Twitter is a popular microblogging platform where users share short status updates including links to webpages, photos and articles. Twitter is a great way for smaller businesses to build a following, announce news or promotions and respond to customer questions, or even complaints. Being succinct in your tweeting is absolutely essential on this platform. Say what you need to say in as few words and characters as possible.

Who’s on Twitter?

According to a 2012 poll by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 15 percent of Americans who use the Internet are on Twitter, and eight percent tweet daily. Twitter is particularly popular among adults ages 18 to 29, and among African Americans. More than one quarter of online adults in each of those categories use Twitter. Additionally, those in urban and suburban areas are more likely to use Twitter than their rural counterparts.

Those groups aren’t the only folks on Twitter, though. Mothers, young professionals, media outlets and more all have a strong presence on the platform. Twitter attracts small businesses who want to reach clients through the fast-moving platform. For instance, The Cupcake Truck of New Haven, CT, a mobile cupcake-selling food truck, announces their location daily via their @cupcaketruck Twitter account.

The Value of Tweeting for Your Business

So, what can your business get out of a Twitter presence? Twitter allows you to connect on a personal level with potential and existing customers. As a small business, this is an incredible asset as you become a brand your customers know and trust. Because you can quickly respond to customers’ tweets, you can build great rapport.

[Twitter terms]

 Tweet – A 140-character message sent out by a Twitter user.  All tweets are limited to 140 characters – including hashtags, links and mentions.

Hashtag (#) – A hashtag is a subject or topic mentioned in a tweet and indicated by a # mark. For instance, for Disney-related tweets, the hashtag might be #Disney and appear in or at the end of a tweet.

At (@) – The @ sign appears before a user’s name in a mention on Twitter. For instance, if you want to mention your friend (with a Twitter account), you’d use. @TWITTERNAME in your tweet (obviously replacing TWITTERNAME with their handle.)

Avatar – The small picture that accompanies tweets. For people, this is usually a headshot. For businesses, a headshot or logo could be used.

Connect – This tab at the top of the Twitter page takes you to where you can view your mentions (@s), messages and more. It shows you who has interacted with you and how.

Direct Message (DM) – A private message sent between two Twitter users who follow each other on Twitter. Other users cannot see this.

Follow – When you follow someone, their status updates appear in your Twitter stream. Likewise when folks follow you, your updates appear in their Twitter stream.

Handle – An individual’s Twitter name.

Mention – See At (@).

Retweet (RT) – Forwarding someone else’s tweet to your Twitter followers. When you hover over the tweet, simply click the “Retweet” button and then confirm that you want to send it.

Follow Friday (#FF) – A weekly event where Twitter users simply tweet folks they recommend others follow. This used to be quite popular, but isn’t so much anymore. If you try it, be sure to include reasons why to follow the Twitter users.

Twitter party/ Twitter chat – An organized meetup held for a specific time duration. Those participating in a Twitter party or chat are connected by using a special hashtag. Users can follow the hashtag or use a third-party application such as TweetGrid to follow and participate. All participants must use the hashtag in their tweets during the party.


Getting Started

Twitter is all about conversation and making connections with others. Thus effective tweeting begins with tweets that are interesting, informative or useful. Don’t waste character space with unnecessary words or phrases, and don’t bother sending out generic “Good morning!” tweets.

Instead, focus on interesting observations, links to webpages, blog posts and articles (with a brief description beforehand) and on responding to others with useful insight.


How Often Should You Post?

Like any social media outlet, it’s important to be a regular Twitter user. You build relationships with your followers and those whom you follow by being seen and heard on a regular basis. That said, you don’t necessarily have to tweet every day. Several times a week (and several times on those days) is fine.


What Should You Post?

Depending on your business, you may choose to post about daily specials, spread the word about events in your town or share links that discuss topics relating to your business or your customers’ needs. Remember that you are trying to reach customers, so you want to keep it friendly and interesting to them.

