Tweets, hashtags, streams, and a little blue bird | Patti Rowlson

By Patti Rowlson
Contributing writer 

You may have noticed Twitter’s little blue bird icon popping up everywhere.

Companies of all sizes are promoting their Twitter accounts on websites, business cards and in print ads; national brands, politicians and celebrities are even displaying their Twitter handles and hashtags on television programs and product commercials.

Use of Twitter has skyrocketed in the last two years—from more than 100 million users sending 55 million tweets per day in 2010, to more than 500 million users sending 340 million tweets per day in 2012.

What’s so cool about Twitter anyway?

Twitter is a free social-media platform that allows people to share their thoughts, photos, news, products and services in a fast and tidy method; all messages are limited to just 140 characters.

More and more small businesses have been incorporating Twitter into their marketing mix, because it allows them to communicate with a diverse array of people—both locally and globally.

User profiles on the social-media site are generally open to the public, so you, or your business, can follow and engage with people in your community, national industry experts, major brands and even celebrities.

Used effectively, companies are finding that Twitter is a great place to learn from experts, promote their businesses, support peers and even monitor competitors.

Those considering Twitter for business should first learn and understand these basic terms:

– Handle: Your username on Twitter. It can be a company name, personal name or something completely made up. If you are tweeting for business, use your real name or that of your business so people can find you easily (@bbjtoday @pattirowlson).

– Tweet: Messages posted on Twitter that are 140 characters or less. Users read and write tweets.

– Feed or Stream: A list of tweets shared by people and businesses you follow. These tweets appear on your homepage and scroll down as new tweets are shared.

– Retweet (RT): A fast and easy way to share valuable information on Twitter with your followers; hit the retweet link and a tweet you read can be shared with all of your followers.

– Hashtag (#): Enter a hashtag in the “Search” box, located in the upper right corner of your Twitter page, to find tweets about specific topics (e.g. #Bellingham, #TwitterTips, #MountBaker, #marketing). Using hashtags when writing tweets can also help others with similar interests find and follow you.

– Mention: Tweets that include “@username” let people and/or brands know you have publically mentioned their handle and are trying to engage on Twitter. The user you mention will receive a notification so they can respond and keep the conversation going.

– Direct Message (DM): A way to send private messages to users you are connected with. DM’s are like a mini email sent through Twitter; they are also limited to 140 characters.

One great way to get started with Twitter is to use the site to listen and learn. This can be done by following local and national experts and observing what type of content they are sharing.

When you are ready to start tweeting for business, please keep in mind that Twitter is not about sending out one sales message after another. You have to allow time to engage and participate.

Start small by consistently sending out 5-7 tweets per week.

Log onto Twitter daily to read what others are tweeting about, reply or comment whenever possible, retweet valuable information, and follow back relevant profiles that are following you (especially local folks). Engaging is the secret to really standing out from others in the twitter stream.

Users should understand that Twitter is an experience and the more you use it the more useful it will be.

As with most forms of social media, it takes time to build a base of followers so plan to make a steady, consistent effort for at least 6 months.

If you value Twitter as a marketing tool, but don’t have the time or desire to figure out what to tweet about, look into partnering with someone who can help curate content.

OK, so you’ve learned a bit about the growth of Twitter, why small businesses are choosing to embrace it and even how to communicate and engage with others.

Next month’s column will include valuable tips and tricks small businesses can use to maximize their Twitter accounts, including ideas for content development, starting conversations, creating lists and more.

Patti Rowlson of PR Consulting Services is a publicist and marketing consultant in Whatcom County. Her columns appear on BBJToday.com on the last Thursday of each month. Connect with Rowlson on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for additional marketing tips, or visit her website at www.pattirowlson.com.

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