Small business owners wondering how they can harness the power of Twitter to increase sales and build their business connections can find several great lists floating around the web. For example, check out here, here and here.

Almost all of these tips essentially boil down to one point: success with Twitter as a business tool revolves around building and maintaining your relationships- something which on the surface seems surprising given that posts are limited to 140 characters. How much can one actually do in 140 characters?


As it turns out, quite a lot.


Twitter is a dynamic online social experience that provides a real-time wellspring of business networking, and customer interaction, as well as critical information and insight from industry leaders and experts. But underlying all this, Twitter allows a community of users to engage with each other in a quick and easy way.


Below is a summary of the most essential tips for small and home business owners looking to break into the Twitter scene for the first time. In a following post, I will examine several Twitter apps which can significantly enhance your Twitter time and information management.


1. Develop your business’ profile page. If you are new to Twitter then your first order of business is to build up your profile page. This is the page that other Twitter users (i.e. your potential business contacts and customers) will consult to find out what you and your business are all about. One of the biggest pieces of advice regarding this page is to let your personality or your business’ brand image shine bright. For a few stunning examples, check out @idesignstudios, @sitepointdotcom, @spurrachel, and @Doubleolee. If you are not the creative type, there are several web apps available, such as, Free Twitter Designer, that can help you create a customized profile page background.


2. In the beginning… silence is golden. Some new to Twitter may be tempted to jump right in and start tweeting away. But before you seriously begin offering any comments, ancedotes, links, or responses, it is a good idea to spend a couple of weeks just following a few of the conversations. Getting used to the tone and flow of a thread before posting will help you to keep your tweets focused and relevant.


3. Build up your followers list slowly. Don’t start following a hundred people on your first day. Begin adding friends and family, then work your way out. By slowly adding people or businesses to your followers list, it gives them the time to get to know who you are and maybe reciprocate by following you.


Another tip: If you are specifically looking to add a certain group of people to your followers list, for example, other business owners in your state or county, then it is also a good idea to send out a tweet letting people know that this is your intention. That way, if you add anyone from this group they will know why they were added.


4. Stay away from spam, and over self-promotion. Though advertisement and self-promotion have their place on Twitter, it should be done carefully and in moderation. One of the biggest turn-offs in the Twitosphere (followed by a quick click on the “unfollow” button) is being bombarded with sales pitches.


5. Focus on building relationships. One of the best ways to build connections and increase visibility on Twitter is to take some time to scan the message stream and retweet or reply to the posts of other users. Specifically look for places where you can offer help or advice. Engaging with your followers is also important. Don’t forget to acknowledge anyone who took the time the RT one of your tweets.


6. Keep your flow of tweets interesting, consistent, and well-balanced. Ideally, your tweets should be a mixed bag of links, “status” updates, responses to other users, interesting retweets, and even a bit of chatter. The goal is to be approachable, engaging, and genuine. If you have a good sense of humor, use it as long as it is tasteful.


7. Use Twitter with time and content management tools. Twitter can be a really big time guzzler. After setting up your profile page and adding a few people, businesses, and/or communities to your follows list, you will want to put some controls in place to ensure that you are not spending too much time with the site. Your “tools” can be as simple as having a daily schedule with your “Twitter time” blocked out at set intervals, or you can use Twitter in conjunction with any number of Twitter apps, such as tweetdeck and tweetbeep.


8. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There are many creative ways that small businesses can use Twitter. Some examples include: running a Twitter contest, offering discounts to Twitter users, sending out real-time updates of what’s happening in your business, as well as tweeting new product and service announcements.

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