When crafting posts, think about these two important things:

• Focus on value, conversation and ease of use. If you are trying to point out a really cool blog post mentioning your business, link directly to it – don’t send them to it in a roundabout way. The more clicks it takes to get somewhere, the less likely the follower will actually see it.

• Write tweets that get people’s attention — in a good way. Tweets with too many hashtags or only links look like spam and lead to “unfollows,” lack of engagement and being ignored.


Retweeting 101

A retweet is sending a tweet from another Twitter user to your following. This allows you to share the love – making sure that your followers see interesting or informative tweets from others. Retweets should be interesting and relevant, just like your own messages.  Be sure to maintain a balance—too many retweets can seem spammy.

Because retweeting is effectively supporting someone else’s words, be sure that you can get behind what they are saying as well. If you don’t agree, it’s probably best not to retweet it.


Engagement on Twitter

This is so important to remember: Twitter is about conversation and community. In order to be part of the conversation, you have to participate through following and interacting with your customers, potential customers and those interested in your business.

Building your audience is a two-fold task. First, you need to follow others – this populates your Twitter stream with tweets. Be sure to follow individuals in your field and other businesses in your physical and professional community. Each of these will have shared interests with you.

By following others, you will see others begin to follow you back. This is a good starting point for building your audience. However, if you want to be a Twitter success your reach has to extend beyond that group.

Once you’ve built a following, the number of people you follow shouldn’t exceed the number who follow you. Also, while it’s important for you to follow others, it’s not necessary to follow everyone (but you can, if you want to). For a more curated list, follow only those who interest you the most. But a hint: your list of followers should be substantial – even if it isn’t nearly as long as the list of those who follow you. (This ratio should even out as you gain a following.)

One great way to reach more followers is through the use of hashtags. When someone searches for tweets with a specific hashtag, they find information relating to subjects they are interested in and can follow the Twitter users who send those relevant tweets.


Hashtag Use 101

Using hashtags is an easy and simple way to have your posts seen by many users. However, you need to be smart – and conservative – with your hashtag usage. How?

1. Choosing Hashtags – Only hashtag a tweet if it truly relates to the topic of the hashtag. For instance, if you make an observation about a television show, you might hashtag it with the name of the show or a popular abbreviation. If you tweet about a new product for use in kindergarten classrooms however, you’d want to hashtag it with popular education hashtags like #edchat or #kindergarten.

2. How Many Hashtags? – When hashtagging, limit yourself to no more than three hashtags per tweet – and vary the number you use per tweet. Using more threatens to make your tweet look more like one long link rather than an interesting and useful statement.

3. Avoid Hashtag Spam – Let’s say you find a Twitter party hosted by a brand whose users are similar to your demographic and you think, “Hey, if I tweet them, I can reach all those people.” While it’s okay to join the party, tossing the party hashtag on an unrelated tweet is Twitter spam and will garner you a bad reputation among other Twitter users.


[ 9 Things You Should Know about Hashtags:]

1. Hashtags should pertain to the topic of your tweet.

2. Don’t overuse hashtags – it looks spammy.

3. Limit your hashtags to 2-3 per tweet.

4. Using hashtags can help you connect your business to others with similar interests.

5. Anyone can create a hashtag at any time.

6. Hashtags are searchable on Twitter, helping people find interesting tweets and users.

7. Clicking on a hashtag brings up all the recent tweets that used that hashtag.

8. Hashtags can be used to tie together posts in a Twitter party or chat.

9. Hijacking a hashtag with an unrelated tweet is bad form.


Being an Active Participant

Tweeting doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. To be a good and active participant, you have to mix up the types of tweets you send – including links, statements, RTs and interactions. Sending too many of one can make your Twitter stream less interesting. And sending only links and RTs lacks the authenticity of voice Twitter users find most valuable about the platform.


Twitter Success Spotlight: The Hop Ice Cream Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

The Hop Ice Cream Café in Asheville, NC, is a popular spot that is active on social media. Greg Garrison, owner of The Hop, says that the business has been on Twitter since December 2009. An employee of a neighboring establishment suggested it, and Garrison and his wife decided to give it a try. They haven’t looked back since.


