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Ultimate Twitter Starter Guide for Small Business

You can’t go anywhere these days without hearing about Twitter.  If you’re a business owner that’s heard all of the chatter, you might be asking yourself:  what’s all the fuss about?

Twitter Starter Guide for Small BusinessesAdmittedly, when I first signed up for Twitter back in early 2008 and briefly tried it out, my initial impression of Twitter was that it was beyond trivial … it was much worse.  I thought it was utterly useless and, at best, a gigantic waste of time.  But hearing the endless media chatter about Twitter so often lately aroused my interest again, and after an extended absence, I decided to climb back into the Twitter trenches.  To my surprise, I’ve discovered there’s more business application and potential use of Twitter for businesses than I initially thought. A lot more.

We’ve put together the ultimate starter guide for Twitter geared specifically toward small business owners who don’t have a lot of time to learn all the ins-and-outs of the latest social media craze, but would like to learn a little bit about what Twitter is and how they might be able to take advantage of what Twitter has to offer.

So, to get started, we’ll start by providing some very brief background information on where the name Twitter actually comes from.  Citing the Twitter 101 for Business page recently launched, here’s a definition:

Twittering is the sound birds make when they communicate with each other—an apt description of the conversations here … because Twitter provides people with real-time public information, it also helps groups of people mimic the effortless way a flock of birds move in unison.

For all practical purposes, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform used to post short messages called “tweets” of a mere 140 characters or less.  You can find and follow others with similar interests, based on their Twitter profiles, and others can follow you back.  Twitter is helping individuals as well as businesses share ideas, build relationships and promote and market their products and services.

Setting Up Your Twitter Account

Let’s walk you through how to get started with a Twitter account for your business.

  1. Go to Twitter and, click the “Get Started – Join!” button.
  2. Enter your first and last name in the “Full Name” box.
  3. Next up is the “Username”.  Don’t underestimate the importance of choosing a good username for your Twitter account.  Try to incorporate the name of your business in some way.  I would recommend using Title case for your username because it provides a bit more emphasis for your name that will make it stand out a bit more and will lend just a bit more importance in your follower’s minds than an all lower case username will.  For example:
    No – twitter.com/jansbeautyshop
    Yes – twitter.com/JansBeautyShop

    Try to utilize either your business name, some form of it, or an important keyword relative to your business.

  4. Enter a password and your email address and the “captcha” code, then click on the “Create My Account” button.
  5. You need to be cautious about the next few steps which will allow you to select people to start following.  I recommend clicking on the “Skip this Step” link on the “Suggested Users” page just below the big “Finish” button.  If you want, you could follow one or two of these high profile accounts, but I would strongly urge you to limit who you initially follow to avoid cluttering your account with updates from celebrity and high profile personality types.

  6. Next, you want to click on the “Settings” link at the top of the page.
  • Change your time zone setting.
  • Put a link back to your site or blog in the “More Info URL” space.
  • In the “One Line Bio” space, describe your business using relevant keywords that are associated with your business. This is a critical element of how people will find you in various Twitter directories available online. Enter your physical location (city), select your primary language, leave the “Protect My Updates” box unchecked and then click on the “Save button.
  • Click on the “Notices” tab and check the “New Follower Emails” and “Direct Text Emails” boxes to be notified when someone starts following you or sends you a direct message.  Click the “Save” button
  • Click on the “Picture” tab to upload a photograph of yourself or a logo of your business.  A photo of you will keep it a little more personal but a business logo might be more appropriate for others.  When you’re done, click the “Save” button.  Do not use the default image that Twitter provides.  Using the default image is a clear indication to other followers that you’re not really serious about twittering.
  • Next, click on the “Design” tab and play around with the background image and design colors to get a feel for what your Twitter account might page will look like.  For business owners, I recommend personalizing or customizing your Twitter background.  A customized Twitter background is another way to signal to your followers that you are a serious Twitter player.  Check out some free Twitter Background designs here as well.

After setting up a Twitter account, you will have a constantly updated stream of information from your followers – similar to a news feed – of all the tweets of people you are actively following.   You can also send direct messages that are private to those on your follow list. Those who follow you back will be able to see your updates. Users can reply and update their “tweets” with a simple click of the mouse.  Twitter allows you to stay in constant communication with your followers in real-time.

Friends, Following and Followers

Twitter allows you to build a network of friends and followers and a “sphere of influence” by following people with similar interests.  A wide variety of 3rd party Twitter applications, such as Twellow and Who Should I Follow, give you the ability to find other people to follow on Twitter based on specific interests, popularity, and activity-levels from tags and keywords within each user’s Twitter profile.

To manually follow someone, you can navigate to that user’s Twitter homepage and click on the “Follow” button. Following will allow you to see that user’s tweets when you’re logged in to Twitter.

