Outside of being ready to turn in for the night by 9pm after I had kids, the single thing in life that has made me feel “old” is my intimidation at the prospect of getting started on Twitter. My retired parents have the “luxury” of being able to write it off as not worth their time, but many of you are like me: still in your working prime and facing the fact that learning how to use Twitter is a must to expand your small business and maximize your potential for success.
I admit: in my late-to-the-party mind, Twitter initially felt like a self-congratulatory clique full of inside jokes. But amidst the sea of @s and #s, Twitter is a powerful social media communication platform for sharing ideas, publicizing your services, and engaging your customers (which in turn helps you learn more about them). Tweeting regularly keeps your brand at the forefront of your followers’ minds and can help you reach a much broader audience than through other advertising channels alone.
Here’s a complete beginner’s guide to getting started on Twitter.
First, let’s define the terms:
Tweet: A short post or message (max 280 characters). While the size constraint seems limiting at first, in the long run it forces you streamline your message and helps you avoid losing your audience’s attention.
Hashtag: A word preceded immediately by the # symbol (e.g. #firsttweet, #twittertips). It’s like adding a topic or keyword to your message. Users searching for these terms will find your tweets (whether or not they are “following” you).
Handle: Username. Your Twitter handle will begin with an @ symbol: @SallyRide, @SmallBizQueen, @ICM_PR).
Feed: The stream of tweets that you will see on your home page, in chronological order with the most recent tweets at the top. Similar to a Facebook newsfeed.
Follow: To add a user to your feed. Your “followers” are the people who will see your tweets in their feed. Also, following a user enables more personal communication.
Retweet: To share another user’s tweet in your feed. It will show up with the original poster credited, and send them a notification.
Mention: Connecting another user to your tweet by using their handle (@NewportVines). Mentioning another user causes your tweet to show up in their feed, which enables public conversations.
DM (Direct Message): A non-public message sent directly to another user. You cannot DM someone unless they follow you.
Twitter’s help pages have a pretty comprehensive glossary for additional terms.
First things first: Setting up your account
1. Sign up for an account. Go to Twitter’s home page and click “sign up.” You’ll need to put in your name, a password, and either your email address or a phone number for verification.
2. Pick a handle. This is the username that you will be known by. It can be up to 15 characters long, and can have capital letters and some basic symbols, but no spaces. Choose a name that is easy to remember, inoffensive, and (if using it for your business) reinforces your brand. Be ready with a few different options for handle since the one you want might be taken. You can change your twitter handle at any time, so if you decide you don’t like what you chose the next day you’re not stuck with it. But it’s best to settle on a name you like before publicizing your account or accruing too many followers, to avoid confusion (and to avoid having to print new business cards).
Tip: You can only have one handle associated with your email address. So if you want multiple Twitter accounts in the future (one personal, one for your business) you’ll need to have another email address to create any further accounts.
3. Create a short, relevant bio. If you already have a one-sentence marketing tagline for your services, you may use it here. If not, it’s time to figure out how to describe yourself or your business succinctly (you get 160 characters for your bio, which translates to roughly 25-30 words). This will show up when people go to your page or even hover over your photo, to give them an idea of who you are beyond the username.
4. Add a photo. If you’re setting up an account for your small business, this should be a professional-looking shot of your head and shoulders, or could be your logo. Avoid photos you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
5. Protection. By default, your Twitter account will be public. This means anyone can follow you and can see your tweets if they search for hashtags you’ve used. This is probably the setting you want to keep for your business account, to vastly increase publicity. If you choose to protect your tweets in your privacy settings, you will have to approve every request to follow your account, and your tweets will not show up in user searches.
Tip: This setting can also be changed at any time, but the privacy setting will apply to your entire tweet history. Formerly protected tweets would become public and searchable, or formerly public tweets would no longer be visible or searchable except to followers.
First, start following other Twitter users. You’ll want to start with your business network, as well as other entrepreneurs in your field and major companies related to your work. Think about who you’re already networking with in real life, over email, on Facebook, and through professional organizations. For a business account, don’t follow friends unless their feeds relate to your job. Search for these users by name or by handle (if you already know it), navigate to their page, and click “follow.”
Tip: You can always unfollow a user just as easily down the road, byt going to their page and clicking “unfollow.” It’s much less personal than unfriending someone on Facebook.
As you follow more and more users, Twitter will begin to suggest other users who may be of interest, as well as you’ll begin to see who your followers retweet and mention — if they’re also related to your field or service, you can check them out and follow them as well.
Another quick way to find followers is to go to the feed of someone like you in your business. Click on their followers to see their entire list of followers, and then add whomever overlaps with your business agenda.
Now you’re ready to tweet
But wait, I don’t have any followers yet! — you may be thinking. If you tweet, they will come (provided you’ve made your account public).
Use images. People engage many times over if there is a visual element to your tweet. It doesn’t have to be professional photography, although that certainly helps. Text-only tweets get passed over more often.
Start by sending a few basic tweets relevant to your services, just to get the hang of it. Use 2-3 hashtags per tweet, relevant to the content of your tweet, that you think someone interested in what you have to say might be searching for. For example, if you’re in the field of mental health, you could tweet: “New research on #depression suggests eating chocolate is wonderful #selfcare!”
Then add some mentions. By calling attention to another Twitter user (in a nice way, of course), they’re likely to retweet, reply, or follow you back. For example, you might say “Looking forward to hearing some great ideas from @BobSmith and @JaneDoe today at the @ABC123 luncheon!”
Tip: make sure to stick your mentions within the tweet and not at the beginning. If you start a tweet with the @ symbol, Twitter treats it as a reply to that user and the tweet will not appear publicly. Here’s a great tutorial on that quirk.
And add some retweets. The original tweeter will get a notification that you “shared” their tweet in your feed. This reflects positively on you, as well as giving you more relevant content to share in your Twitter feed (and encouraging more people to follow you).
With so much pressure to master social media, a new format can be overwhelming. Once you feel more comfortable, Twitter has a good support page and FAQ for digging deeper. For now, while your followers are few, play around with the format, and pore over your feed, noticing what tweets catch your attention. By starting with these baby steps, you’ll be tweeting like a pro in no time.