I recently attended the Blogalicious Weekend in Atlanta which was the first blogging conference for women of color. And as with any major conference in the last few years, Twitter is all the rage as the tool of choice to document an event and send and receive short messages from attendees.
It occurred to me while at a conference where the tech savvy ranged from expert to total newbie that those of us who use Twitter regularly take for granted that it is there and ready for us to use. Anyone who hasn’t yet tried Twitter often can’t get past the “what the heck is it?” question as well as “how in the world would I use it?”
So I wanted to compile a list of 10 tips for starting to use Twitter for your business and your life because Twitter is flexible that way. But until you can understand - and communicate - the benefits and best practices, it is hard to convince anyone (including yourself) that Twitter has any value at all.
On with the tips.
1. Get a smart Twitter handle. When it comes to business, the best Twitter handle you can get is your own name or maybe even your company name. But whatever name you choose, make sure you have a strategic reason for using it. How do you want to be recognized and remembered in business circles? If you’re thinking you’ll only use Twitter for personal reasons, think again. The lines continue to blur between anything you do in social networks professionally and personally so choose your Twitter handle with care.
2. Choose a clear icon. Most people use a photo of themselves as their Twitter icon or avatar and that’s great because people want to interact with people. However, there it is also acceptable to use your company logo as your Twitter icon if you are speaking “as the brand” instead of more personally as yourself. In many small businesses, you the business owner are the brand. Choosing the right image to use is important to make a good first impression and to build a recognizable Twitter presence.
3. Brand your page. You have the ability to change the background on your Twitter page. Take advantage of that otherwise blank space to better brand your page with your logo, relevant photos, and even additional text and links. While the background image is not “clickable,” just spelling out your web site URL or including graphics to show you are also on Facebook can give your followers more information than the 160 character bio and single link Twitter offers you.
4. Follow selectively. While it may be tempting to follow as many people as you can in hopes that they follow you back, you should really have strategic reasons for following other people. Some good business reasons to follow someone include: they are a luminary in your industry; they act as a human filter and post links to relevant articles often; you do business with them; or they are someone you’d like to network with such as a member of the media. Follow a few people at a time, then listen and engage them in dialogue or retweet them. Then add a few more. Keep your following to follower ratio in balance, that is, you want to make sure you have more followers than the number of people you are following. Otherwise, you look like a Twitter spammer or at the very least, desperate.
5. Listen before you tweet. Like with any community, listen first by following along the conversations you see in your Twitterstream based on who you are following. Don’t pipe up until you know you have something of value to share. Value can range from a link to an interesting and relevant article to a useful tip to someone who is asking for advice to a retweet of someone’s great quote or giving kudos to someone you follow on Twitter for something they’ve done.
6. Pick your tool. There are many desktop-based, Web-based and mobile-device based applications to post to Twitter. Pick the mode that is most comfortable for you and the tool that makes the most sense to you. For desktop, many people love TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop. For the Web, I still use my Twitter home page but also use Splitweet to post to different Twitter accounts. For my iPhone, I love Tweetie but have also tried Twittelator and TweetDeck. And there’s Twitterberry for the Blackberry among others. Most of these tools are free or cheap so don’t be afraid to try out a few until you find the right one.
7. Pay attention to what matters. It is easy to get swept up into the Twitterstream and get off topic. Keep your goals in mind when you are using Twitter. Are you ultimately trying to sell product? Don’t get so caught up in the tweet flurry that you forget to occasionally tweet links to your products. Are you looking for clients? Use Twitter to network and then be careful how else you Tweet because people are watching including potential clients.
8. Tweet regularly. While you can blog once a week at the very minimum and still keep some momentum going with your blog, Twitter is a much more immediate and constant stream of interaction. Expect to tweet at least daily, but you’ll be much more effective if you tweet several times a day. Don’t plan out every single tweet - spontaneity is a good thing on Twitter.
9. Reference and retweet. Be generous on Twitter and you will be rewarded. While it may be tempting to use Twitter to broadcast about yourself and your company all the time, you should balance self-referencial tweets with those that give kudos to others. Retweets are always appreciated by others - just make sure they are on message for your own followers.
10. Step away. It is easy to get sucked into Twitter for hours, but it really only takes 15 minutes a day to do good things on Twitter. Spend more time only if you have strategic business reasons to do so, otherwise, you can find yourself wasting time instead.
Overall, be yourself, be real, be engaged in your tweet community. The value of Twitter comes from the value you put into it.
What are some tips you’ve learned as you’ve incorporated Twitter into your communications tool kit?