Getting Started With Twitter

Twitter will become a publicly traded company in mid-November. If you're not already using Twitter, some of the buzz may have you wondering whether you should. Here's a quick primer on Twitter and how you could use it to promote your business.

Diane S. Thieke
4-minute read

Twitter has been growing steadily since it first appeared in 2006, and many brands, small businesses, and individuals use it to promote their products and services. If you're on the fence about incorporating Twitter into your marketing strategy, here is an overview of how it works and why it might be good for your business.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows users to post short, timely updates of 140 characters or less.

140 Characters! Why so short?

It may come as no surprise to you that people are developing shorter attention spans. According to a 2008 study by Lloyds TSB Insurance, our attention span has dropped to 5 minutes from 12 minutes in the last decade. Five years later, advertisers are finding that the traditional 30-second commercial can't captivate viewers. Some suggest that 5 seconds is the best length. 

But another reason is that Twitter does a very good job of mimicking conversation. Twitter's real purpose is to help people engage with others, and the people and brands using it most effectively are the ones who are holding conversations with their customers, prospects, and followers.

I have an account. What do I do now?

The first step is to find your friends, partners, vendors, and customers, and follow them. News organizations - particularly those that cover your industry - are also good accounts to follow. Then, sit back and listen to the conversation before sending your first tweet. This will give you a sense of what topics are being discussed and who is most active in the conversation.

What type of content should I be posting?

This will depend on the topics that your audience is discussing, of course. But, the best content for Twitter is the kind that answers questions, helps others learn, and solves problems. You can be a source of the latest information and tips about your industry by curating trends and sharing breaking news. Some brands use Twitter as a way to deliver customer service. Customers can tweet problems to an account and get quick answers from the support team. A great example is @Zappos_Service

Twitter seems to have its own language. Can you decipher?

The Twitter community has indeed created its own nomenclature. But fortunately, all you need is a cheat sheet - not a Ph.D.! What's interesting about Twitter is that its language arose out of the need to organize and search through a huge volume of content. So the community self-organized and created a way to recognize the originators of great content, as well as sort tweets so they could be found easily. Many of the terms are shorthand, in the interest of fitting within those 140 characters.

  • @reply (@name). When this appears at the beginning of a tweet, it delivers your message to the attention of the owner of that Twitter handle. It's a great way to start or continue a conversation. Example: @thiekeds Your article on Twitter was interesting. How can I get more followers?
  • RT @name. Retweet. Used when you share someone else's tweet. Example: RT @GrammarGirl's Grammar Pop is now available for the iPhone!
  • MT @name. Modified tweet. Use this when you edit someone else's tweet before you share it. Example: MT @GrammarGirl's FUN WORD GAME Grammar Pop is now available for the iPhone!
  • #word. Hashtag. This is Twitter's way of self-organizing content into a user-generated taxonomy. The word or phrase after the hashtag can be anything you wish, a trending topic, or a well-used phrase. When the user searches for the hashtagged word, she'll view all tweets that use it - including yours. Example: This week ‪@NutritionDiva explains Carob vs. ‪#Chocolate! ‪http://htl.li/q6grr 
  • #FollowFriday or #FF. Every Friday, Twitter users recommend their favorite accounts. It's a great way to make new friends and gain new followers. Example: #FollowFriday @quickdirtytips @GrammarGirl @GetFitGuy @MightyMommy @thiekeds
  • DM @name. Direct message. Use this to send a private message to another user. It is similar to sending a text message. Example: DM @thiekeds Let's meet at that new restaurant for lunch.

Will Twitter really get me new customers?

Not only can you attract new customers, you can also retain the customers you already have. Twitter is all about building relationships. That's why you should show a little personality on your Twitter feed. People want to do business with people whom they know and trust. So while you don't want to start every day saying that you had an omelet for breakfast, it's Ok to occasionally share a few of your passions.

Who is on Twitter more - young adults or boomers?

Twitter has more than 200 million users, and those in the 18-29 age group are most likely to be tweeting. But, the number of people over 50 on Twitter has doubled, and teens are also increasingly using Twitter. A recent survey by Piper Jaffrey found that 26% of adolescents preferred Twitter to Facebook.

Why is Twitter so popular with teens and young adults?

I think there are 3 reasons.

  1. For teens, Facebook is now very popular with their parents and grandparents. They're looking to other social networks where it's harder for the grown-ups to find them and monitor their activities. 
  2. It's very mobile-friendly. In fact, Twitter is best used from your phone. It's easy to read, easy to respond, and the Twitter mobile interface for direct messages looks amazingly like your text messaging interface. The experience is exactly the same.
  3. It makes phone numbers obsolete. I don't even have the phone numbers for most of my 20-something friends, and they don't have mine. As long as I'm on Twitter, they know how to reach me - publicly and privately.

Photo courtesy of startbloggingonline

About the Author

Diane S. Thieke

Diane S. Thieke is the president and founder of Simply Talk Media, a digital media marketing consultancy. With more than 25 years in digital media and technology, she helps clients build stronger relationships with their customers and communities, using both social and traditional channels.