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How to use Twitter for business – A beginner’s guide

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Relative to Facebook, Twitter is a minnow – with 23% of adult internet users against Facebook’s enormous 71%. But there are two things to note about Twitter: first, 23% of all adult users of the internet is a fairly signifcant number of people, and second, Twitter has a clout that far outrips its raw numbers.

Twitter is particularly popular among the more affluent (household income of $50,000 or more), and the college-educated, and it’s hugely popular with media types – who amplify the messages sent out via the platform through mainstream outlets. So if your business is targeting the affluent, or the college-educated, or if you just want to engage with thought leaders in your industry or via the media, Twitter is something you can’t afford to ignore.

If you’re new to online business, you might be new to using social media to sell your business, too, so we’ve come up with 13 great tips to get you started on Twitter, and to help you use the platform effectively. Read on, and you’ll be a Twitter guru in no time!

1. Know your purpose

Before you even sign up for Twitter, think about what you want to leverage the platform for. Do you want to use it to market your company brand? Or to engage with your community? Or both? If you’re in the online retail business, tweeting links to product pages isn’t going to cut it, and will just get lost in the noise. You’ll need to think a little outside the box, and be prepared to be creative. Are you prepared to answer customer queries and complaints on the platform? Bear in mind that everything that goes on on Twitter is very public – so if somebody complains to you through it, you’re going to need to be ready to respond. Do you have the resources to do this? You need to define your purpose to yourself, and be honest with yourself as to whether or not you have the time and resources to do it properly.

2. Learn the platform

To get started on Twitter, you just need to visit and sign up using an email address. Choose your username carefully – and try and keep it short. Twitter has a 140-character limit, which is pretty short, so if people are @ replying to you, or RT-ing you (see below) you don’t want to chew up their limit with a long username. Go as short as you can, while still putting your brand name front and centre.

Twitter terms include ‘@ reply’, ‘RT’ and #. An ‘@ reply’ is where you put the @ symbol before a username (with no spaces, so, @Twitter, for example) in order to communicate directly with another Twitter user.

‘RT’ is short for ‘Retweet’ – this is where you resend someone else’s message from your own Twitter account (or they do with yours). Retweets will grow your reach, as they’ll be seen by the other user’s Followers, so you should aim to get as many Retweets as possible! To retweet someone else’s tweet, just click on the double arrow symbol you’ll see under every tweet. It looks like this:

twitter retweet button

This tweet from Ellen DeGeneres is the most retweeted tweet of all time:

‘Favoriting’ a tweet is as simple as clicking on the star that you’ll see below every tweet. It’s a bit like ‘liking’ something on Facebook, and shows the world that you approve of another user’s message.

A hashtag – the # symbol – is what Twitter users use to indicate a topic. Usually, the only people who will see your tweets are your own followers (unless someone visits your Twitter page directly), but if you add a subject using a hashtag, everyone who is following that hashtag will see your tweet. Hashtags are a great way to grow your follower base, but don’t overuse them, or it’ll seem spammy. Two is plenty per tweet.

3. Get some followers

It’s no use tweeting if nobody can see what you tweet! The best, and easiest way to gain new followers is to tweet interesting stuff, using hashtags judiciously. If you’ve thought about your purpose, as noted in number 1, the kinds of hashtags you should be using will follow naturally. Don’t use hashtags that are too broad; think about your brand and your industry, and what people interested in that industry might like to see. Keep an eye on the ‘trending topics’ that show up in your Twitter sidebar – if something relevant to your business is trending, jump on that hashtag! Following people is another great way to gain followers – often they’ll follow you back.

Use a tool like Insightpool or Tweepi to target who to follow and who you’d like to follow you. To build a network, you’ll need to target your tweets in a really focused way at those who might be interested in what you have to say.

4. Think about tone

What is your brand, and what kind of tone will strike the right note for it? Casual or professional? Witty or serious? There needs to be a through-line between your brand and the tone you use on Twitter – a mismatch could be disastrous. If you’re selling medical supplies, or dental services, you don’t want to be too flippant. If you have more than one person tweeting from your brand account, it’s crucial that you talk to everyone who has access about the tone they need to use.

5. Define a strategy

Leading on from that, whether you’re the only one tweeting, or there are a number of people using the account, you should set out your Twitter strategy in a document that you make sure everyone reads. Cover all the bases – from purpose to tone to how to handle customer complaints. Even if it’s just you tweeting, this document will help you keep your head if you have the misfortune to get caught up in a Twitter-storm (mercifully very rare, but it pays to be prepared!).

urban outfitters hurricane sandy tweet

An Urban Outfitters employee sent this tweet during Hurricane Sandy – and the company faced a huge public backlash. It’s important that everybody in your business knows what is and is not acceptable to tweet.

6. Upload a logo or an image to your profile

If you’re a blogger, get a good head-shot of yourself and use it as your profile picture. If you’re using Twitter to grow your brand, use your brand logo. Remember that this image will accompany every tweet you send – so it needs to be good!

7. Put your Twitter ID on your website, in your email, and at the end of any article you write

You want people to follow you, so they need to know how to find you!

8. Create Twitter lists

Lists are a way of ‘curating’ the people that you follow on Twitter. If you follow a lot of people, it can be easy to get lost in the noise. By creating lists, you can bring some order to chaos. You could have, for example, a ‘Marketing’ list, a ‘Sales people’ list, a ‘Thought leaders’ list, and so on, each one populated only by people who tweet on those topics. When you add someone to a list they get a notification – if they’re flattered, they might just follow you!

9. Tweet and retweet interesting content

Twitter moves fast – much faster than something like Facebook – and if you’re not interesting, nobody will listen. Keep up with industry news, and tweet out things that pique your interest. Let people know when you do something new with your business. If you don’t have one already, consider starting a company blog so you have interesting content to tweet out to your followers.

10. Keep tweeting!

As we said, Twitter moves fast, so that great tweet you sent an hour ago, with the link to your great blogpost, well, it might be lost already if it wasn’t picked up and retweeted. Twitter will prevent you from sending identikit tweets, so rewrite your tweet each time, emphasising a different angle, and tweet four or five times to maximise your chances of gaining traction.

11. Use the 80/20 principle

Twitter itself suggests that businesses follow what they call the ’80/20′ principle. That means that 80% of your tweets should focus on driving interactions with your followers, using retweets, replies, and favorites. Once you’ve built a rapport with your network, you can start to mix in direct offers or promotions that get followers to take actions, such as clicking on a link or making a purchase from your website. If you push too much, too soon, your followers will abandon you.

12. Use images

As on any platform, images are worth a thousand words. Show your followers behind-the-scenes of your business; show them your new product as you develop it; show them the day-to-day of your business life. If your followers feel that they know you, they’ll trust you.

13. Define your goals

Once you’ve dipped your toe into Twitter, it’s time to define some goals beyond ‘creating brand awareness’. Create monthly goals – like increasing your followers, or increasing the number of people who see your tweets, or increasing the number of conversions that come via Twitter. Then pursue them using all the tips above. Use the Twitter analytics homepage to help you measure how you’re doing.

Main image: Esther Vargas