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Not everybody “gets” Twitter. Of the 300 million individuals who have signed up, only about half are active. While Twitter users account for about 20% of all Internet users, the site garners just a single-digit share of all visits to social media sites. In other words, Twitter is visited less frequently by its members than are the “stickier” networks, namely Facebook and YouTube.

Twitter users’ minimal time on site could further the impression that the network is an also-ran. But that impression would be mistaken.

Part of Twitter’s appeal is efficiency: its stripped-down 140-character posts and messages, simple keyword and hashtag-driven searches, and clean, scrolling activity feed can deliver a wealth of information in minutes or even seconds. Twitter is part microblogging service, part social network. It excels as a special-interest news aggregation tool, a trend-spotting engine, and a vehicle for finding, following, and connecting with like-minded people.

Twitter is one of the least reciprocal of social networks: unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, where friends and connections communicate one-to-one, Twitter’s “followers” model encourages thousands and even millions of users to subscribe to the posts of the most influential voices in the Twitter community

That characteristic makes some high-profile Twitter accounts more like a brand page on Facebook—and also something of a “Publishing 2.0” model, the vanguard of digital journalism. Some of the best fits for Twitter are providers of news, expertise, tips, insight, inspiration, and gossip.

Major brands, celebrities, and other high-profile personalities are often impersonated or copycatted by unauthorized, unofficial Twitter profiles. Twitter combats the practice by bestowing a blue checkmark “verified badge” on authentic profiles. But don’t expect a verified badge if you’re just a regular Joe—these badges are mostly added for VIPs on a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” basis. Says Twitter of its verification program: “We concentrate on highly sought users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, advertising, business, and other key interest areas. We verify business partners from time to time and individuals at high risk of impersonation.

Facebook makes it easy to attract hundreds and thousands of fans, but the platform makes it difficult to communicate directly with them. Twitter, on the other hand, allows you to publicly message anyone—and to directly message any of your followers.

The beauty of Twitter is how easy it is to find experts, bloggers, tastemakers, real-world journalists, specialists, and consultants. By tracking Twitter conversations, hashtags, and trends for your own keywords, you can speedily identify influential people in your industry or marketplace. Follow them, retweet them when you like their stuff, and reach out to them with comments on their tweets.

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If you’re a B2B professional using Twitter, you can boost your profile by publishing thoughtful posts about your industry. You can follow and connect with business journalists, conference organizers, professional organizations, potential vendors, partners, and future customers

Twitter has developed an API so outside developers can integrate their applications with it, but the platform is a lot simpler than Facebook—it’s still basically a messaging platform and news aggregator. Twitter’s mission statement is clear. It urges users to “Find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about.”

Twitter’s value proposition to businesses is that the platform can provide “brand lift,” CRM, and direct sales.

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These are the best ways to leverage Twitter’s power:

 

  • Develop a publishing presence with an elevator pitch that makes it appealing to follow. If you can’t squeeze all your messaging into one clear theme, consider establishing multiple Twitter feeds. Dell Computer, for instance, maintains dozens of mission-specific handles, for Dell Outlet, Dell Home, small business, customer care, investor relations, corporate social responsibility, all its different multinationals, and of course the personal handle of founder Michael Dell.
  • Monitor the “Twitterverse” for brand mentions, and follow active Twitter users in your market. Following others is the best way to gain followers.
  • Retweet positive brand messages posted by your followers and brand loyalists.

 

    • Run occasional trend campaigns, where you encourage (or even incentivize) followers to retweet your message if they like or support it.

 

  • Customize your profile-page background.
  • Add Twitter logos and widgets to your site.

 

  • Amplify your message with Twitter advertising programs like Promoted Accounts, Promoted Tweets, and Promoted Trends

Retweeting is coin of the realm on Twitter, and it’s the best evidence that your message is resonating with its audience. Here are strategies to get more retweets and generate viral word of mouth:

 

  • Channel your inner People magazine editor. Compose Tweets that are catchy and compelling, including “top 10” lists, tips, bests and worsts, and so forth.
  • Tweet at the right time: day of the week and hour of the day are critical if you want attention. Your Tweets should appear onscreen when your followers are awake and most likely to be looking at their Twitter feed
  • Don’t batch your tweets. Even if you write most of your posts in concentrated bursts, that’s not the way to publish them—a steady cadence is best.
  • Use popular, trending hashtags if they’re relevant to your market. And invent and promote your own hashtags.
  • Periodically update, revise, and repost your own Tweets. You may feel you’re repeating yourself, but 99% of your followers will miss your posts the first time around. That’s just the way Twitter rolls … er, scrolls.

Although it’s tempting to automate for the sake of efficiency, I don’t recommend that you put your following or replying on autopilot. There are too many spammers out there to make it sensible for businesses to auto-follow whoever follows them. The same goes for “thanks for the follow” automatic messages. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Big or small, your program should have as its goal the establishment of real interactions with real stakeholders in (and potential ambassadors for) your brand. Taking a few seconds to see who each new follower is, and sending each one a (slightly) customized welcome message, will pay off in enhancing the strength of your network.

Remember, Twitter is part social network, part “microblog” publishing platform. When you follow a group of people, companies, and organizations, you’re subscribing to a newsfeed. Twitter is where users go to take the pulse of current events, politics, pop-culture trends and memes, sports chatter, celebrities, industry news, or special interests.

When your business or organization establishes itself on Twitter, therefore, you become a publisher, streaming information—and ideally some inspiration—to your followers.

On a smaller scale, Twitter is also an effective person-to-person messaging platform, one that has partly replaced e-mail and IM for its most firmly entrenched denizens.

 

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