twitter-businessThe funny thing about Twitter is it’s actually one of the most simple social media platforms available, and yet it can still be intimidating to newcomers. Perhaps it’s the idea that every post (aka “tweet”) is immediately made public to the entire Twitter universe, or maybe it’s the creative challenge of writing a compelling tweet within the 140 character limit. Regardless of the reason, it’s not uncommon to become a nervous Twitter newbie, unsure where to begin. Yet, those who learn the ropes will attest, Twitter is possibly the most innovative and useful of all the social media sites, especially for businesses seeking to build brand loyalty with their customer bases.

So how does a business owner learn the Twitter ropes, and what benefits can entrepreneurs gain from managing a Twitter business profile? ¬†First they need to recognize that Twitter is not merely a platform for “cold-posts” solely created to drive traffic back to the business’s website. Rather, Twitter is a community of individuals, businesses, and organizations who value human interaction. As a result, twitter business profiles that choose not to reply to messages or to participate within the community are severely limiting the benefit Twitter will have on public relations.

Of course, there will be no public relations if a business profile has no followers, and there will be few people interested in following a faceless corporation bent on spamming their Twitter stream. People want to follow other people, and savvy entrepreneurs recognize this desire for human connection. That’s why the most successful businesses on Twitter humanize their profiles, assigning one or more employees as Twitter representatives to give voice to their brand. By adding this human quality entrepreneurs create the opportunity for their businesses to relate to their customers on a more personal level, breaking down the barriers of communication and fostering customer loyalty.

Once a business has an active profile, assigned “tweeters”, and a desire to grow, it’s time to begin the process of accumulating followers. Since Twitter’s foundation is built on networking, many members will often follow a profile in return for gaining a following from that profile. By using Twitter’s search bar, it’s simple to find like-minded individuals and industry-related profiles for which to follow. Avoid following spammers and other irrelevant profiles. Focus on keeping a clean Twitter stream and on following contributors who will share the same interests. By following the right people, business owners will not only gain followers that will show interest in their tweets, but they will also build a Twitter stream that can offer them endless inspiration for new tweets. Making a list of the most influential persons within their specific industry is a good starting point when deciding who to follow on Twitter. By following the most relevant Twitter profiles, business owners can begin to get a feel for the interactions within the various segments of the Twitter community, and they can see live examples of the most popular and effective tweets within their specified industry.

Another important aspect of community interaction is to track industry keywords and brand mentions, and to tactfully join into open conversations. An example of this would be an automotive mechanic replying to a local tweet so that they can offer their services to somebody searching for affordable automobile maintenance in their area. Similarly, joining discussions on trending topics by using hashtags, a keyword or phrase preceded by a hash symbol (ex: #hashtag), allows business tweets to be seen by anybody searching for that keyword or phrase. The secret to proper hashtag usage, is to not over-do it. The general consensus is one to two corresponding hashtags per tweet, preferably on trending topics. Furthermore, it’s important for business owners to make sure they understand the topic trending before joining the discussion. It is not unheard of for a business to inadvertently use a trending topic in an inappropriate manner. Nobody wants to see a sales pitch amidst public condolences for a national tragedy. Follow the news and pay attention to the content and tone within discussions. Don’t turn an opportunity to gain customer support into an online public relations disaster.

With the finesse and dedication, business owners will discover that Twitter enables them to bring their brand alive through the interaction with others. Maintaining a Twitter profile is now one of the most effective methods of online brand promotion available, but only to those who understand the importance of using Twitter as a vehicle for communication between businesses and individuals.