People go to Twitter to share what they know and learn in return. Twitter users are hungry for new ideas, opportunities, information, services, and products. If your business is not part of this exchange, you're leaving two huge opportunities untouched: growing your business and improving it.
Business of all sizes use Twitter for a variety of reasons, from marketing to customer service. The way you use Twitter will vary based on your goal, discussed in more detail below.
5 Twitter Tips for Businesses
1. Define Your Purpose and Goals
Why is your business on Twitter? If the primary (or only) reason is to drive traffic to your website, you need to rethink your strategy.
The Twitter community values interaction with real people. If the only thing you're adding to the conversation is a push to visit your website, you aren't going to have a strong and valuable reputation on Twitter. Some people will still follow you and click your links, but you'll be leaving several unique opportunities on the table, untouched.
Setting Twitter aside for the moment, what does your business or organization need to do better? Some misguided business leaders think they need to be Twitter because "that's where our customers are," and don't see that Twitter is a tool that can help a business achieve its real goals. Is the business growing rapidly, and you need to find new employees or contractors? Is one of your business's pain points that it doesn't listen to its customers or clients? Do you need to improve internal communication between employees? Twitter can help you address those issues and many more—read on to learn how.
2. Assign the Right Tweeters
You've just hired a young, bright intern who's active on plenty of online social networks, which is why her first assignment will be to set up a Twitter account for your business. Bad idea!
If you want to really leverage Twitter for your business, you need dedicated employees involved. The intern can certainly help you monitor the account and maybe teach your staff basic Twitter etiquette, but she should not be the sole person behind it. You need people who can truly capture your business' voice and speak knowledgably about the company (or know how to get knowledgeable answers fast from the executive team).
So, what qualities should your tweeters have?
Knowledgeable. Depending on what goals you've set, you need someone who knows the issues related to those goals inside and out. Let's say your business is growing and you need to hire six Java programmers in the next three months. The person you want tweeting in that case would be someone who codes in Java, not the human-resources manager. If your goal is to better address customer comments—and these will include complaints, questions, and praise—you need someone on Twitter who handles customer service, which in a very small business might be the CEO.
A good listener. The person or people you assign to manage the Twitter account should be as good at listening as they are at speaking and writing. It's very important on Twitter to respond to people who at-message your account. I've interacted with several professional businesses on Twitter who have never once answered my messages. I no longer follow them. You don't need to say much to acknowledge another person's existence on Twitter. A simple "@TwitterName It's a known issue. We're working on it" or "@TwitterName Thanks!" is all that's needed.
Trustworthy. Most important of all, put people you trust behind Twitter. It's a powerful platform that spreads information to millions of people very quickly, and one misguided employee can cause disastrous effects. You need to trust the people who represent your company on Twitter completely. Larger businesses may want to have their employees agree to a few basic guidelines for social media, although I personally feel that a contract-style social media policy is usually unnecessary.
Forcing an employee to sign a social media contract doesn't convey your trust. The employees representing your business on Twitter need to feel trusted in order to cultivate their voices and write like a human being. Twitter is not an advertisement or slogan—it's a real person talking with a community of other people. Find people you trust completely, and give them reasonable autonomy.
Names. People on Twitter want to know the name of the person on the other end. Here's how some of the strongest businesses on Twitter do it: they use the company name as the Twitter handle, and in the profile information, they list the employees who manage the account by their real names. The employees then identify themselves when they tweet by include a carrot and their initials (like this: ^JD).
Identity. If it's important for a brand to have a "voice" or identity, it's even more important for a real human with a name to have one. Photos help, but with Twitter, you can only upload one photo per profile. How do you get real faces on your Twitter page if more than one person is using the account? General Motors, often named one of the best business on Twitter, came up an elegant solution. The company designed a background image that contains the names and photos of the four employees who tweet for the company. It's a brilliant solution.
Guidelines, not rules.Getting an individual's voice to blend with the organization's can be tricky if the employee is not a PR or marketing professional, but with some general business guidelines and good common sense, it should happen quickly.
Personally, I don't think most companies need to shroud their employees with a full-force "social media policy" because the rules usually focus too much on what not to do, and that runs counter to community values, like honesty, openness, and sharing.
If you trust the people tweeting for your business, let them do what's natural and comfortable for them—their voices will come through, which will improve their reputation on the site. The one guideline they need is this: "If another person on Twitter asks you anything you're not sure about, tweet, 'I'm not sure. I'm going to ask the right person and will get back to you by the end of the day.'" Encourage your tweeting employees to be honest and upfront, but also fast in acknowledging people. Push home the point that tweeting is an integral part of the business and that other employees should be involved, too, if only as a resource for the designated Tweeters.