On Twitter

 The Hop’s Twitter account includes a variety of tweets that promote local events and businesses, respond to others and things that are happening at the business – like new ice cream flavors.

“It’s been amazing. We’ve taken orders – several orders – on Twitter. We’ve been asked to scoop at events by people who we haven’t yet met,” says Garrison. “Twitter is kind of like a high school cafeteria. There are always people fulfilling all sorts of roles.”

Garrison sees his business’s role on Twitter as that of a helper. “[I] try and help out as many of our fellow local businesses as we can,” says Garrison. “Spread the love, without ever expecting anything in return.”


The Hop’s Twitter Strategy: Respond, Respond, Respond

One of Garrison’s key strategies on Twitter? Responding to every mention. “I am quick to respond. Communication happens a lot from the customers as well. They’ll say ‘I’m at The Hop’ and I will say thanks for stopping in,” says Garrison.


Twitter Management in a Jiffy

Scheduling tweets: Through third-party applications like HootSuite, you can schedule tweets in advance. This can be helpful for spreading the word about certain promotions or upcoming events. However, since interaction is key to Twitter, you need to also respond in real-time and cannot rely on scheduled tweets to manage your account. Furthermore, it is important to stop scheduled tweets in times of crisis or you may risk appearing insensitive to others.

Setting limits: It’s easy to spend a lot of time on Twitter. However, you can’t let it take over your day. Instead, limit yourself to a few short check-ins as often as you choose. You can also set up alerts for when you are mentioned, which makes it easier to passively monitor your account without constantly being present.

Planning techniques: When you know a special promotion or season is coming, you can plan ahead for some tweets. But since active response matters on Twitter, stay alert and engaged to make sure you appear authentic, not canned or pre-written.


Twitter Advertising

Twitter now offers advertising options for business users. Twitter advertising can build your fan base and engagement – though it may not be as effective as organic community building. It should also be noted that Twitter advertising can be expensive.

Promoted Tweets – With this option, you pay to get your tweet in front of more eyes. It stays at the top of the Twitter stream (unless the Twitter user chooses to minimize it). It’s a way to have your tweets reach a larger audience.

Promoted Trends – Want your hashtag to be a trending topic? While that can happen organically, you can pay to have your hashtag appear at the top of the trends list. This can get more folks interested in, or participating in, the topic you’re tweeting about.

Promoted Accounts – Looking for more followers? This option puts your Twitter handle into users’ “Who to Follow” box. It’s essentially buying followers – but Twitter’s algorithms mean that you’ll be shown to users who are more likely to be interested in what you have to say.


Get Involved: Twitter Chats

Many industries and companies hold Twitter chats, which are regular discussions linked with a hashtag and held on certain dates and times (for instance, Monday from 7-8 p.m.). This is another good way to reach more people. Participate, share your knowledge and learn from others.

Do it: There are literally chats for every interest. The best way to learn more about chats is to try attending one. One of interest to you could be the weekly Small Business Chat. The details: #Smallbizchat – Wednesdays, 8-9 pm, EST – The discussion focuses on small businesses and lets owners come together and ask questions.


[10 Twitter Mistakes to Avoid]

 1. Not having an avatar – This is a rookie move that will make people distrustful of anything you say.

2. Not including your website URL on your profile – You want people to find your business beyond Twitter, don’t you?

3. Tweeting irregularly – Regular tweeting keeps you relevant.

4. Only tweeting links to your website – No one likes a braggart.

5. Using too many hashtags – It looks spammy and people won’t pay attention.

6. Not using hashtags – You’re missing the opportunity to broaden your reach!

7. Not following anyone – Twitter is about the conversation. You have to be a part of the conversation.

8. Not replying to @ mentions – This is like being at a cocktail party and ignoring those who want to talk to you.

9. Having a private Twitter account – If your account is private, people can’t see your tweets unless you allow them to follow you. You’re a business. You should want people to see and interact with you.

10. Tweeting unkind or rude thoughts – Really, no one should do this. But especially not from your business’s Twitter handle.

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