Twitter, the social network set up by US bloggers in 2006, has exploded in popularity. While the popular press has picked up on how the site features tittle-tattle from celebrities, for entrepreneurs Twitter provides a fantastic opportunity for business promotion.
1. Smart registration
Key to the registration process is using the right keywords in your biography. You have to be clever though as like every other areas of Twitter you're restricted in the number of characters you can use. Most members use various search engines to track down relevant people to follow so use search terms you think will be popular. If you're targeting SMEs for instance include 'small business', 'small businesses', 'SMEs', 'entrepreneurs' etc. Equally if you're after clients or customers in a particular locality include that as a keyword.
Tweet: The word used to describe the update a person posts on their Twitter page
Following: The members of Twitter you have chosen to follow
Followers: The members of Twitter who have chosen to follow you
Retweet (or RT): The act of reposting on your page a post from another member which you find particularly interesting or useful
2. Respond to others
Like other online communities such as forums and groups, the key to making the most of Twitter is demonstrating that you're an expert in your field. Keep an eye out for particular issues you could help with by scanning tweets or using a Twitter search engine. If people recognise that you know what you're talking about and you're willing to offer bits of advice for free they are much more likely to do business with you.
And don't forget to check the '@replies' section on the right hand side of your Twitter page. This lists the members who have tweeted directly at you so you can respond. You could also type your username into a Twitter search engine to see whether there are people who you aren't following have been talking about you.
3. Tweet when you're out of the office
Ensuring you tweet on a regular basis is key to building a good community. One way to make sure this happens even when you're busy doing other things is using a service which sets up pre-scheduled tweets for particular times in the future. There are several sites which allow you to do it but our favourite is Hoot Suite.
4. Be human
Adding a human element to your tweets will build personality around your business and avoid perceptions of a faceless organisation. Representatives of computer business Dell for instance post under their real names plus the company - e.g. RichardatDELL which is a good idea. You should also post about non-business issues too although avoid anything too salacious or very personal.
5. Ask questions
As well as responding to other people's questions you should also ask some of your own. You can't know everything and it will encourage some community interaction. You could also use it to do a bit of market research and ask questions directly related to your business or sector.
6. Every character counts
With important things to say and only 140 characters in which to say it, it's important you're as succinct as possible while at the same time getting your point across. If you're including links to your or other people's websites use a service such as TinyURL.com or is.gd which allow you to shorten URLs. Other services like ow.ly and bit.ly also allow you to track how many people click on your links.
7. Retweet, retweet, retweet!
If you're new to Twitter you may be confused by the regular use of 'RT'. This stands for retweeting which is the reposting of particular tweets from other people on your page which you find particularly interesting or useful. It's worthwhile doing this as it demonstrates to your followers you're not all about flogging your products or services but you're also willing to share tips and advice. Retweeting may also encourage a particularly influential member to start following you. The accepted way of retweeting is to type 'RT' following by @ and the tweeter's username. e.g. 'RT @dan_martin Having a look at BusinessZone.co.uk.'
8. Tweet on the move
Just because you're on a train or at a conference without a laptop doesn't mean you can't tweet. There are various applications such as OpenBeak, Tweetie and uberTwitter which allow you to update your page from your mobile phone. This also allows to react instantly to particular events.
9. Who to follow?
There are thousands of people using Twitter who could be particularly useful to your business. While Stephen Fry, Britney Spears and MC Hammer may be entertaining with their celebrity revelations, it's the people who can directly benefit your company you want to be following.
There are several ways to track them down. Via the Twitter search engine you can search tweets for people who are interested in the areas you cover. Mr Tweet meanwhile will suggest to you which influencers and followers you should check out. In addition, Twitter Grader grades your profile against the entire Twitter community as well as giving you a list of the top tweeters in your locality and Twellow.com lets you search members' biography, name, job title and location.
10. It's not all about you
Don't go overboard with promoting your business by bombarding your followers with links to your website as it will be treated as the Twitter equivalent of spam and encourage people to stop following you. By all means link to your website or blog but say something interesting about it rather than just dumping a link. It is also a good idea to post tweets about subjects not linked to you or your business
About Dan Martin
Dan Martin has 10 years experience as a journalist writing about entrepreneurs and the issues that affect them.
After three years working as a researcher for Sky News, he joined BusinessEurope.com as a reporter. This was followed by two years working as news editor for Startups.co.uk during which time Dan also contributed to Growing Business magazine. In 2006, he joined Sift Media as business editor before being promoted to editor of BusinessZone.co.uk. He also has responsibility for UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online forums for small business entrepreneurs. In addition, Dan founded The Pitch, BusinessZone.co.uk's nationwide competition for small business owners. He host the grand finals in 2009 and 2010 in front of an audience of 300.
As well as interviewing many entrepreneurs, Dan has written content for leading business organisations such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, British Chambers of Commerce, Forum of Private Business, Investors in People and Business Link for London. Among the publications that have quoted Dan are The Times, Mail On Sunday, Financial Times, Personnel Today and Bristol Evening Post. His articles have also been published by publications including eGov Monitor, Virgin Express in-flight magazine and Personal Success.
Dan regularly speaks at events about small business and social media issues. Among the events he has presented at are the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies' annual conference, Learning Technologies, Publishing Expo and World of Learning. He has also chaired high profile debates featuring senior representatives from Business Link and the Federation of Small Businesses and Dragons' Den judge James Caan.
Dan was named the 10th most influential political blogger on Twitter by the Independent and won the public award for best B2B tweeter at the Golden Twits 2010. He also organised the Bristol Twestival, part of a global Twitter driven charity initiative, in February 2009 and March 2010. Volunteers from 175 cities around the world organised events using the social network. In total, $350,000 was raised for charity: water in 2009 and $500,000 for Concern in 2010. In Bristol, £1,500 and £5,600 was raised.