Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to use Twitter (and make it work for you)

With all the chatter about social media, it makes sense to take advantage of every chance you get to promote your business or build your brand. Even if you're attached to a large company, your own personal brand is important: It's what helps you stand out in the crowd.

I've written a lot about Facebook and LinkedIn and why I think those two platforms are important. But Twitter? Twitter can feel like being at a cocktail party where everyone is shouting at once. Or it can feel like you're surfing through channel after channel of third-rate infomercials for products you don't need or use. How do you cut through the chaos to deliver your message, find the info, or connect with the people you need?

I've touched on this topic before, over at The 36-Hour Day. Here's an updated version, with tips for making Twitter work for you:

1. Pick an easy-to-remember handle. Your name, or the name of your blog or your company, is a good choice. "SparkyGirl" or "RainbowUnicorn" or "TooTiredToThink" may accurately describe you, but how professional do they sound? Also: Keep it short. It's easier for others to "re-tweet" your posts if they don't have to figure out how to trim them down. (What's re-tweeting? See number 6, below.)

2. Use hashtags wisely. They're great for filtering conversations, drawing attention to your tweet, or even more making a witting quip, but don't overuse them. And if you're going to promote a product, here's a tip: Make sure the hashtag relates to whatever you're promoting. Be as specific as possible; #giveaway could refer to anyone's giveaway, not just yours.

3. Join the conversation. You don't have to respond to every tweet that crosses your path -- in fact, if you have more than a handful of followers, it's impossible to do so. But seek out and participate in conversations that are relevant to you and your business, whether it's trading 140-character quips with a potential client, leaving a compliment or a bit of positive criticism, or chiming in with the news of the day.

4. Follow all kinds of people. Don't follow only the people who work for your company, or your freelance clients, or your three best friends. They're great and all, but what you want to do is get attention from new people. If you follow them, they tend to follow back. Tip: If you've just come back from a major networking event, check the business cards in your new collection, and send out a quick group-tweet to the people who have Twitter handles, saying that it was nice to meet them.

5. Start lists. The cool thing about lists is that people check out which lists they're on -- and then they follow back. The other cool thing about lists is that, once you have several hundred followers, lists are an easy way to filter the stream of Tweets coming at you. I have lists for people in my geographical area, people in my line of work, people I know personally, and people whom I tend to use as sources for information. Click on a list, and you see the real-time tweets from people on that list.

6. Don't just promote your own work. Sending out links to your own stuff -- and only links to your own stuff -- is like shouting non-sequiturs in a crowded room. But re-tweeting other people's comments or sending out links to thinks you've read and liked can start conversations and relationships, which is what you're looking for. What's re-tweeting? It's when you forward someone else's tweet to your followers. There are two ways to do this: Simply click the "Retweet" button and Twitter will automatically forward the tweet (you'll see a little green strip across the top left corner of the original tweet), or copy the original tweet entirely, and paste it into your "What's Happening" comment field, adding "RT" in front of the original poster's name. Cutting and pasting is more involved, but you can add your own comments and edit the tweet that way, which can come in handy.

7. Use URL shorteners. I like, but if I'm tweeting about something sad or serious, it seems strange to have a short link that has "is good" in it. So I also use

8. Participate in Follow Friday. This is a super-easy way to build relationships, promote your brand, and network. The hashtag is simple: #FF. A week after you send out that "nice to meet you!" tweet, go through the cards again and suggest that your followers follow your new contacts as well. Instant networking!

9. Let people know you're on Twitter. Include your twitter handle in your email signature, on your website, and even on your business cards. (I'm @WriteEditRepeat.) (Look! Following my own advice!)

10. Don't let Twitter take over. One of the problems with Twitter is that you can feel tied to it; with so many people to follow, you may feel like you're missing tweets if you turn away from your computer. You don't have to update constantly (though some people do), you don't have to provide intimate details of your life (though some people do), and you don't have to install Twitter on your smartphone (though some people do). If you want to, that's fine, but you don't have to.

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