According to Entrepreneur, the number of Twitter users has doubled in the last three years. 18 percent of adult internet users use Twitter, while 30 percent of people aged 18 to 29 report regular use. That translates to more than 140 million accounts in the U.S. alone.
The takeaway for small business owners is twofold: It’s a giant arena for advertising your brand and knowing proper etiquette could save your business from embarrassment and a damaged online reputation.
1. Ask yourself whether the content you’re tweeting is useful. When you’re representing a brand on Twitter, your goal should be to speak with authority. Make people want to read your tweets by posting valuable and personable information. Mix links to your company website or blog posts with other compelling content — such as photos, your spin on industry news, or inspirational fodder — that puts a human touch on your brand.
2. Be authentic. Your audience doesn’t care how much you sweat during your workout this morning, but it does want to catch a glimpse of the real you. Start conversations, send shout-outs to deserving followers, and retweet insightful or funny tweets by the people you follow. In other words, add value. Tip: Before you retweet any link, view the content at the link first. Remember, it will be attached to your Twitter stream.
3. Avoid blanket follow-backs. Having 5,000 followers is fine, but if you also indiscriminately follow those same 5,000 people back, Twitter may monitor you for “aggressive following” or “follow churn.” Just because somebody followed you doesn’t necessarily mean you should follow them. If followers regularly retweet your posts or appear to be potential customers, follow them. If not, don’t. Be choosy.
4. Use hashtags properly. It’s #great that #you have an #exciting #new #product! But using excessive hashtags will only annoy your followers and muddy your message. Think of a hashtag as a search term. For example, if somebody were to share this article with their followers, they might include #smallbusiness or #marketing. One or two is plenty.
5. Just because you can DM people doesn’t mean you should. A direct message is like private email on Twitter. If you’re going to send someone a DM, its contents should be personal. Automatically firing off generic “thanks for following” notes or “stop by our site for some great deals” DMs is a fast way to lose followers.
6. Don’t be grumpy. If you’re representing a brand, keep your tweets positive. If your followers want information on how to protest Obamacare, let them get that information elsewhere. Keep hot-button topics like politics and religion out of your stream and concentrate on being positive and uplifting. Be funny, clever, or congratulatory to an employee or customer.
7. Use your logo as your avatar. Your avatar is the small, square picture that appears in your Twitter profile and next to your handle your tweets. If you’re tweeting for your business, use its logo. If you are your brand, use a headshot. But don’t use a cartoon character, clip art, a celebrity’s picture, or a political statement like “Repeal Issue 9” as your image. You may be able to stray from this rule slightly but if you do, look at successful brands you follow for ideas.
8. Don’t use all 140 characters. Twitter doesn’t give you a lot of space to get your point across, but if you max out the 140 characters allowed, it’s less likely that people will retweet you — and, when they do, there won’t be room for them to include your Twitter handle. As a general rule, limit yourself 125 characters (or fewer, if you include a link).
9. Don’t repeat your tweets. Too much of a good thing = a bad thing. If you believe that the link or information you’re tweeting is of high value to your followers, it’s OK to repost it. But use different wording in each tweet. For instance, if you’re sharing the link to an article, tweet its title the first time and an excerpt the next time. Offer the same information more than a few times and you are probably not adding value (see #1).
10. Behave as you would offline. If you remember nothing else, the phrase “new tool, old rules” perfectly sums up Twitter etiquette. How you conducted yourself in public before social media existed had a direct impact on how potential and current customers viewed your business. That hasn’t changed with the advent of Twitter and other new networking tools. When tweeting, treat people with respect, add value to their lives, make them smile, be a positive force, and keep it classy.