If you own a small business and you aren’t using Twitter, you’re a fool.
That’s the bottom line. I say that as a person who for too long dismissed Twitter – and social media, in general – as an outlet for reality stars and urban poets. But, like your uncle who recently completed his 12-step program and the former smoker who issues a haughty snort and a dirty look every time someone else lights up, I am now holier-than-thou. I have seen the future and for any small business owner, it will include a Twitter account.
If I told you about a billboard on your local highway that you could use to promote your business – for free, mind you – that would be viewed by 100,000 or 200,000 or even a half a million people a day, you’d say, “sign me up!”
If I told you the New York Times had created a special section of the newspaper, focused exclusively on your industry and you could advertise in it for free, you wouldn’t hesitate.
Well, that’s what Twitter is: advertising to a very targeted audience. But, unlike regular advertising, which is paid for in dollars, Twitter is paid for in the currency of you.
That means that while it won’t cost you money, you’ll be putting in plenty of creativity, commitment and strategic thinking. But, if you’re like most entrepreneurs I know, you could do that in your sleep.
So here are the basics:
Twitter is a short message service (SMS) accessed through the Twitter website that allows you to send out a message of 140 characters or less that will be read by your Twitter followers. (I know, you don’t have any Twitter followers yet, but you will). Your messages will be read by your followers on their computers or on their phones through a mobile application (or app, as you’ll soon be saying smugly).
Your messages, which you will create on the Twitter website – or using one of the many social media management tools available – will consist of information about you, your company, your services and the community of people you are involved with. However, they will also contain information that is useful, interesting, fun and relevant to your followers that has absolutely nothing to do with your business.
And this is where Twitter differs from regular advertising. While traditional advertising was created to sell products and services, social media — especially Twitter — sells you. When you start sending tweets that are interesting – even if they aren’t about your business – people will start paying attention to you. Once you’ve got their attention, then you can get down to the brass tacks of doing business.
With Twitter, it’s all about subtlety. You wouldn’t dream of talking marriage on a first date and you don’t start beating people over the head with your marketing messages when you first start tweeting. In both cases, you build the relationship first and get down to business later.
To get started, you need to create a Twitter account. You can do that for free on the Twitter.com website. You will choose a Twitter name for yourself, called a handle. Handles start with the @ sign. Mine is @jeanettebnd. Choose something simple. It will make things much easier.
You will also need an image. Personally, I prefer an image of the actual person who’s doing the tweeting. I find logos or fake images a little off-putting.
Once you’ve got your account, you’re ready to tweet. First, though, you need a few followers. Because, if a tweet falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it…
The best way to get followers is to become a follower. Start with people you know. Search for them on Twitter and follow them. They will follow you back. Next, start seeking out people you don’t know who are tweeting about things that are of interest to you and have something to do with your business or industry. If you follow them, many will follow you back.
These could be your competitors, journalists, people in related fields, potential customers. You name it. On Twitter, there are no barriers. I follow George Stephanopoulos, the New York Times fashion editor and a guy who owns a pet store in Iowa with equal interest. In terms of reaching out to other people, Twitter is the great equalizer.
One way to find people to follow is to do a search on Twitter or a Twitter management tool [link to brian’s story]. You will be searching for key words using hash tags. A hash tag starts with this symbol: #.
On Twitter, a hash tag is like putting something in bold. It’s a way for people to designate something in their tweet as a key word. They do this because other people search for interesting tweets using these key words. So, if, for example, I were a Hello Kitty enthusiast, I would search for tweets with the hash tag #hellokitty. Usually, when the key phrase has two words they are put together as one for the purposes of turning them into a recognizable #hashtag. When you get the hang of Twitter, you’ll start searching to see which #hashtags are especially popular so you can use them in your tweets.
Once you get started on Twitter, it’s time to start tweeting. Start simple. The best way to get started is by retweeting other people’s tweets. This is easy to do. When you see a tweet that is of interest to you, you hover your cursor over their Twitter image and you’ll see the option to retweet (RT). When you start retweeting, those people will start following you, too.
When you’re ready to start sharing your own thoughts, one of the most effective tools is to tweet “content.” By content, I mean stories, blogs, graphics, videos, etc., that you find interesting. You do this by copying the URL of the website featuring the information you want to share. You will need to shorten this URL, as they are very long and will likely take up most of your 140 characters. They will be automatically shortened in some social media management tools, like TweetDeck, or you can shorten them manually on a website such as Bit.ly or Tinyurl.com and then paste the shortened URL into your tweet. Sounds complicated — but it’s really very simple.
Later, once you get going, you’ll also figure out how to tweet images of your own. But, stick with tweeting your own comments and URLs for now.
Once you start tweeting interesting content, your followers will become engaged. They will RT your tweets. Other people will start following you.
You’ll follow other people. Before you know it, you’ll be a regular part of the Twitter-verse, as you’ll be calling soon enough.
And, what about that free billboard? Just wait. You may only have 30 or 100 or 200 followers after a few months, but the first time one of those followers – who has 2,000 or 5,000 or 50,000 followers of their own – RTs one of your tweets, you’ll see what I mean. Suddenly, you’ll be cruising down the social media highway humming a very happy tune.
Jeanette Mulvey is the Managing Editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via email at email@example.com.
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Jeanette Mulvey is the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.