What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social mobile network that transformed the way we communicate online. Twitter can be used as global information resource and a source of local, national and international news, particularly breaking news. But how can Twitter be used to market your small business?

For some, Twitter is not intuitive. Initially, Twitter forced a limit of 140 characters of text for each post or “tweet.” Twitter’s rapid-fire communications style and the speed with which posts or “tweets” disappear from someone’s content stream can be confusing or frustrating at first.

Learning to compose a tweet properly can be challenging but a step toward effective mobile marketing where content is limited in length. Since its launch, Twitter has undergone a myriad of changes including accommodating longer posts or “tweets” of 280 characters. Most people who stick with Twitter find it to be a good way to build their brands, to showcase their expertise or product offerings and to link to websites, articles and blog posts.

To get the most out of Twitter, start by following people or companies whose content provides value to you. Whether it is headline news, industry updates, tips and advice, or inspiration, the amount of content that can be read and shared in bite-sized pieces is staggering. Choose trusted accounts to follow. You may want to share other people’s content as part of your own content marketing strategy, and the accounts you follow can help you do that.

The main ways to access Twitter are through the Twitter smartphone app, through the Twitter website or using a social media dashboard tool like Hootsuite or a scheduling tool like Buffer. To get the most out of Twitter:

  • Listen. “Listening” on Twitter consists of paying attention to what people are saying about you, your company, your brand or related topics by searching Twitter for relevant keywords. For example, if you are a dentist, searching Twitter for your name, your practice’s name, and words and phrases such as “dentist,” “teeth cleaning,” and “cavity” can reveal relevant tweets.
  • Survey. Ask questions of your followers and find answers to anything from technical questions to current events. Post a Twitter Poll, a feature that inserts a simple poll into your tweet. Quickly ask a single question that can be useful for marketing purposes such as asking, “What special occasion are you shopping for in the next month?” to reveal who might be interested in your online gift shop.
  • Share. Post news about your company, link to content you’ve written or what you’re reading, and lead people to your website where they can read more or connect with you in additional ways. A newer Twitter feature is the ability to add comments to your own tweets to create a thread of short messages that create a longer narrative.
  • Promote. Market your product or service in tweets that contain a photo or video. People on Twitter are pretty tolerant about occasional, appropriate marketing tweets.
  • Respond. Twitter is useful as an online customer service tool if you have the resources to monitor what is being said about you and your company and respond in a timely and appropriate manner.

Here's how to get started with Twitter:

  • Set up your account including a profile photo and a short bio (160 characters or less). Add a link to your website in the designated field. You can also include links and hashtags within your bio.
  • Customize your Twitter header at the top of your Twitter account page. Check how it looks both on the web and on mobile devices to make sure your profile image doesn’t cover any important sections of your header.
  • Follow other people so you can read their tweets in your Twitter stream. They, in turn, can follow you back to read what you have to say but there are no rules obligating them to follow you back.
  • If both parties follow one another, Twitter elevates you from “followers” to “friends” meaning that you both have permission to Direct Message or DM one another to send messages privately. A newer Twitter feature is a setting to let anyone DM you through your Twitter page instead of restricting access to just your Twitter “friends.”
  • Address a message to someone publicly using the @ sign in front of their Twitter handle such as @janedoe. Address them privately in DMs.

There is no single right way to use Twitter although you probably do not want to start with more than one account for your company. Managing multiple accounts can be time-consuming and usually not necessary unless you have distinctly different use cases such as setting up a personal presence versus a professional one. As with any social networking, carefully consider what you post to your personal account even if it is set to private.

Twitter takes time to cultivate and build a following. You can pay for ads to promote your account to gain more followers and more engagement on individual tweets. Remember that Twitter is not about one-way broadcasting but is about conversations.