Twitter is a free, online micro-blogging platform that enables you to post punchy updates and messages ('tweets')
Once limited to 140 characters, tweets can now contain 280 and can be read by anybody else on Twitter, even if they are directed at members of your network (your 'followers').
Why should your business use Twitter?
Although Twitter began as a new way for people to communicate, businesses have adopted it to reach people who may be interested in their product, service or sector.
The most successful Twitter users don't just broadcast a message. They engage with other Twitter users by asking and responding to questions, sharing interesting links and monitoring what people say about them.
Twitter is informal, so it can be a good way to add a personality to your business and show its human side. You could, for example, use it to:
- promote new products or exclusive offers;
- collect feedback from customers and prospects;
- answer questions about your products or services;
- pass on news about your sector;
- comment on general business issues;
- let people know what is going on in your firm.
You can also pay to advertise on Twitter in order to broaden your reach and get your brand in front of more people.
The amount of time and effort you commit to Twitter will determine what results you see. However, be careful - it can quickly expand to take up however much time you have.
A good strategy is to use it in short, sharp bursts - a few minutes each, perhaps three or four times a day. Twitter works well on mobile devices, so you may be able to fit it into your schedule at convenient points - when you're waiting for a train or taking a coffee break, for instance.
How to set up your business on Twitter
It only takes a few minutes to create a Twitter account for your business.
1. Sign up to Twitter
Go to the Twitter website and enter your name, email address, password and username.
Your choice of username is key. Most businesses opt for a username that incorporates the company name. If you already have accounts on other social networks, it's a good idea to use the same username for all of them.
Think about what kind of name will make it easy for your prospective audience to find you. Should you emphasise your sector over your company name, for instance?
2. Enter some extra information
You'll want to create a strong profile for your business on Twitter. The information you enter will help people decide whether or not to follow you.
When you sign up, Twitter will guide you through adding some of these details.
- It's important to upload a profile picture. You might use the logo of your company or a photo of yourself (good if you're a freelancer). Profile pictures help people recognise your business easily on Twitter.
- You should add a bio. This gives you 160 characters to tell people about you or your business. For instance: that you are a forward-thinking entrepreneur juggling work and family. Be concise, clear and direct -remember that showing some personality will attract more followers.
- Add your main location. Try to be as specific as possible, because many Twitter users will want to follow people and businesses in their area.
- Add the address of your company website. If you want to include two links (perhaps one to your business website, and one to a blog), you can include a link in your bio, too.
As you explore Twitter's settings, you might notice an option to protect your tweets. Don't select this if you want to be found and heard by potential customers and contacts. It prevents your tweets being seen publicly, so only people in your network can view them.
3. Add a header image
Twitter allows you to add a header image. When people visit your profile page, this appears near the top. You can use it to reinforce your brand, showcase products, or show some other relevant visuals.
The header image is prominent on your profile page, particularly when people visit using a desktop computer.
Sprout Social have a great guide to the right image sizes for header and profile pictures on Twitter (and other networks).
4. Start building a network
Twitter is all about the connections you can make - who you follow, and who's following you. Don't get fixated on the number of followers you have - it's more important to build a network of people (and businesses) who are relevant.
Twitter will suggest ways to start building your network when you sign up. Here are some options:
- Find specific people or businesses with the search function. You can also search for subjects to find people who tend to tweet about them.
- There's a find friends option that lets you import contact details from your email address book. This is a good way to find and follow people you know who are already on Twitter.
- As you use Twitter, it will recommend people to follow based on what you tweet about and who you follow. This can be a good way to find relevant people, although recommendations aren't always spot on. Look for the Who to follow option.
5. Start sending tweets
This is the most important step of the lot. As you send more tweets, your profile on Twitter increases and it becomes easier for other people to find you.
A tweet is a message of up to 280 characters. You can say anything you like, but try to be interesting and relevant. You'll get ideas for tweets as you follow other people.
How to use Twitter in your business
Once you've set up your account, try and sign in to Twitter at least a couple of times a day, aiming to post some interesting tweets.
