1) Don’t forget your homework: This may seem obvious but it’s surprising how few bother to read what friends and colleagues tweet and who they follow. Also, go through your mind’s Rolodex, what businesses and columnists you “like” on media outlets, Facebook, LinkedIn contacts, what mags you receive via email. But be wary of following too many people initially and also remember that your Twitter page can be seen by anyone. If you are following @SPANX, everyone else can see it too.
2) Don’t get hung up on being “perfect” when you begin: One reason I delayed Twitter was that I fell prey to all the hype. It had to be the best Twitter account everrr. I consulted with my social media guru, talked about it, asked all kinds of questions, but never took action. Get your handle, (which should either be your own name or your business name, whichever will have more recognition), fill out a quick profile and get yourself tweeting! You can change anything at anytime. Don’t let perfection be an excuse to procrastinate.
3) Size matters – only follow the accounts you care about: I found myself incredibly popular on the first evening I joined in the Twitter conversation until I noticed roughly half were either spam, services looking for business, or “hot high school girls” from the Midwest. Go through the tweets of each handle that follows you. How many followers do they have? (Hint: If they have no tweets, don’t follow them back). I quickly learned the unspoken rule of reciprocity: You follow me and I follow you. But don’t expect everyone to do the same. If you are truly interested in someone’s content, stay with it. Remember that others in the Twitterverse can see who you are following and likewise, so it’s a public forum and frankly a bit of a numbers game. And the more handles you follow, the larger the gap, particularly in your Twitter start-up days. In other words, you could have a slim 50 followers and be following a fat 500. Playing catch up can be a challenge.
4) Make your mark on retweets: Just because you retweet content doesn’t mean it’s simply a pay-it-forward or to bank your tweets. Add a fact or commentary at the beginning, that will attract attention, show your point of view, and add value for your followers. It also provides the opportunity for whoever you retweeted to follow you back.
5) Get unruly with the Twitter “rules”: Some experts say you should tweet seven times a day, refrain from tweeting at 8am or 8pm or use the word “ahmazing” (OK, I’m making the last one up but it really should be banned). As social media evolves, any rules or guidelines that exist might not stand tomorrow, so make your own based on the type of business you have and what your marketing goals are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t read up on tips and tricks-you should. My personal guideline is to tweet at least once a day and even more if there is something really stellar (or strategically save it for the next day as back up). Some days I don’t see anything worth tweeting so I refrain. Better to have quality than a tweeters dozen — people will stop reading if they are constantly deluged with useless ones (I’ve unfollowed a few handles because of this). Something else: Even though I joined Twitter for my business, I like to throw in entertaining bits or something that reveals character, humor, or my interests. But don’t do anything so far out there that it could be construed as offensive or racy. You might consider having a second handle for your personal interests, say cooking or soccer, or something more edgy so that you can reach a different audience.
6) Participate in the conversation: Read what others are saying and reply and comment. This will not only get you more enmeshed into the Twitterverse, it will also help gain new followers and potential interests. Don’t overdo it though, just to get your handle out there. And be wise — once you say something anywhere on Twitter, be it a tweet, retweet or reply, it’s there forever. You can delete your own tweets on your page, but they’re already in Twitterville.
7) Writing rules still apply: edit, edit, edit: I can’t imagine putting out my blog after one revision, and Twitter is no different. Don’t rush your tweet. Make sure it’s as tight as possible (the 140 character rule will also help keep you finely tuned) Think about what and how you want to say it. Don’t waste words, abbreviate where it makes sense, and make sure you use the Twitter URL shortener. Check spelling. I’ve already gotten dinged by this a few times. When you use a hashtag, make sure it makes sense and don’t put too many hashtags or try to be overly clever like #OMGsodumb, which ends up being, well, dumb.
8) Put on your own marketing hat: There are many ways to promote and cross-promote your Twitter account. Link it with your Facebook business or personal page, Linkedin, blog, and other social media outlets you are on. Don’t forget to add it to your email signature, business card (if you’re still printing one) and anywhere else you can identify your business and handle. Any opportunity available, bring Twitter along!
9) Set long-term goals: There are many reasons for a small business to be on Twitter, be it to offer discounts to customers, build thought leadership, gain new business, or challenge/intrigue your followers. Whatever you do, make sure your tweets align with those objectives and stay focused for the long haul. Be patient — it can take a long time to reach high numbers of followers. Growing your business is a process, and Twitter is just a part of that.
10) This concludes 140… seconds: The rest is up to you. As you get more experienced, you can add bells and whistles, fine tune your content, and track your social analytics to see what is working and what is not. But the most important thing is to get on Twitter. Period. Like most things, the anticipation is scarier than the outcome. And you might actually enjoy it like I am!