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5 Steps for Getting Your Small Business Set Up on Twitter

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You've heard of Twitter. Maybe you've even thought about using it for your small business. But where to begin? Here are the five key steps to getting started.

1. Twitter is FREE--create a personal account to test the waters

Getting started on Twitter is easy, but it's important to understand how Twitter works before creating a Twitter presence for your business. Step 1 is to sign up for a personal account and begin interacting with other Twitter users. After you've signed up for an account, start "following" users that are of interest to you. During the sign-up process, Twitter will suggest some popular fellow Twitters. You're best bet is to ignore these and instead seek out users who are more relevant to your industry and interests.

Sign Up For Twitter

One easy way to find people to follow is to do a Google search for lists that others have compiled. For example, if you're looking for indie filmmakers, you might search for 'best indie filmmakers to follow on twitter'. Another way to find a good base of users to follow is to start searching Twitter for industry leaders or journalists from your industry's trade publications. See who those people are following and interacting with on twitter.To follow a user, simply click onto their profile and then click the "follow" button. You'll immediately start seeing their tweets in your feed.

Start interacting with users by re-tweeting and @replying. On Twitter.com, each tweet has a "retweet" link that lets you forward the tweet to your group of followers. An @reply is where you write a message directed at an individual user. In this case, simply write a message and include @username in the message. Keep in mind that if you begin the message with the @username, the message will only be seen by the targeted user and users who are following both of you. If you want others to see the message, move the @username mention to somewhere other than the very beginning of your tweet.

One thing to keep in mind is that Twitter operates as a sort of broadcast medium. In other words, it's a one-to-many system. Messages are public and are pushed out to everyone (though users will rarely see messages unless they are following you or something in your tweet matches a search they've set up). Also, messages are very passive. Do not expect people to read every tweet you write. In most cases, the only time it's reasonable to expect someone to read a specific tweet is if you @reply them.

2. Create An Account for Your Business or Your Brand

After a few days or weeks of using Twitter on your personal account, it's time to sign your company up. Signing up is easy. Just visit http://twitter.com and click the "Join Today" button. Due to the nature of tweets and message length limitations, choose as short a username as possible and keep in mind that the usernames may be no more than 15 characters. Also avoid numbers and underscores (no other special characters are permitted).

The look and feel of your page is very important. While the majority of users rarely visit twitter.com to tweet (instead using 3rd party, twitter-compatible apps), it is extremely important that your page be a clear reflection of your page. Setting up "fake" twitter pages is common and it's important to mark yours as the official one for your brand. Do this by stating in your bio (limited to 160 characters) that this is the official page of your company. Link to your company's website in the "link" field of the profile.

Twitter allows users to customize the background and color-scheme of pages. For example, Blue Fountain Media's own twitter page clearly communicates the brand image. Keep in mind that your Twitter page will likely rank very highly in any Google searches for your company name.

3. Learn the Lingo

While the basic idea of Twitter is rather simple, there are a number of special phrases and symbols to learn. For a complete list, including great examples, check out Twitter's official "Learn the Lingo" page. Before you go live with your Twitter account make sure you have a mastery of these terms:

  • follow/unfollow/following
  • Tweet
  • @username/@reply
  • d/dm/direct message
  • RT/retweet
  • trending topics
  • hashtag (#)

Again, these phrases are all defined and explained on Twitter's "Learn the Lingo" page.

4. What To Tweet

Twitter is about connecting and sharing. As a principal, make sure every single tweet provides value. Avoid tweeting too many declaratory statements that don't have a perceived value. Don't use Twitter as a platform for bragging about accomplishments. One good company to follow is @Foursquare. Their community management team does a fantastic job with their Twitter account.

For example, tweet exclusive coupons or deals. Twitter users are experts at sniffing out a fraud. Non-exclusive and tiny discounts are a surefire way to lose followers. Use tweets to give people exclusive access or to see behind the scenes at your company. Show a little personality. For example, link to a picture of your company softball team. If people wanted dry, all-business stuff, they'd just visit your website.

Sneak peeks of projects or events in development are an easy way to attract attention and add value for your followers. Post links to sites and articles that you think your followers will find interesting. Just make sure you don't tweet links to your own site too frequently (a good goal is 20% your site, 80% other sites).

If you like a particular message, retweet it.

A note on links in tweets

Twitter only allows messages to be 140 characters in length (anything over will get cut off). Links are often long and take up a huge portion of your 140 characters. As a workaround, use a link-shortening service like bit.ly to convert links in to super-short links. Links from bit.ly are also useful for tracking your click-through rate (the number of clicks on your link). Sign up for a bit.ly account and you'll be able to easily keep track of your links and even get an idea of where people are clicking your links (geographically and on what sites/devices).

5. Use CoTweet To Mange Your Account Like A Pro

Power-users almost never tweet directly from Twitter.com. Instead, they use 3rd party tools like the desktop apps TweetDeck and Seesmic or online services like CoTweet or HootSuite. The best (and easiest to use) for managing a business-oriented Twitter account is CoTweet.

CoTweet Screenshot

Use CoTweet to manage tweets, see who @replies you and direct messages you. CoTweet lets you set up searches to monitor your brand name and other keywords you want to track. You can also invite other employees to manage the Twitter account and you can even assign tweets to them (to reply to, look further into, etc.). It also allows you to track which of your colleagues send which tweets.

If you engage in a conversation on Twitter, CoTweet will even thread the tweets and replies so you can easily keep track of the conversation.

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