Twitter Key Terms and Definitions

Here’s a list of the primary Twitter definitions that you should know about:

  1. @username – To respond to a specific tweet or to reference another Twitter user, just put the @ symbol in front of their Twitter username.  For example, my Twitter username is “billhazelton”.  If you wanted to post a tweet that I would see in my feed, just put “@billhazelton” (without the quotation marks) somewhere in your tweet.  That way, Twitter will automatically link the @username text to my Twitter home page.
  2. Retweet (also known as “RT”) – A “retweet” refers to posting another user’s tweet and crediting them back for it. The convention for retweeting is to put “RT @username” in front of the tweet you are retweeting. Proper Twitter etiquette dictates that you leave as much of the original tweet unedited in a retweet as possible, though it’s considered acceptable to abbreviate some of the retweet text to fit within the 140 character limit. Here’s how a retweet works … let’s say you find a tweet that appears interesting to you here:
  3. Twitter 101:  Ultimate Starter Guide for Small Business http://bit.ly/U2oZP

    …and you visited the link and found the post very interesting or helpful enough that you think it would be worth sharing with others, you would retweet it like this:

    RT: @billhazelton Twitter 101:  Ultimate Starter Guide for Small Business http://bit.ly/U2oZP

  4. DM (also known as “direct message”) – A direct message (DM) is a private tweet that can only be seen by its recipient.  Business owners should exercise caution when using direct messages.  You don’t want to overwhelm or annoy your followers with DM’s.  In order to prevent abuse and spamming with DM’s, Twitter only allows you to send direct messages to people who are following you.
  5. URL Shorteners – Twitter also allows you to post URL-shortened links in your messages so you can link to product pages, articles, and any other interesting links you deem important. These links can help drive traffic directly to your website and help your business to develop leads they may not have otherwise found.  Because you’re limited to 140 characters per tweet, most Twitterers use URL shortening services in order to post links.

The most popular URL shorteners are: tinyurl.com and bit.ly.

Go to either tinyurl or bit.ly and enter the full version of the URL below:

After shortening this URL with bit.ly, the shortened link version utilizes only 19 characters, truncating it to fit nicely into the 140 character space limit for tweeting:

Because URL shortening is such a vital part of twittering, Twitter desktop application clients, like TweetDeck and Seesmic, have these URL shorteners built right into their applications.

Finding the Right People on Twitter

One of the perks of using Twitter for your business is the ability to reach high profile people you may not otherwise get an opportunity to communicate with in any other forum. There are, of course, the celebrities that are devoted to their daily tweets and instant communication with fans but there are also CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and whole companies setting up Twitter profiles to communicate and connect with customers on a more personal basis that other forms of communication allow. Twitter helps reaffirm the power of word-of-mouth advertising and also lets company executives really see what people are saying about their products and services.

Finding the right people to follow on Twitter specific to your business is crucial.  Of people you find to follow, you can go to their Twitter page and locate other important industry leaders and influencers that are following them (click on the “followers” link in the upper right hand corner) including potential customers you need to be reaching out to about your business as well.

How do you find the right people to follow you might be asking?  If you are up to date with knowledge of key people in your industry, you can easily search and start interacting with them right away with services like Twellow and Who Should I Follow. You can build solid relationships with people through your Twitter updates that might not have been possible otherwise.

Twitter Tools and Applications

Twitter has hundreds, if not thousands, of extremely useful and incredibly helpful tools and applications to help you proactively manage your Twitter account on an ongoing basis. Tools and applications that allow you to analyze Twitter trends and statistics specific to your account, help you to build and manage your Twitter following, automate your Twittering to keep your account active and on schedule (very important) and a whole host of other tools that can help to make managing your account simple and highly productive.

Twitter offers a wide-open API (letting developers’ access all the same public data available to Twitter itself) providing an open forum for developers to build these tools. It is because of this API accessibility that Twitter has become more of a platform than a service. Hundreds (thousands?) of websites, iPhone apps, desktop programs, and other Twitter applications have sprung up to make it easier for you to interact with Twitter.

It’s important to know that you don’t need to install one of these 3rd-party clients to use Twitter though. While any of the most popular Twitter applications have made Twittering far more manageable for business owners, you can always just login and use the Twitter website directly.

Twitter allows you to connect with other people in a way no other medium can.

Many frequent Twitter users have reported they have developed relationships with industry leaders that started with just a single Tweet. It is not uncommon for businesses to develop working relationships through Twitter.  Acquiring new customers and more website traffic is one of the major benefits of using Twitter to grow your business.

Constant contact can be a very important part of reaching your customers but you also need to ensure you are providing pertinent and timely information. You should use your account to post questions and informal surveys. In addition to posting daily, you should follow the Tweets of others who are talking about your business. You can get valuable customer feedback for product improvements just from listening to the Tweets about your business.

The most you have to invest in Twitter, and much of social media marketing in general, is your time. The drawback to using Twitter is you can get carried away rather easily by getting caught up in what everyone is saying. To counteract the potential for “time-suck”, it’s important to use some of these Twitter applications and tools that we’ve outlined above to ensure that you’re maximizing your productivity and the return on your time invested.

Additional Twitter Tutorials & Resources:

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Helene August 23, 2009, 4:36 pm

    Thanks for contributing this excellent Twitter for Beginners Guide to The Work at Home Family Carnival.

  • Website design September 8, 2009, 7:35 am

    Twitter is increasing in popularity everyday.I use it often for my business purposes and let me tell you that i have benefited a lot from it.It has increased my visibility to a great extent.Thanks for giving all the details.Very well written.Thanks.