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Twitter for Small Business

There are conflicting reports on how many Twitter users there are – in part because some people lurk and don’t tweet at all, and there are a lot of fake Twitter accounts. But Twitter claims 241 million active users, and it’s one of the oldest social media out there. Although Facebook is still the most popular social medium, Twitter users are active and engaged — in fact, 25% of all social shares are through Twitter. So it’s an audience worth tapping into. 

Basics of Twitter

Twitter is notable among the various social media platforms in that it’s dominated by mobile — 76 percent of all tweets are sent through mobile.

  • Twitter is a so-called “microblog” – you post short bursts of information, no longer than 140 characters.
  • You can include links or photos.
  •  It is a conversation, not a one-way street – this is the most important thing to remember about Twitter. You must interact with other people. This means responding to others, and retweeting other people’s best content (much more about this later).
  • This means Twitter is a personal medium, so the tone is a little less formal than on many social media, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, even for businesses.
  • People talk to people, not buildings or institutions – this is the key to understanding Twitter and succeeding with it. Showing personality and humor on Twitter is vital to making it work for you.

What can I get out of Twitter?

  • You can follow industry news and trends
  • Position yourself as an industry leader
  • Engage with customers and clients
  • Promotion tool
  • Monitor competition

The bottom line – it’s basic relationship marketing.

What makes Twitter different from Facebook?

Twitter is a highly personal medium. People talk to people, not buildings or institutions – this is the key to understanding Twitter, and to succeeding with it.

Facebook is still the most popular social network, and therefore is more familiar to most people both for their own use and for business marketing purposes (a previous Prime Design Solutions podcast and summary covered Facebook for small business in depth) – so a quick look at the differences can be helpful as we get started.

  • There is no difference between a Twitter account for a business and a private individual. This is very unlike Facebook, which has individual profiles for private people and Pages for businesses, public figures, organizations and so on. In some ways, this makes the entire enterprise a lot simpler.
  • Most individuals have set their Facebook profile for privacy. Most people are on Facebook to share photos of their kids and find out what their friends from high school are doing, what people are doing this weekend, and so on – things we want to share with friends, not with the great wide world.
  • By contrast, people are on Twitter to share their thoughts about current events and news. Sometimes people, especially younger people, will share details of their private lives on Twitter, but because Twitter updates are a lot shorter, they tend to be less intimate than Facebook.
  • Thus, virtually nobody sets their Twitter for privacy, although it is possible to do so. This means you can follow anyone, and again, this means any individual or any business/organization/entity, on Twitter. To follow those few users who have set their account for privacy, you have to send a follow request, much like a friend request on Facebook.
  • Twitter has more spam issues than Facebook. Don’t ever click on a link in a direct message, by the way, unless the sender explains what it is.
  • You can do searches on current trends, news events, place names or whatever you wish by using a search term with a hashtag, or pound sign (#), in front of it. Twitter will also let you know what’s “trending,” a feature which Facebook has adopted – but it doesn’t seem to have worked all that well. We believe this is because of the fundamental private vs. public difference in the two media as described above.
  • As of August 2014, Twitter provides you with detailed analytics about who sees your tweets. Previously, Twitter provided none of this information, but now clicking on “analytics” (located in the drop-down menu under your profile pic) gives you a 28-day summary of how much you tweeted, number of impressions, number of times people visited your profile, and so on. You’ll also see similar information for previous months.
  • You only get notifications when someone engages with you, meaning that they reply to your tweet, re-tweet it, or follow you. Again, this is part of the simplicity of Twitter that many people find appealing!
  • Twitter is by far the dominant social medium when it comes to news. You’ve probably noticed that tweets are now considered legitimate news sources – often from ordinary people who are present at the scene of a breaking news event, such as a natural disaster, plane crash, major crime, or political unrest in some parts of the world (sometimes such tweets include photos that news media aren’t in a position to get). You never see Facebook updates from private people used in the same way.
  • Similarly, tweets from politicians, actors, entertainers, sports stars and other celebrities are sometimes cited in news reports, especially when these public figures are responding to a controversy. Occasionally you’ll see the Facebook updates of public figures used in the same way, but again, Twitter is much more immediate.
  • Twitter dominates mobile. At the 2014 Oscars broadcast, Samsung was one of the major sponsors. The host, Ellen DeGeneres, had an Android phone and took a photo of herself and a group of A-list stars who were in the audience. This “selfie” quickly became the most-Tweeted photo in the history of Twitter, even causing a temporary Twitter outage, demonstrating the dominance Twitter has over the mobile market and over news events.
  • It is possible, but not recommended, to link your Facebook Page to a Twitter account, so that everything you post on Facebook goes out over Twitter. Don’t do this – for all the reasons listed above, but also:
    • Facebook does not have the character limitations Facebook has – so if you post a FB update that’s over 140 characters, it will be cut off.
    • It’s considered bad Twitter etiquette.
    • Believe it or not, there are plenty of people on Twitter who aren’t on Facebook, so links to a Facebook photo or post may not work for them.
    • The worst of all is if you set your Facebook Page to post to Twitter and then never check Twitter, and never respond to anyone who tweets to you. You’re better off avoiding Twitter altogether if that’s your game plan.
    • It’s also, by the way, possible to link your accounts so that everything you post on Twitter goes out over Facebook, but this is still not advised.

