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Twitter as a marketing tool - beginners guide 

So what is this Twitter thing? Is it worth online businesses investing time into? Here's a bit of a look at what Twitter is, how to use it and the benefits to small online business owners.

Twitter, like YouTube, is rapidly becoming a major online success story based on a simple idea and will become a very powerful marketing platform in the time ahead.

Created in 2006, Twitter has gained incredible popularity over the last 12 months or so, around 700% growth, and thanks to participation by some big names such as Ashton Kutcher and Oprah, in 2009; Twitter is now mainstream.

If people aren't using it, they've likely heard of Twitter and as with FaceBook and Myspace before it; will probably sign up at some stage.

ITwitter is here to stay as a high profile social media player and nothing short of a disaster will stop it from being right up there with MySpace and Facebook - it's yet another  media tool that online businesses need to seriously consider utilizing. Even Twitter's current regular outages have done nothing to put a dent in its attractiveness.

So, if you're a Twitter holdout, it's probably time to take a closer look at how Twitter can benefit your online business - because your competition is probably doing so already. 

The good news is, once you've grasped the basics, and it's simple to learn, Twitter activity can be easily be woven into your marketing schedule - you can spend as little as 5 minutes a day on Twitter and still see benefits.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging service; allowing users to post items called "tweets" with a maximum length of 140 characters. External links can also be posted, but are included in the 140 character count.

It can be quite a challenge to post something meaningful and attractive in that little amount, but the brevity is probably the key to the service's success. It allows people to transmit information (if you can call some of it that) without the pressure of having to craft lengthy posts. Twitter fits in well with the mindset of a generation that's become accustomed to SMS'ing via their cell phones and other handheld devices.

Other Twitter users can respond to your tweets via their own profile, which can creates a somewhat curious and confusing situation where you can't follow a conversation between two users on a single page. Twitter users can also add your tweets to their "favorites"

Users can also "re-tweet" your tweets - and that's where much of the viral marketing power lies; particularly when those users have large followings themselves.

Basic Twitter tools

Tweets can be posted directly through the Twitter interface or through a plethora of free Twitter clients emerging such as TweetDeck or Twhirl.

While links can be posted on Twitter, a lengthy URL can suck up most of the character quota, so this is where URL shortening services such as TinyURL or Bit.ly come into play. These services allow you to input a long URL and will give you a much shorter one to use, basically acting like a 301 redirect operating via the service's site. 

If you don't wish to place your faith in such services operated by third parties, consider installing your own shortening script; either under your current domain or register a short domain just for the purpose. A free script to do the job called Phurl can be downloaded here

How to get "followers"

Knows as subscribers in the world of RSS and newsletters, as "friends" in applications such as MySpace and Facebook, someone who keeps track of your Twitter feed is known as a "follower". 

The easiest way to kick off your Twitter follower base is to implement a Twitter badge on your site such as the following and link it to your Twitter profile:

follow us on twitter

I'd also suggest making mention of it to your newsletter subscriber list; it's a very fast way to seed your follower list. A Twitter profile with 0 followers isn't very attractive to prospective followers as our sheep mentality comes into play. Did I say sheep? I meant peer group or "gregarious nature" :).

There also appears to be a tendency among Twitter users to follow each other; i.e. you follow someone and they'll become your follower; or at least you check out out. 

Is Twitter for the busy online business owner?

Like any popular social media, you can invest a lot of time into increasing your Twitter following and strategies for building your Twitter presence can be quite complex. But if you're running a small online business and are a one-person show, it's likely you are already very busy already and may have only a couple of minutes a day to dedicate to it. Even at that level, you can reap benefits.

Twitter doesn't have to be a two-way conversation, you can just use it as a one-way feed to broadcast information rather than actively engaging other users.

For example, your web site may already have a ton of interesting evergreen content on it such as tutorials and educational information that never goes out of date. You can start posting links to those items on your profile - not all at once, but just a steady trickle to keep your Twitter feed fresh. This can help give new life to old content and drive new visitors and potential customers to your site.

In your given industry, it's also likely you keep up to date with all the latest developments - that's information that others would be interested in also. So as part of your daily reading, have your Twitter client or Twitter profile page open and as you come across items of interest, post those to your Twitter profile - then occasionally throw in a more sales oriented link to a special you're offering or similar. 

As with anything social media related, the key is balance - if you spend most of your time harping on about how great your company is or on hard sell of your products, you're likely to alienate your followers and won't attract many new ones. Make it useful to your readers 

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Keeping tabs on the buzz

So how do you determine if people are talking about you, re-tweeting your posts etc? Aside from checking your stats for inbound traffic from Twitter, you can use the search function in the right hand menu of the Twitter, but the easiest way to view re-tweets and comments directed towards you is via the @username and "direct messages" links, also on the right hand menu.

As mentioned, you may not want to actively engage other Twitter users in terms of a fragmented online conversation muddying up your Twitter page (although many believe this is a good way to go); but if someone directs a comment or question towards you; you can reply privately.

To sign up or not?

Even if you can't take action right now and become active on Twitter, at least register so you can reserve a username easily identifiable with your company. Your username forms part of your Twitter home page URL; e.g;

http://www.twitter.com/example

Twitsquatting is already becoming rampant, with parties registering accounts with usernames relating to particular companies, and marketplaces have been set up where they "sell" the names. I assume the company will crack down on the practice; but the process of challenging a twitsquatter will no doubt be lengthy nor will there be a guarantee of success. 

While you can sign up and just sit on your name; given Twitter has the potential to be a powerful marketing tool for your online business, do try investing that 5 minutes a day to post a tweet or two for a month at least and then assess progress.

Once you have your Twitter presence established, there is one other service you may want to set up a presence on for your online service - Facebook. Learn more about using Facebook fan pages as a marketing tool.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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