Twitter has more than 500 million users but even so, many small firms are still learning how to get the most out of it. Kate Horstead finds out how Twitter can deliver low-cost marketing and open up new networking opportunities
Twitter has become the de facto way of sending instant news about a fresh offer to hundreds or even thousands of potential customers. And businesses are finding that they can pick up a business contact or receive customer feedback within minutes because of a simple tweet.
"With Twitter, you should plan what you want to get from it and how," says social media consultant Nikki Pilkington. "You can only decide if Twitter works for you by trying it."
Who can use it?
Pilkington believes that businesses from any sector can benefit from the niche marketing it offers - especially as mobile technology enables people to send and receive tweets from their phones.
"A restaurant might use it to give its followers exclusive offers or an estate agent could post details of properties," she says.
Travel agents are posting last-minute availabilities and gardening firms are offering nuggets of advice along with links to their websites. There is even potential for users such as plumbers or car mechanics to pick up business from Twitter as people use it to ask for recommendations for local services.
Getting started with Twitter is easy. Many of your existing contacts may already be on Twitter, so start by sending them an email asking them to follow you. Then start tweeting. As well as posting short messages, you can upload images and create short videos.
"Use keywords in your tweets so potential customers looking for an offer like yours can find you through searches on Twitter," advises Pilkington. "The key thing is to interact and post updates. You can work out quickly whether you're doing the right thing by seeing how many people start and stop following you."
Using Twitter in your business
As with all online social networking tools, it pays to have a policy about Twitter's use in your business. You may have authorised staff to use it, but consider imposing time limits on them, because it can be very distracting - a handful of tweets a day should be enough.
You will also need to be careful about the image your employees present of your firm. "If your employees represent you, give them a list of guidelines - it will reflect badly if they Tweet 'I've got a hangover'," warns Pilkington. "Setting up separate profiles for personal and business use can also be a good idea."