Getting started on Twitter

  • Go to Twitter.com and sign up – it’s free and relatively simple.
  • Each Twitter account is linked to one e-mail address. Many people have a personal Twitter account and a business account – you will need two e-mail addresses to do this.
  • Pick your Twitter username – we recommend that you use your company name, or as close to it as you can. Some names, like Prime Design Solutions, are too long — hence, our Twitter username is @primedesign. You may also discover that your preferred username is already taken. See what your options are, and choose whatever you think will make it easiest for your customers to find you.
  • When picking your Twitter username, try to choose something that does not use any characters not featured on the first keyboard shown on a smartphone. That is, avoid punctuation, underscores or other characters. A full 75% of Twitter visits are mobile, and you don’t want people to have to work to type your username.
  • Choose a strong password. Jeep, Fox News, and Burger King are among the large brands whose Twitter accounts have been hacked, so choose your password carefully and be careful as you log into Twitter – make sure you on are Twitter’s actual site, not a fake site. (Related: Never click on a shortened URL that arrives as a Twitter direct message without any information, as these are almost always spam). As with all online activities, don’t be paranoid, but be smart.
  • Write your bio. This is short (160 characters) and should give people an idea what to expect if they follow you. (Our bio reads, “Prime Design Solutions provides advertising, marketing, web, print, design, identity, and social media consulting, & tweets about these topics. Plus, we’re fun.”) Your bio will appear on your profile if someone clicks over to it — it is what someone looks at when they’re deciding whether to follow you. This bio is also used in internal searches on Twitter itself, when users are searching for like-minded people to follow (you can use hashtags in your bio, but don’t overdo it). Finally, your bio is also indexed by search engines, and will appear in the search results when someone performs a search for your company name. Write your bio thoughtfully, and by all means don’t leave it blank!
  • Your profile also includes a place for your website’s URL, and your location. 
  • Upload a graphic and profile picture. If you’re tweeting as yourself, it is recommended that you use a headshot as your profile photo. If you’re tweeting on behalf of a company, use your logo, if your logo looks good small — again, most people use Twitter from their mobile phones. Your profile photo should in some way be illustrative of what your company offers.
  • Use the tool provided by Twitter that will scan your e-mail contacts and automatically follow people who have a Twitter account. You can find this under “find friends” in the toolbar.

Getting started tweeting

Here are some of the basics about tweeting.

