A huge number of companies now have a Twitter presence. Some massive brands use the micro-blogging platform to manage their reputations and spread awareness. Other smaller firms use it to build relationships and directly find work and sales.
But whatever you want to achieve, what do you need to know in order to get started?
Some brands are still scared, or at least cautious about taking that first step onto Twitter. So let's run down this list of 10 tips on the best ways to get started on Twitter.
1. Using Twitter is Simple; Using it Well is a Challenge
However complicated it may seem when you first log on to your new account, Twitter is a simple platform.
You can write 140-character updates that will be seen by your followers and also watch a news stream of comments left by people you follow. To direct a comment at a specific follower, simply prefix their name with "@" -- for example, "@kevgibbo + your message."
Send a direct message (one that can't be seen by anyone other than the recipient) by prefixing a name with a "d" -- for example: "d kevgibbo + your message."
Twitter has also created new grammar -- the hashtag. This allows people to conduct simple searches and see what people are saying about a topic -- for example, #leadersdebate during the U.K. election.
Some people use the hashtag ironically or to convey humor, without expecting their chosen term to catch on. For example, someone might tweet about how marvellous their recent SEO campaign has been and then add #modesty.
That's the bare bones of using Twitter. Using it effectively is much, much harder, which you'll see in the next nine tips.
2. Twitter Needs a Strategy
Before you begin investing time and energy in Twitter, sit down and work out what you want to use it for. Using Twitter only because everyone else is using it won't win you success.
Do you want to build small scale relationships or market a major brand? Do you intend to actually drive business using your Twitter account or simply drive people to your website?
Unless you know your goals, you won't be able to measure your success.
3. Your Account Must Look Professional
Before you start using your Twitter account, make sure it looks professional. Update your bio, add the company logo as an avatar, and customize your page.
Some people's first interaction with your brand will be via Twitter, so make sure it's as professional as your website and office space.
4. You Should Search for Mentions...
Monitor Twitter for mentions of your brand, products, well-known staff -- any terms that people might conceivably use in reference to you.
Twitter will present you with any specific mentions of your account name but you can also run searches. Using software like TweetDeck allows you to set up permanent searches and be presented with relevant tweets as they happen.
5. ...and Reply
You're using Twitter in order to have conversations with people. If there's a positive mention of your brand, thank the person who made it. If it's negative, then get your customer service team to address the problem -- often a positive resolution can turn a critic into a fan. If someone asks a question then answer it.
Be as polite on Twitter as you would be at a conference or some other industry event where you deal with people in person.
6. Spamming Harms Brands
Several brands (and even politicians) have fallen down on Twitter because they don't really understand how people use it. The platform is social and has to be used socially. If you're intrusive, you'll alienate the people you want to win over.
Tweet links to blog posts, comments, thoughts, questions, even special offers now and again. But don't simply pour out sales pitches. People won't follow you and anyone encountering your tweets won't leave with a good impression of your brand.
By the way, following thousands of people to try and build your own followers is spam, even if you aren't sending them sales pitches.
7. Automated Actions are Useless
Twitter needs to be hand fed because it's all about quality, not quantity. You can't automate personable, social tweeting.
By auto-following new followers, retweeting mentions, and automatically tweeting blog posts, you may have a working Twitter account, but it won't be working well.
8. Your Followers Want Value
Why should people follow you on Twitter? What will they get out of it? Whether it's humorous tweets, inspired analysis and tips, links to fascinating blog posts, industry breaking news, or discount vouchers, you must add value to their Twitter experience.
Otherwise you're spamming and you'll struggle to gain any followers.
9. Make Your Tweets Retweetable
You may only have a few followers -- certainly at first. So you want your followers to retweet your posts to their followers, spreading the word about your brand. If your tweets are valuable enough, then that shouldn't be a problem.
Also, make it easy for people to retweet. Keep your comment as short as possible because, when people retweet it, they will have to add "RT username" at the start. If you've used all 140 characters, then people will have to edit your words or chop off the link -- or, even worse, use the new retweet button!
10. Twitter Magnifies Mistakes
Get it wrong on Twitter and you risk a storm of mockery, especially if your brand is well known. Or, if a disgruntled employee tweets something abusive from your corporate account, it could be retweeted hundreds of thousands of times before the company even knows it's happened.
Even a small brand that tweets too intrusively will find that recipients complain to their followers.
When you work out your strategy, work out some ground rules and make sure that everyone using your account understands them.
Doing social media badly is far worse than failing to do it. So behave well on the platform and treat people as you would like to be treated.