How to Put Twitter to Work for You

Whether it’s a small ice cream shop or a manufacturer of golf balls, small businesses can benefit from using Twitter.

Twitter’s popularity has grown over the past few years as people from all walks of life have been embracing the idea of communicating in 140 characters or less. What began as short Internet-generated text messages followed by a handful of people, has morphed into a huge juggernaut where some celebrities have more than a million followers and post regular comments online. And Twitter is also becoming a second home to many small, medium and large businesses.

“It’s a very valuable tool if you use it right,” said Steven Strauss, author of The Small Business Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed in Your Small Business. “If you’re doing it right then you should be building your brand and getting more business as a result.”

According to Strauss, Twitter is an ideal marketing tool for service-oriented businesses and retailers that can run promotions or highlight specials in the alloted word count. Some business owners say the idea of becoming a member of Twitter and actually Tweeting (the lingo for posting comments or content on the site’s feed) is just too overwhelming, or seems downright silly. Yet there are others who say they grew business and/or saw sales rise as a result of being on the platform.

Take Michael Jensen, an entrepreneur who develops applications for the iPhone and Twitter, among other technologies. Jensen’s e-mail application alerts him when someone on Twitter tweets about a subject of interest.

“If someone tweets about something similar to what my App does, I usually respond to them,” said Jensen. While small businesses can create a business account, Jensen suggests creating instead a personal account and Tweeting about business there.

“Business accounts aren’t really something that excites people,” he said.

When engaging in social networking, especially Twitter, a small business should follow some basic rules to ensure its efforts are effective and to avoid getting admonished by the Twitter crowd. First thing to consider: time spent Tweeting. It’s not advantageous for a business owner to spend all day on Twitter and zero time running the operations. The experts suggest that professional users should schedule specific time slots, say first thing in the morning and again in the evening, to post content and respond to followers.

According to Christopher Sherrod, founder and chief thinker at, a Web consulting company, there are two major no-nos: don’t automate your responses or fail to respond to followers.

“Some people get banned on Twitter by automating everything including all their posts,” said Sherrod. “People don’t like robots. They like real people. Social media helps with personal branding because people buy from people they like.”

When using Twitter, small businesses should also keep it informal, but not too personal. With social media there’s a tendency to be very casual, but keep in mind too much personal information may turn off potential customers.

“Nobody wants to know what you’re cooking for dinner,” said Sherrod.

The key to being successful on Twitter is engaging your followers. That can be achieved by providing the right content -- whether it’s a summary of an interesting article or updates on advances in your industry. It can also be done by tweeting promotions and specials. And is there such thing as the “wrong” content? The experts say: yes.

“If you’re a business you don’t want to share political views unless that’s part of your business,” said Jensen. “Keep it neutral.”