  • Tweets are 140 characters long. In other words, you have to be succinct. In fact, it can be good to make your tweets even shorter, because many times people will want to add a comment of their own when they retweet your content.
  • There are five different types of messages on Twitter:
    • A Tweet – goes out to everyone who follows you.
    • @Reply – when you reply directly to a tweet – it appears in their tweet stream, and in the tweet streams of everyone who follows you both. If you want to reply directly to someone but want your reply to go out to everyone, put a period in the very front of the Tweet — like this: .@primedesign. That way, you have the effect of having a conversation but send the message to everyone.
    • A “mention” is referencing another user – this could be an individual, a brand, an entertainer, or any other entity on Twitter. When you mention another user, they will see that you’ve done so. Often you have to look up various entities on Twitter to do this – you can search for them from the Twitter interface or from Hootsuite or TweetDeck (note that when you search Twitter, you can “search Twitter,” and “search Twitter users.”)
    • A Direct Message – A direct message is a completely private message that only the recipient can see, but you can only DM someone who follows you.
    • Retweet – a message created by another user that you send out to everyone who follows you.
    • The favorite button – the little yellow star—is used to engage with others’ tweets. When you favorite a tweet, the author will receive a notification, and you’ll receive a notification when someone favorites your tweets. You can access a list of tweets you’ve favorited later. So you can use the favorite button in a variety of ways –as a “like,” in the manner of Facebook, to indicate your agreement or interest; and as a read receipt, basically letting someone know you saw their tweet, for example if someone replies to you or retweets your content with a comment; or as a bookmark, to save a tweet with a link so you can read it later. (Note that favoriting something doesn’t do anything to its visibility, which is a significant way it’s different from a Facebook “like.”)
  • You can tweet links – but if you do, use a link shortener. There is a link shortener embedded in Hootsuite (read on for more about Hootsuite and similar tools), or you can get a free account on bit.ly for link shortening. The advantage of using bit.ly is that it’s easier to track how many clicks you get on your links.
  • You can tweet photos too – photo tweets get better engagement. (A note: you can Tweet from Instagram, but users will have to click on the photo to see it – Facebook acquired Instagram, so Twitter encourages you to use its own photo uploader.)
  • If you have a smartphone, download the Twitter application. If you have multiple Twitter accounts you can manage them all from here. This also makes it very handy to snap a photo on your phone and Tweet it.

Now what?

  • Start following people – and who you follow has a lot to do with what kind of business you are. Be judicious in who you follow – of course, you hope people will follow you back, but you cannot count on it. Do not follow anyone you’re not truly interested in hearing from. In fact, Twitter only allows you to follow 2,000 users until you receive that many followers yourself. Obviously, in the beginning especially, you will be following more people than you have followers yourself. But your goal is to not let this get too out of balance.
  • Also, and this is really important, create lists in Twitter. You might make lists of clients, industry partners, news sources, community resources, area media, industry news, or whatever is relevant to your business, or interesting to you personally. You can create public lists – in this case, users will know when you add them to a list, and anyone on Twitter can access your list – or private lists, visible to only you. Add users to those lists as you follow them.
  • Looking at other people’s Twitter accounts is a great way to find new people to follow. You can subscribe to other people’s public lists. You can also click on other people’s Twitter profiles to see who they follow, and who follows them.
  • You will receive notifications in Twitter when someone follows you, mentions you, replies to you, retweets your content, or favorites a tweet. If someone engages with you, you can decide whether to follow them – again, don’t follow them if you’re not truly interested in hearing from them.
  • Begin promoting your new Twitter presence outside of Twitter itself. Common-sense first steps to doing this include:
    • Include your Twitter URL in your e-mail signature and in your e-newsletter
    • Put a Twitter button or even news feed on your website
    • Promote your Twitter account through any other social media you utilize

About hashtags

Understanding hashtags is an important piece of this. Hashtags are used to mark tweets about different topics so that others interested in the same topic can find them. So if you tweet about industry news, you should put a hashtag in front of the most relevant term.

  • Hashtags are also used as a form of humor on Twitter, like #isMondayoveryet, or #firstworldproblems
  • Popular hashtags will show up as “trends,” giving you a chance to get in on the conversation – if you have something to say about something that’s trending, speak up!

So what do I tweet?