1. Understand the basics
The best way to determine where Twitter fits into your business is to start using it. There are a few basic things to keep in mind:
- When you sign in to Twitter, you'll see a feed of tweets from people you follow. The most recent tweets come first.
- Everything you say is public, unless you use the direct message function to send someone a private message.
- Each of your tweets can be a maximum of 280 characters long.
- You can include links, photos and videos in your tweets. These are not included in your 280-character limit.
- Use the '@' symbol to mention someone in a tweet. Just type in '@' followed by their username (for instance: @techdonut). When you do this, they'll see a notification that they've been mentioned. Keep in mind that messages sent this way are still public.
- You can also retweet messages. This rebroadcasts a tweet you have read to everyone following you. Retweeting can be a good way of building connections and relationships.
- If you want to save someone's tweet for later, you can like it.
2. Think about your tweets
Keeping these things in mind will help you use Twitter productively:
- You can get a lot of information across in 280 characters, particularly if you add depth by using links.
- Although Twitter is an informal medium, remember that you are still tweeting as a business. It's important to strike an appropriate tone - so you might want to steer clear of 'text speak' abbreviations.
- The most successful users of Twitter tend to be open, helpful, positive and generous. Make a point of offering help where people ask for it, and respond to comments (whether positive or negative) constructively.
- You can find new contacts by searching for messages containing specific words. To help others find you, use keywords in your tweets.
- If you want to connect with a particular person (such as a potential customer or a journalist), search for them on Twitter and see if there's any way you can help or interest them. A good starting point is to retweet some of their tweets.
- A good way to build a following is to run Twitter-only promotions and competitions. Influential members of your network (who have lots of followers) may be able to help you build an audience.
- You can sort the people and organisations you follow into lists. For instance, you can create separate lists for customers and suppliers, or for friends and business contacts.
- Twitter can show details of your tweet activity. This information shows how an individual tweet is performing. It tells how many people have seen a tweet, and how many people have interacted with it.
Twitter can seem confusing when you first start using it. The secret is to give it a proper go, and to give it some time. The more you do it, the more you'll understand what works for you.
3. Explore Twitter business tools
There are loads of Twitter apps and tools that can help you use this social network more effectively.
- Applications like Tweetdeck (now owned by Twitter) and Hootsuite let you use Twitter without having to visit the Twitter website. They often include features to track your mentions, monitor keywords and identify people you could follow.
- You can get apps for your smart phone or tablet, too. These make it much easier to use Twitter on a mobile device. To get started, you can try the official Twitter app.
- Some apps - like the popular Buffer - are designed to make it easy to schedule and track tweets. In fact, many of these (including Buffer) work with other social networks too.
- Services like Kred can give you an idea of your influence on Twitter. Take the findings with a (large) pinch of salt though: Twitter is about connecting with the right people, not just about connecting with lots of people.
Do I need more than one Twitter account?
People often ask me if it's OK to have multiple accounts on a single social media platform. The answer is - it entirely depends on the platform. Individuals should only have one Facebook profile and one LinkedIn profile (as per their terms and conditions). A business can have a LinkedIn company page, and use showcase pages for specific products, brands or business units.
However, many firms opt for multiple Twitter accounts and there are often very good reasons for this. If you have disparate messages to send, creating separate accounts can be a great way to show a human side to a business and be more relevant to the various needs of your audiences.
You could consider having:
- A corporate account to provide updates on your company as a whole;
- A customer service account to answer questions and respond to comments;
- A product-led account to provide specific product news and information;
- Audience-led accounts focused on the needs of a target audience: for example, this could be location-specific if your business is international, or subject-specific.
Multiple Twitter accounts do require time and effort to manage so it's important to establish whether there's an appetite for them among your audience and if there's a business case for creating them in the first place.
If you're not sure how to progress, take a look at what your competitors are doing. Do they have multiple accounts? Review the type of responses and messages you are receiving from your audiences - what do they need from you? If you think it might be too complex to manage multiple accounts, consider how you might unify your content.
If you only do one thing on Twitter…
Make sure your profile is easy for users to search for and regularly updated. This will tell readers what you can offer them - precisely and concisely.
Social media content produced in partnership with Luan Wise.