What is Twitter?
Twitter is a free, online ‘micro-blogging’platform that enables you to send punchy messages (‘tweets’) to other Twitter users. Messages are limited to just 140 characters and can be read by anybody else on Twitter, even if they are initially directed at members of your personal network (your ‘followers’)
Like all forms of social media, Twitter began as a way for people to communicate socially, but businesses have been quick to adopt it as a cost-free method to send controlled business messages to people who are interested in their product, service or sector.
The best users of Twitter will not just broadcast their message; they will engage their audience by asking and responding to questions, monitoring what people say about them on Twitter and raising their profile on the wider Twitter network.
Businesses might, for example, use Twitter as a speedy way to:
- promote new products or exclusive offers
- collect feedback from customers and prospects
- pass on news about their sector
- comment on general business issues
- let people know what is going on in their firm
The informal nature of Twitter can help them add a personality to their business that is not always present in conventional marketing messages. Twitter can also be easily used on mobile devices, meaning business owners can engage with other Twitter users at any time and in almost any location.
The amount of time and effort you commit to Twitter will determine your results. You can while away a great deal of time sending messages, but a few sharp ten-minute bursts of activity each day will give you good presence and time to respond to incoming messages from your network.
Setting up your account
Step 1: Go to http://twitter.com/signup, where you will be asked to enter your name, username, password and email address.
Step 2: Before entering the requested details, think how to present yourself. What do you want to be known as? Choosing a username that incorporates your company name is a good place to start, if it is short and memorable. But think about what kind of name will make you easily discoverable to your prospective audience - should you emphasise your sector over your company name, for instance? Or try to mention both?
Step 3: Using the ‘Settings’ tab you can personalise your profile. Under the ‘Account’ option:
- Use the ‘Bio’ field to explain who you are in 160 characters or less. What do you want your network to think about you primarily - that you are a forward-thinking entrepreneur juggling work and family, for example, or that you are trying to sell vacuum cleaners? Be concise, clear and direct; and remember that personality will attract more followers.
- Add the homepage address of your company website - or your blog, if you have one - to the ‘Web' URL field. Think about why you are on Twitter: is it to sell your offer or to build connections and increase your standing? If the latter, you might be better linking to your blog rather than your website homepage.
- Add your primary location. Be specific - many Twitter users will be looking for contacts in a particular area.
- Do not select the ‘Protect my tweets’ option if you want to be found and heard by potential customers and contacts. Protected tweets can only be read by people in your personal network (your ‘followers’).
Step 4: Add a background image to your profile. Will a picture of you or your business logo reinforce the impression you are trying to create? Your company colours could strengthen brand recognition, but people might want to see who you actually are.
Step 5: Start building a network. You may already know people who use Twitter, so ask for their details. Alternatively, you can use simple tools to search for people and organisations you know, either by name or email address, and invite them to ‘follow’ you.
There are several ways to find people on Twitter. You can use the ‘search’ box on the home page or the ‘Connect’ page to search for specific contacts. You can also look through lists of accounts related to particular topics to find new contacts via the 'Discover' page. And you can import contacts from your email address book to see who’s on Twitter. However, you should be wary of automatically emailing all your contacts with an invitation to join you on Twitter, unless you think they will not mind being bothered by such a message. Your existing contacts will form the basis of your network to begin with; as you engage with them, their ‘followers’ might start to ‘follow’ you, or you might choose to ‘follow’ them.
Step 6: Start sending messages. Go to the ‘Home’ page, type a message of no more than 140 characters and click ‘update’. You are now using Twitter.
Using Twitter in your business
1. Before you start
Using Twitter effectively as a business tool will come with practice. But there are some key things to keep in mind from the outset:
- Everything you say is public (unless you use the ‘Direct Message’ function to communicate privately with someone in your network).
- You only have up to 140 characters to use per tweet.
- If you incorporate a website link within a message, save space by shortening it using a service like bit.ly. Not only will this save you characters in a tweet, you can also track how many people have clicked the links you have tweeted.
2. Learn the language
Twitter also has its own vocabulary which you will need to understand to get going:
- A message to your network is known as a ‘tweet’.
- Your name on Twitter may be referred to as ‘@username’ and an ‘@’ reply is a direct reply to you seen only by those who follow you and those who follow the person who sends the tweet.
- A ‘retweet’ (‘RT’) is a tweet that is being passed on. Retweeting can be a good way of building connections and relationships.
3. Sending messages
When sending messages, keep in mind the following:
- Twitter’s character limit encourages you to be concise, but it is still possible to get a lot of information across, particularly if you add depth with links.
- Etiquette is important - Twitter users frown on the kind of abbreviated language that is used in texting, for example. It is also considered courteous to thank people for retweeting your messages and recommending you as a good person to follow. Etiquette and practice are evolving all the time, however.
- To engage effectively with your network, communicate openly and personally, and make a point of responding to comments (whether positive or negative) publicly.
- Potential contacts may be found by searching for messages with specific, relevant words in them. Think about the key words that will attract the right attention (such as the name of your product/service/sector), and use them often in your tweets.
- If you want to make contact with a particular person (such as a potential customer or a journalist), search for them on Twitter and see how you can help them or interest them. A good starting point for building a relationship is to retweet some of their tweets.
- Target influential members in your network (people with a lot of followers) and look for opportunities to build a community around your business with engaging comments and exclusive Twitter-only promotions. If people are interested in what you have to say, they will choose to follow you.
- Twitter enables you to organise the people and organisations you follow by sorting them into categorised lists using the ‘List’ tab. You could have separate lists for customers and suppliers, for example, or for friends and business contacts. Because you can tweet privately to list members only, this means you can send relevant messages to targeted groups of people -and not annoy your other followers with tweets that are irrelevant to them.
4. Useful tools
There are a variety of purpose-built tools available to help you use Twitter more effectively:
- Applications such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. These will enable you to send and read messages and monitor keywords associated with your sector or even specific mentions of your business name and products, so you can track who is talking about you and what they are saying.
- Online Twitter directories which will enable you to grow your following. You can target people to follow via categories such as their location, area of interest and profession. Twellow or the in-built Tweetdeck directory will allow you to increase your audience in a purposeful manner.
- Tweet Grader, which can measure how effective you are at using Twitter and give you a score out of 100. You can view yourself in league tables broken down by location, such as your country or town name. To increase your influence, target users at the top of lists.
- Klout, which will measure the strength of your influence on Twitter among your followers. It will give you practical advice on how to improve your performance.
- Vine is the mobile app that enables users to create short videos and share them on social networking sites. Created by Twitter, the Vine app allows users to make six-second looping videos that they can share with their social network via Twitter and Facebook. For businesses, the micro video app opens up new ways to engage with online audiences. Find out more in our guide — Six reasons why you should be using Vine.
If you only do one thing…
Make sure your profile is easy for users to search for and regularly updated. This should tell readers what you can offer them precisely and concisely.