4. Follow (and Be Followed By) the Right People
I'm a firm believer that on Twitter, quality outweighs quantity. It's best to follow and be followed by interesting, influential, and useful people \ Remember that your profile is open to the public (only in the rarest of circumstances would a business make its Twitter account private). Anyone can see whom you follow and who follows you, and those people can affect your credibility.
Keep clean lists. Block, report, or delete all the spammers and people pushing adult content (unless that's your line of business, of course) who follow you.
Find connectors. Keep the list of people you're following chockfull of relevant users who will be interested in your content and will feed you interesting ideas that are worth re-tweeting. Look for active Twitter users who post frequently (at least a few times per week) about your field of business. Try to develop a relationship with these people, and be as valuable to them as they are to you.
Use search.Twitter's search bar is one of its greatest assets. Search for your business name and terms related to your field of work often, and when you see the same names and faces turn up in the results day after day, follow them. You can create saved searches for terms you look up frequently, letting you perform this action in just a few mouse clicks. Get in the habit of it.
Being engaging is easier said than done, but it's by far one of the most important characteristics of a successful Twitter account. Here are some ways to engage your community.
Have a sense of humor. Related to the third tip on this list, having a sense of humor helps immensely on Twitter. No one likes a drone. When people are free to cultivate their own voice and speak freely in 140-character messages, a like humor is going to come through, and your customers will appreciate it.
... but keep it business-appropriate. Keep your business Twitter account business-appropriate when it comes to humor. You don't have to be funny and crack jokes; just keep a positive and light-hearted attitude. For example, I tweeted at Starbucks Coffee, "I keep reading that you are one of the best biz tweeters! Care to share a tip or two for how it's done?" and the reply was, "smile a lot. And drink coffee, lots of it." It's not ha-ha funny, but it's not a straight and dry answer either.
Post pictures and videos. People love photos. Your customers and community are curious about what's around you. What influences you? How does the inside of your factory, laboratory, office, or kitchen look? Share visually and often. People want to know.
As a Twitter user, I highly prefer images that are posted through Twitter's own photo features rather than those posted through another service that forces me to open a new window to view the images (Instagram being the prime example).
How to Use Twitter: The Basics in a Nutshell
I've included this section for people who are wholly unfamiliar with how Twitter works. If you already understand the basics of Twitter, no need to read further.
Twitter is a social network. It's used by people, businesses, and brands of all sizes for a variety of reasons. The primary interaction is tweeting, or posting a message. Tweets are limited to 140 characters.
Your profile should contain relevant information about your business, the purpose of the Twitter account (e.g., outreach, customer support, news about the business), and if applicable the city and country where the business is located. Also include the business' website in your profile information, as well as Twitter handles of anyone related to the business (founders, CEO, etc.) where followers can look for additional information and insight.
When you sign up for a Twitter account, you can follow other users—that is, see their tweets appear in your activity stream—and be followed by followers (meaning they've opted to see your tweets in their feed). Users aren't expected to read every single tweet that shows up in their streams, although some do. It's more common for users to think of their Twitter streams as a place to browse content leisurely.
Retweeting means re-sharing a tweet that someone else wrote. If someone retweets your message, it means not only will your followers see it, but their followers will see it, too (attributed to you).
A tweet that uses the symbol @ followed by a Twitter user's Twitter name or handle is called a mention. It's a message directed at another user. The recipient will be more likely to see because it will show up in the user's interactions list. Interactions alert users to activity that they might want to know about, such as when a new follower adds them and when someone retweets one of their posts. Users often opt to receive special notification via email or an app when someone is trying to get their attention on Twitter.
A hashtag or # symbol used before a word or string of words (Americans sometimes call it the "pound sign" but others call it a hash) denotes a public discussion about a topic. Clicking on a hashtag will bring up a list of search results for that string of words on Twitter, so you can see what other people have to say about the matter. Tweet-ups—or meet-ups on Twitter—typically use hashtags as an organization tool to get people together.
For more terminology, see Twitter's glossary.
Twitter Extras for Businesses
Business accounts on Twitter have the option of buying advertising in the form of promoted accounts, promoted tweets, as well as paying for access to analytics (that is, data measuring the success of your Twitter efforts). Options and prices vary widely; you can find more information on Twitter's Business Ad Products page.