Be Twitterific

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Getting started on Twitter and learning to use the network successfully poses a multitude of unique problems to most newbies, despite the miles of column inches of how-tos and tips that the ubiquitous site has claimed over the last 12 months.

The Basics

If you’re logging on to Twitter for the first time for your business, the usual hard-and-fast social media rules still apply. If netiquette is new to you, then brush up on the rules of engagement in the social media sphere before making any posts. Committing a social media faux pas will undermine a fledgling campaign before it’s even off the ground, so tread carefully.

As with most social media properties, Twitter has its own specific language and tone, so the very first thing you should do is spend some time learning what it means to Tweet. You can access Twitter in myriad ways, from your Blackberry and iPhone through desktop applications, SMS, and the website itself. You can also follow other users in numerous ways, making it easy to do your research before diving in feet first.

Setting up an account and making your first post are the work of minutes. Click on the ‘get started’ link on Twitter and follow the few steps needed to create an account. As Twitter is a social network, you may want to pause and take some time over the profile section. This will allow your friends, clients, and potential clients to find you easily. The profile section, like the rest of Twitter, is micro-sized so there is little space to go wrong.

When your profile is done, you can search through the profiles of others to find ‘friends’ to follow. These may be users in the same industry, with similar interests, brands you know, or simply people in the same city as yourself. Any users you wish to follow (receive updates from) are added to the list of people you are following. Anyone following you gets added to your own list of followers.

The Syntax of Posting

At first, posting on Twitter can seem more complicated than the update options offered on other blogging sites as it has its own micro-language of commands and actions. After a few posts, these commands will become second nature, but they can be somewhat confusing initially, particularly if you’re new to social networking in general.

The messages you post on Twitter are restricted to just 140 characters. When posting a message, you can choose to post a general update available to anyone clicking on to view your Twitter updates (provided you don’t protect your updates), send a public message to another user, or send a private direct message to a friend (someone you follow and who follows you).

To post a general update, simply write your message and click update. To send a public message to another user, put @ plus their username before you start your message. To send a direct message from the Twitter site, click on the direct messages icon and then choose the user from the drop-down. So far, so simple!

Because of its foreshortened format, any URLs you post in your updates will be automatically shortened. This saves on characters and gives you room to add more information in that post. Twitter will do this automatically for you or you can choose from several URL-shortening applications that have sprung up in the wake of Twitter’s burgeoning popularity.

When posting, you may wish to mark your update as related to a particular subject or topic. These are known as trending topics and will become important when you begin to use Twitter strategically to promote your brand or business via the social network. For example, if you wanted to categorize your tweet about Google Wave, you would add a hashtag to your tweet, preceding the tag so that it looks like this — #GoogleWave. Anyone searching for Google Wave on Twitter would then find your tweet, listed under the search results.

Getting Strategic

As Twitter is a social network, using it to promote your business or service is fraught with pitfalls. The easiest mistake to make is to forget your reasons for posting and become caught up in the interactive, social element of Twitter. The allure of quick-fire updates and multiple conversations with newfound friends can easily obscure the branding and optimization goals that led you to open a Twitter account in the first place.

Before you begin to use your new Twitter account, refine the keywords being used in any SEO project and keep them in mind when posting updates. You can use these words and phrase in conjunction with the hashtags function to increase your visibility on the platform for your desired key terms. A number of search engines have also started the process of including Twitter updates in their results pages, making keyword use just as important on Twitter as in any other form of blog or optimization.

When you first join the Twitter conversation, you can opt to ease in gracefully or dive in with a splash. If you’re not confident in your social media abilities, go for the former and build your confidence and knowledge slowly. If you’re a seasoned poster, opt to make a splash and consider incentives such as giveaways, competitions, and early purchase offers to win over new followers and really make your presence felt.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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