Using Twitter effectively for your business : Getting started

I was asked at work to give a bit of a crash course in using twitter and how they could use it to market our business and our products without upsetting the general twitter populace.

I spent an hour and a half talking to my colleagues, but yet only just scraped the surface of what twitter is capable of, what applications are out there and all the related applications. Having not really planned ahead the session left me exhausted and in true twitter fashion I tweeted this.

Announcing what I'd been doing elicited some interest in my thoughts on marketing using twitter and also made me think I should probably write something up.

This article started life as that write-up, but soon became more of a "how to twitter" and I ended up writing "Twitter marketing. Should I? Shouldn't I?" This will now be a series of articles on my thoughts as to how you can use Twitter effectively as an organisation.

It should be noted that I am a techie, I could be considered a Twitter power user (I will have been using twitter for 2 years later in July), but I am not any kind of marketing guru.

What this write-up will hopefully do is help you and your business build a network in as efficient a manner as possible, while avoiding annoying Twitter users. It should also help you find desktop and web-based applications that will help you manage your offering.

Lets start with the basics. What is Twitter and how do you sign up?

You have to have been living in a bubble to have not heard of Twitter. Celebs, such as Stephen Fry, Jamie Oliver and Lily Allen, all Tweet (the term used to describe sending messages to Twitter) to a greater or lesser degree. Newspapers such as The Guardian, The Telegraph and local (to me) newspaper group Newcastle Chronicle & Journal all use twitter to provide breaking news or extended news services.

Twitter is micro-blogging and social networking rolled into one. Blot posts are maximum of 140

characters and users can follow or be followed by other twitter users. Reasons to follow other users varies between being someone you already know, friends of a friend, similar location or interest, a business or product that you interact with or just because you are interested in a person's daily life; Stephen Fry seems to always be doing something interesting.

Signing up is very simple; pick a name, password and enter your email address and you're done!

Picking a username should be done carefully. This name will be used in the address to get to your profile page. For example my username is "mr_nil" so my profile page is Also, this name will be what others will use to send you messages or make mention of you on Twitter; @mr_nil if you want to mention me or "D mr_nil" to send me a direct message.
If you are an individual then choose a username based on your name or a pseudonym, but make sure that you pick a name that can be used in polite company. If you are an organisation then pick a name that reflects your company or product. You can change your username at any time after signing up, but obviously this can be confusing to your followers.

If you, as an individual, already have a Twitter account, don't use this as your primary location for promoting your business, product or business related information, sign up for account with a name and biography information that meets your business needs.

Twitter has created a new service that is currently only in beta and, as such, is only available to a select group of people. This service is called "Verified Accounts". Twitter created Verified Accounts after a rash of users pretending to be companies and people who then posted falsehoods and defamatory messages in their name. This service will allow users who are vulnerable to impersonation to get a Twitter "stamp of approval" to show that they are who they say they are.

During the sign-up process Twitter will take you through a few steps to help you to start creating a network of followers & those you follow. I would suggest that you actually skip these steps, especially if your account is to represent some part of your brand. You will be able to repeat these steps very easily later on.

Ok, so now that you are all signed up take a look at your new account home page. You will now have the default style page with the generic Twitter avatar displayed in the top left. Click on the profile menu option at the top of the page to see what other people will see when they visit your profile. In the right hand panel you'll see your name, the number of people your are following and the number of followers and the number of updates that you have made. The background will be the default blue and the avatar will be the brown O's. The avatar, background picture, the layout panel colours and font collies can all be changed on the settings menu. You don't get a huge amount of flexibility as you would with the likes of Wordpress or Blogger; that kind of functionality is not Twitter's focus.

If you head into the settings section of your account you'll see two sections; Picture and Design. The picture section allows you to upload an avatar picture of your choosing. I would recommend using the picture for your company logo. Be aware, you can upload a picture of any shape and size, so long as it is under 700kb. Twitter does have some clever processing in there that ensures that when your picture is cut down to fit into the 48px by 48px avatar image it will use a focal point in the image, particularly if your image is not square. If you're using Twitter as part of your business I would recommend tailoring, customising or creating a new logo that will display appropriately in this area. This will be the first thing anyone sees when you post a message to your account. In the design section you can pick one of 12 default themes or set up the background, text, link and border colours manually. You can also set up a background image for you account page. I have seen some clever uses of the background image to portray the person, their business and contact details; Photographers seem to be particularly good at this.

Once you've branded up your account, make sure that you have completed you biography details, under the Account section of your settings. Make sure you set the location, time zone, a short bio and add a URL, so that visitors can find an appropriate website.

I know I'm probably telling many of you nothing new, but I wanted to make sure that I started from the beginning for every level of Twitter user. I would be delighted to hear any suggestions or tips that you, my readers, might have.

In my next article I will cover building your network and tools your can use to monitor and post to your Twitter account, as well as look at the people who are following you.

I came across these Twitter stats which may be of interest.
# Posted By Johan | 7/14/09 1:55 AM
# Posted By Pedro Claudio | 7/14/09 5:03 AM
Great post! I think one of the most important things is selecting your Twitter user name. Try to pick something useful so people will immediately know what you're about when they are looking at your profile.
# Posted By twitter backgrounds | 7/14/09 6:15 AM
@Johan: Thanks for that link - I'll take a look.
@Pedro: Yup - I am going to cover API libraries at some point, obviously being a CF developer I'll be focusing on CF libraries which includes yours. ;)
@Twitter Backgrounds : You have some great examples of what can be done with a twitter background. Thanks.
# Posted By Stephen Moretti | 7/14/09 3:12 PM