, your own blog postings, other people's blog postings, articles, news reports--the key is to make sure the content is interesting. Social media experts suggest it can be more effective to build relationships through providing useful and relevant content than by actively promoting your company.
Show some personality
There are certain forms of communication in which it can be beneficial to relax a bit and let some of your personality show. People who use Twitter accounts are used to reading about everything from a user's favorite foods to the funny thing that happened to them on their commute.
Just make sure that when you're letting your guard down, you don't go too far. Maintain your professionalism and refrain from making inappropriate jokes or over-sharing about your personal life.
Seek out existing contacts
When deciding who to follow, first look for contacts you already have--then search through their contacts to find additional people who could yield business leads or be otherwise helpful. This technique can help you find a community conversing about topics that are relevant to your own interests.
Add your Twitter address to all communications
You may have already added your website address to your business card, stationary, receipts, and other business communications--now it's time to include your Twitter address as well. Also display it prominently on your website's home page, inviting visitors to follow you.
Run a Twitter contest
Organizing a contest is a tried-and-true way of drumming up interest in your products or services. You can run the competition through Twitter, asking people to reply to a message or follow a link to your website and post a comment. Or you can request they re-tweet (re-post) a promotional message from you to qualify.
Use Twitter to find talent
Need a freelancer, contract worker, consultant, vendor, or collaborator? Why not send out your request in the form of a Tweet? Many users find Twitter to be a valuable tool for finding help quickly, without the hassle of posting an advertisement or sifting through resumes. The service could also open up new business opportunities. As always, make sure you practice due diligence before agreeing to any partnership.
Before you start a Twitter campaign, make sure you are prepared to keep it up. Businesses that remain committed to sending out Tweets stand a chance of building a loyal following and spreading the word about their brand. Those who post intermittently are missing the boat. To make it easier, you could set aside 20 minutes each day for posting, responding to messages, and managing your account.
Track your success
You can use analytics tools to keep tabs on how much traffic your Twitter profile is generating. You can also track mentions of your business' name by other users by using the Twitter Search tool. This is also a great way to see what others are saying about your competitors--and your industry in general.