What is Twitter?

Twitter transformed the way we communicate online, particularly with its limit of 140 characters of text for each post or “tweet.” Twitter can be used as global information resource and a source of breaking news. But how can Twitter be used to market your small business?

For some, Twitter can be unintuitive, but learning to compose a tweet properly is a first step toward effective mobile marketing where content is limited in length. 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. Most people who stick with it find Twitter to be a good way to build their brands and showcase their expertise or product offerings.

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 shared in bite-sized pieces is staggering. Choose trusted accounts to follow. You may want to share their content as part of your own content marketing strategy.

Using Twitter properly requires not only knowledge of how it works technically but also the most common uses of the platform. Twitter can be used to:

  • Listen. “Listening” on Twitter consists of paying attention to what people are saying about you, your company, your brand or other related topics by searching Twitter for relevant keywords.
  • Survey. Ask questions of your followers and find answers to anything from technical questions to current events.
  • 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 connect with you in more ways.
  • Promote. Market your product or service. People on Twitter are pretty tolerant about occasional, appropriate marketing tweets.
  • Respond. Twitter can be an online customer service tool if you are monitoring 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). Include a link to your website. You can also include links 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 to read what you have to say but there is no obligation to follow or follow 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.
  • Address a message publicly to someone using the @ sign in front of their Twitter handle such as @janedoe.

While there are a number of ways you can access Twitter including the Twitter website, most people access using a mobile device. There are also social media dashboards that give you a view of multiple social networks or multiple streams on Twitter such as Hootsuite.

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

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