For businesses, Twitter is a tool to make and maintain connections in order to raise your profile and win new business. This would include interacting with current clients as well as potential ones.

All posts on Twitter are known as ‘tweets’ and all tweets are limited to 140 characters.

Each tweet a user posts appears in date order on their profile page, with the most recent at the top. Profile pages (unless made private) are viewable to everyone, even those not logged in to Twitter, and are usually Google indexed, meaning that some tweets will appear in search engine results.

Emily Cagle's Twitter page

‘Following’ a person on Twitter means subscribing to have their tweets appear on your homepage ‘feed’. The more people you follow, the busier your Twitter feed.

The @ symbol is used to denote a person’s username e.g. @emilycagle. Referencing a person in this way within a tweet is equivalent to using the To or CC fields in an email.

How does Twitter work?

Activity on Twitter typically takes the following forms:

1) Comments/news without a link

This means all of the content is housed within the tweet. It doesn’t direct the reader elsewhere.

tweet with no link

2) Comments/news with a link Directs the user to another web page containing further information.

tweet with a link

3) Retweets (RTs)

This is where a user reposts another user’s ‘tweet’.

There are currently two ways to do this.

Here @BusinessZone is being retweeted in the ‘old way’:

retweet with no comment

‘Old style’ RTs often have a note added to them (in this case in after the ‘<’ symbol):

retweet with a comment

‘New’ RTs are performed using Twitter’s recently introduced RT button.

Here is a tweet after the RT button (visible in the bottom right hand corner) has been clicked:

new retweet confirmation box

Once ‘Yes’ is clicked, the tweet will be resent out to every one of your followers who doesn’t follow the original sender:

retweet result using new button

Here it is the small square arrow symbol at the beginning of the tweet that signals it is an RT, while the ‘Retweeted by’ entry at the bottom shows which user(s) chose to share the tweet.

With this new form of RT, there is no option to add a note, which is perhaps while the old form survives.

4) Conversational tweets

These are often made up of a combination of the above, but are directed between one person and another:

Conversational tweet

If your tweet starts with a particular person’s user name, only users who follow both you and the person you are addressing will see the exchange in their Twitter stream.

Clicking on the ‘in reply to’ link in grey under this type of tweet will show you the tweet it was sent in response to, allowing you to follow the conversation in a thread.

Why should businesses use Twitter?

If you are on Twitter as a business, you will have two main goals:

  • To be known, liked and trusted as a resource and as a product/service provider
  • To drive traffic to your own site (or to other social media profiles)

In order to achieve the latter to any significant degree, you must also achieve and maintain the former. The only way to do this is to engage in all of the ways listed above, and to do so consistently.

Smart businesses use Twitter to create a helpful, friendly persona that shares the links of others as well as their own and is know to give comments and support, rather than just sharing for personal gain.

If the you don’t already have an account, it’s simple to set one up by simply visiting the Twitter sign-up page.

join twitter

You will need a photo of yourself, or your company logo, and an email address.

Identity

Consistency is key in building a strong social media identity.

Ideally, you should aim to develop a style guide and strategy document which outlines some basic rules anyone tweeting under the company banner should follow. It should state how tweets are to be structured and presented and set out the subjects to be focussed on and what messages you are trying to get across.

You might choose to create an account under the company name, with several people responsible for tweeting, rather than as an individual. If so, you should ideally select a ‘face’ of the firm (e.g. the person overseeing work with small businesses).

To allay concerns that this may be disingenuous, this individual can be presented as the manager of the account, and it can be made clear that they are not the only one at the organisation that tweets.

Gaining followers

Gaining followers is a slow process that builds and gains momentum over time. Obviously, you will want your followers to be predominantly from your target audience of prospective clients.

At the outset, the profile of this audience would be agreed so that social media efforts can be targeted accordingly. Twitter is not a numbers game, so the aim is to get a relevant, interested following, rather than simply a large one.

Initially, the quickest way to attract followers is to follow others. However, while there is a certain etiquette that says you should follow back genuine people who follow you, it is not compulsory. This is where conversations come in.

Putting the social in social media

Now you know how to tweet, the conversation can begin. Remember, you are not simply looking for excuses to promote your wares, you need to engage with the people you follow (through comments and RTs, for example) to make yourself known and heard.

Twitter search

First off, you might try using the advanced search function on Twitter, which will allow you to search for other users based on keywords in their recent tweets. This technique can also be used to identify and target people in particular regions.

twitter advanced search

A particularly useful way to identify interesting tweets and users is to search for ‘hashtags’ (e.g.#wales), which are used to mark tweets as belonging to a particular topic:

tweet tagged with a wales hash tag
Clicking on a hashtag brings up all the recent tweets that have included that tag. This helps users find information of interest to them and can bring qualified traffic to your Twitter profile.

Lists

Twitter’s List function now offers yet another way to find relevant people to follow. Using Listorious, you can search by keyword to find ready-made lists of Twitter users who share a common interest (see this Mashable guide to learn more about setting up and using Twitter Lists).

Match services

You might also want to try third-party services like MrTweet. Mr Tweet performs an analysis of the common attributes of those you are already following in order to help you find more like them.

Your little black book

Finally, once you get going, you might wish to gather up a list of current clients and associates and then follow as many as you can find on Twitter. You may also wish to put out a notice, or include a note in your next newsletter, to let clients know you are now on Twitter and where they can find your profile.

Managing your stream

Twitter itself is relatively easy to use, but as you follow more and more people, you may find that the level of information you receive becomes unmanageable.

You might find that you are:

  • Losing focus – facing too many tweets on different subjects
  • Losing value – finding that you are not interested in much of what is being posted
  • Losing out – missing tweets from people that are important to you

Twitter Lists, as described above, offer one solution – allowing you to create separate streams for different interests or to reflect different social groups (work, family, friends), but to deal with an ever-growing stream, many people use third-party apps such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to manage their accounts.

Such apps allow the user to create columns displaying different information. Not only can you have your home feed, mentions and DMs on one screen, you can also add extra columns to display only certain friends’ tweets, while another column might display tweets containing your chosen key words from any Twitter user.

Management

Unless the manager of your firm is going to be the one doing the tweeting, it is probably not realistic to have every tweet signed off by a member of the firm.

A system that works well is to create a system of categories whereby it it clear which topics and types of tweets could be made without sign off and which could not.

Typically, the sign off process will develop over time and can be designed to work alongside existing processes at the firm.

Measurement

Using Twitter measurement tools such as Twitter Analyzer and Twitter Grader you can get a good sense of the level of influence and reach your account possesses. Again, use Twitter’s own search facility to get a regular overview of the comments made on Twitter about your brand, including responses and RTs.

If you have analytics in place on your website, such as Google Analytics or Get Clicky, you will be able to see where traffic is coming from, and therefore get an idea of how much interest your social media campaign is generating.

If you are fairly au fait with analytics, you can begin to use these stats to be responsive in your strategy (e.g. focussing on the type of tweets that prove most popular).

I’m not going to give a target number of tweets or follows here. The first step is to simply make sure you are listening and responding every day, with an emphasis on quality, not quantity. Some days will be busier/quieter than others depending on the material worth sharing or commenting on that day, and the number of conversations you find yourself having.

Still confused?

If you’re struggling to get started, this video should help:

Good luck, and do let me know how you get on.

One Response to “An absolute beginner’s guide to using Twitter for business”

November 4th, 2010

Thanks for writing this post about Twitter. I was always uncertain about using Twitter for business & genuine audiences.

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