How to Use Twitter for Business

When I first heard about Twitter—a tool for instantly broadcasting the minutiae of your day and following the trifles of others—I couldn’t imagine a bigger waste of time.

Why would anyone care about what I had for lunch, or whether someone was headed off to the gym? Why would any business person add more noise to the signal to noise ratio?

Or—thought I—maybe Twitter is the inevitable conclusion for a culture fascinated by fame, fed by sound bites, and forced to short attention by an overwhelming amount of data.

Well, as is often the case, Twitter is not the end of civilization as we know it; it may in fact be a glimpse into the future of communication. Because, at its heart, Twitter is just a communication tool. Like the Web, and the phone and the telegram before it, it’s just a tool to let one person connect with another.

How Does Twitter Work?

Twitter users–often called Tweeple (or worse)–have 140 characters to answer the question, “What are you doing?” If you join Twitter you can “follow” other tweeple, which causes their updates to appear on your home page. In turn, they can follow you, a form of permission-based marketing. You can also direct message them, but always in 140 characters or less.

Twitter communications can be viewed and updated on the Web, through desktop apps, and on mobile devices. Although I use all three methods, I prefer twhirl, a desktop app that has some nice added features and updates my incoming tweets in the background while I work.

A quick peek at some recent posts–called “tweets”–include what people are having for breakfast, vague unease about a job interview and a complaint that raw vegetables make one’s mouth “itchy.” (Plus a bunch of non-English tweets that may range from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again.)

How Does Twitter Help You Work?

Within this participating audience of exhibitionists are a growing number of people who are using Twitter for business. And I’m not just talking about aggressive Web marketers who tweet every blog post they make and create links to all their online activities. (You can create clickable links in tweets, but they have no direct search engine benefits.)

Rather, there are professionals who are using Twitter as a communications tool. (Imagine that!) Here’s how you might use Twitter for business:

Follow industry leaders who post links to important resources and influence conversations

  • Post questions for quick answers and answer others’ questions to establish your credibility and expertise
  • Create links to your website or blog (don’t over do it!)
  • Keep up on the buzz in your industry
  • Network with like-minded people.

How to Find (The Right) People on Twitter

The Twitter search box will search matches in others’ profiles, but not in individual tweets. Here are a couple of 3rd party tools that allow for more advanced searches:

  • Who Should I Follow?: Finds and suggests like-minded people based on your tweets.
  • Summize: Allows you to search tweets for keywords and offers lots of customization tools.

How to Get People to Follow You

The more people who follow you on Twitter, the more influence and networking opportunities you have. Thus, it makes sense to try and build a following. Here are some ideas on getting others to follow you:

  • Follow them. There’s an almost kneejerk reaction to follow people who follow you. However, there’s a backlash against people who follow just about everyone for the sole purpose of gaining followers. In short, be discriminating with whom you follow.
  • Post some good tweets right before following someone else. I find that if someone follows me and they only tweet about how hungry or tired they are, I don’t follow them back. The same goes for people who haven’t tweeted in a while.
  • Complete your bio. People rarely follow strangers, so complete your one-line bio and include a URL in the More Info URL section of your profile. I can't tell you the number of times I've not bothered to follow someone because I didn't know a thing about them.
  • Add your Twitter feed to your blog or to other social media profiles. If you have a following at your blog or a lot of connections at Facebook or LinkedIn, you can leverage this audience to increase your followers at Twitter.
  • Reply to people you are following, especially if they’re not yet following you. That’s a good way to engage someone and get them to follow you, even if they didn’t follow you immediately. Remember, though, some people have thousands of followers, and may not be able to respond to every reply.

Ideas on Getting the Most Out of Twitter

While the guidelines of Twitter etiquette are still evolving, guidelines from other social media sites can used:

  • Treat others with respect
  • Participate in the community
  • Do more than promote your own agenda.

Professionals and consultants have had the most impact at Twitter; most businesses are still trying to figure out how to use Twitter as a communications tool. If you’re not a one-person shop, here are a few ideas to help get your creative juices flowing:

  • A restaurant tweets their daily specials
  • A ticket agency tweets about-to-expire tickets
  • A realtor tweets new homes on the market
  • A chamber of commerce tweets local events and promotions.

For more ideas, or just to engage me in conversation, I invite you to follow me at Twitter. I promise not to tell you what I had for lunch.

Unless it’s really good.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media