  • On Twitter, the key is being part of the conversation. Again, it’s not a broadcast, it’s a conversation.
  • Respond to tweets you find interesting, or retweet them with your own comments attached.
  • Use hashtags intelligently so people tweeting about the same topic can find you.
  • When you Tweet, “mention” other users when relevant – they will see that you mentioned them, and again, it helps drive the conversation.
  • Again, if you are only tweeting your own information and promo materials, you’re doing it wrong. There’s so much you can tweet about!
  • Watch what’s trending or in the news, and if you have something to say about that relating to your business or industry, tweet it with the appropriate hashtag! This is called “newsjacking.”
  • Because Twitter’s nature is that people are not going to see everything you tweet, you can be a little more repetitive on Twitter than on some social networks, tweeting your best content and links more than once – perhaps with a different comment, or with ICYMI.
  • You can, and even should, tweet more frequently than you would post on any other social network.
  • Your goal is to find a middle ground between what your audience is interested in reading, and self-promotion. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you gather followers once you master this.

Hootsuite or TweetDeck

Consider using a free social media management tool like Hootsuite or TweetDeck. A newer product, Buffer, is paid only but provides more features. Here are some features of these tools.

  • When you sign up for TweetDeck or Hootsuite (here’s an article that compares the two), you then connect them to your social media accounts. It will default to one tab per social network. Hootsuite lets you manage up to five social media accounts (currently, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Foursquare, WordPress are among those you can add) in the free version, a “Pro” (paid) version lets you add even more, and you can also look at Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and have more than one user of the same account. TweetDeck is a free platform but is focused more on Twitter, although you can manage Facebook from it.
  • You have a dashboard with tabs – each tab contains streams. A way to think of it is like an Excel spreadsheet – the tabs are like pages, and the streams are like columns.
  • You can create “streams” that let you follow specific lists, your own feeds and so on. Remember those lists you’ve been creating as you follow people? You can create “streams” in Hootsuite so you can see what people on that list only are tweeting about. For example, Prime Design Solutions has a list of social media resources, where we follow news and changes in social media, among many others. You can also create “streams” in Hootsuite on specific search terms using hashtags.
  • Just like Excel, you can move the columns/streams around on the screen, so that the streams that are most important to you are the most visible – just drag and drop them.
  • This is crucial – these tools allow you to schedule tweets. This means you can find several things to tweet about and schedule the tweets to go out over the course of the day. It is possible but complicated to schedule tweets from the Twitter interface itself (you have to go through the advertising link – it is so clunky as to almost not be worth explaining how to do it).
  • You can upload photos and shorten links directly in Hootsuite.

A quick note about Klout — everyone who’s on Twitter is automatically also on Klout, which is an objective measure of social media influence. Essentially, the higher your Klout score, the more social influence you’re judged to have. You can (and should) connect your Facebook Page to Klout as well (individuals can also connect other social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Google +, but currently you can’t connect business accounts for these media to Klout — which could change, so we’ll be watching). Hootsuite will show you the Klout score of other users when you click on their profiles. Klout has recently begun suggesting content for you to share on social media once it determines your interests based on your activity, so it can be a resource if you’re looking for content to share.

Advertising on Twitter

You can promote either your tweets (with the goal of driving a promotion) or your general account (with the goal of adding followers).

Do you need help with your social media strategy? Call Prime Design Solutions today at (814) 248-3180 for a free consultation.

You can choose to target promoted tweets based on keywords or on interests and companies, and target geographically. Targeting interests and companies provides a more limited group and will take more time, but is likely to result in better results.

The best promoted Tweets include a strong, clear call to action and a link with a relevant, compelling offer that includes a timeframe — get 15% off when you buy within 7 days online, for example. You get charged for Twitter ads by the click, so unlike Twitter in general you should not use hashtags and @mentions in promoted tweets – these will count as clicks.

You can also design and run your own promotions or contests on Twitter, with or without paid promotion behind them. These can be relatively simple, like “retweet to win.”Again, the challenge is that you don’t have a whole lot of space to explain the promotion, particularly any terms or limitations. One way around this is to make your tweet link to a landing page with more information.

As of this writing, Twitter advertising is very much in the news with new features such as click-to-call, in response to the company’s financial performance since its November 2013 IPO and falling ad revenues.


Like all social media, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. You don’t have to spend a ton of time on Twitter for it to be worthwhile, though – if you set it up in a way that you can find what you need as described above.

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