Twitter has become the social media platform known for breaking news, witty one-liners and its 270 million active users. But while a social media system comprised of posts at or under 140 characters may seem simple, it's easy for small business website owners to get lost in a world of tweets for hours with nothing to show for it. To avoid spending hours on Twitter without actually successfully marketing anything, businesses first need to understand how Twitter works, how to get started, and the dos and don'ts of engaging with followers. Here is our complete guide to Twitter for business.
Understanding Twitter: The Pros and Cons
As one of the most popular social media platforms, most businesses find success marketing on Twitter—but it's important to understand how the platform works, because different types of businesses with limited resources may find a better reach on another social media outlet. First, Twitter's biggest pull is that there are over 270 million people actively using the platform to connect, entertain and more. Those 270 million people mean there's a wide audience for businesses to market to. But, less commonly known, Twitter is also a good place for businesses to stay on top of trends since Twitter is where a lot of internet news breaks first. Twitter's newsfeed is also ordered more chronologically—where Facebook's algorithms make it difficult to get your posts seen, all you need to do to have your tweets viewed by followers is to post at the right times. Twitter is limited to 140 characters—most of the time, this is a plus, since short social media posts tend to do better anyways, but sometimes when you have a lot to say this can be a downside. And since tweets are ordered by the time they were posted, if you don't post at the right times or often enough, your posts won't have the desired reach.
Getting Started on Twitter
New users visiting Twitter.com will be prompted to set up a new account. Starting an account is simply a matter of filling in a little bit of information. The most important thing to pay attention to is creating a simple, yet memorable handle—this is the name people will use to find you on Twitter. A business name often works well, but remember to keep it short and don't use any funky characters (_-?!) that make it hard to share your Twitter handle verbally. “While looking to create a handle for your organization, don’t be in a hurry, otherwise you’ll probably going to make it a mess,” suggests Himanshu Bounthiyal. “Try not to go for some fancy or cheesy one, instead, makes it simple and short yet engaging by keeping your brand name in mind.” Don't skip filling in your bio either. Make it brief, but it's okay to use some personality and sound less formal. “You need to balance sharing who you are with what you do and still make it interesting,” says Cathy Larkin. “Make sure you have personality in the bio.” Once you have your account set up, it's time to get started using Twitter. But first, a quick vocab lesson for those unfamiliar with the platform:
- Tweet – A post on Twitter. A retweet is the term used when sharing someone else's tweet. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, but to make it easier for followers to retweet your posts, 110 characters or less is ideal.
- Mention – Mentioning another Twitter user. This is done using the @ sign, like this: @TwitterHandle. If you start a Tweet with a @, Twitter views it as a reply to that person and it won't be shown to all your followers. Use the mention in the middle of the post instead, or add a period before the @ sign to indicate to Twitter that it is not a reply and should be sent to all your followers.
- Hashtag – The number symbol #, followed by a keyword. Hashtags make tweets searchable by topic, so use them to gain additional followers. Hashtags can also determine things such as the type of post, such as #throwbackthursday. Tools like Topsy can show you how popular a hashtag is.
With a profile created and basic vocab down, it's time to start creating content.
The Dos and Don'ts For Writing Tweets
Do use hashtags
Hashtags are here to say, and they're important for making the most of Twitter. Use hashtags to identify the subject you are posting about. Brands can also benefit by creating their own hashtags to go along with their marketing campaigns, such as Charmin's #TweetFromTheSeat, Pepsi's #LiveForNow and Dominio's #LetsDoLunch. “There was a time when marketers wondered if hashtags were a phase, but they have solidified themselves in mainstream culture enough to be considered a fixture,” says Jason Demers. “If you want to garner a large following, it’s important to develop a unique and easily identifiable hashtag that has the ability to become synonymous with your name, brand, or Twitter handle.”
Don't be afraid to ask for Retweets
Studies show that simply asking for retweets will increase your engagement. In Twitter-speak, you can say “Please Retweet.” Or, if you don't have enough characters, you can use “RT” or “Plz RT.”
Do use Twitter for more than just marketing
Sure, Twitter is a great marketing platform, but businesses can benefit from more than just outreach. Just ask Azure Collier. “You can also use it as a form of customer service,” she says. “People love asking questions on Twitter because the communication is so quick. And it’s a really effective way to respond to your customers online.” Businesses that host events can also use event hashtags to follow and organize the tweets from all the attendees.
Do offer something of value
Like any social media, you can't just try to sell your product. The best Twitter campaigns also offer something useful or entertaining to their followers. “Always deliver value to your audiences – this is fundamental to all Twitter business tips,” says Stuart J. Davidson. “Without value, no one would have reason to follow or interact with your messaging. Value is usually attributed to compelling, relevant content that your audience wants to engage with.”
Don't promote your business 100 percent of the time
Like with other social media platforms, don't talk business all the time, or you'll end up boring your followers. Tweets should be related to your industry, but they don't have to relate directly to your products all the time. Share useful tips. Curate or retweet other interesting posts. Tweet about current events. Share a joke.
Do Tweet frequently
Where Facebook posts tend to drop in engagement when more than one or two posts are shared each day, Twitter users can post more often (8-10 times a day). Since Twitter is organized by time, it's okay to Tweet something more than once a few hours or days apart, in fact, it's often a good idea. To save time, schedule Tweets with a program like Hootsuite so you don't have to log in every few hours to tweet. “Up until recently, there was a strong belief that your audience doesn’t want you to share the same content more than once. That it is recycled content and you need to put more emphasis on creating higher value and share new stuff all the time,” says Roy Povarchik. “In reality, most of your audience wouldn’t see your next blog post if you share it just once.”
Don't Auto Tweet or Auto Message
Using a tweet scheduler like Hootsuite is fine, but avoid any service that automatically writes the tweet for you and shares every time you do something, like post to the blog. Direct messages are okay, but when you set up automatic direct messages to every new follower, it's viewed as spam.
Do follow other businesses and people
The most popular Twitter accounts have a lot of followers, but also follow a lot of other profiles as well. Follow others interested in your industry by using hashtag searches or viewing the followers of a similar business. Not everyone follows back, but many do. Following other accounts is a good way to increase your own followers and engagement. Twitter is a popular platform, and it's useful to businesses beyond just marketing. By understanding how Twitter works, and the dos and don'ts for creating content, businesses can successfully use the social media platform to expand their reach. As with any social media, it's an ongoing effort, so set aside a small amount of time, 10 or 15 minutes a day, then follow the do's and don'ts and you'll be off to a solid start.