By Jan Zimmerman, Deborah Ng

Even if you’ve never used Twitter, you’ve probably heard about this online social networking service. The Twitter icon, with its famous blue bird, is everywhere, from cable news broadcasts to your local supermarket. Everyone wants you to follow them on Twitter.

Twitter allows you to communicate in only 140 characters.
Twitter allows you to communicate in only 140 characters.

Before you post the Twitter icon on your blog or website, or add your Twitter handle to your business cards, you need to know what exactly Twitter is and whether it’s the right marketing platform for you.

Twitter is a microblogging social network. We’re going to get into the micro­blogging aspect more in the following section of this chapter, but suffice it to say that everything you post has to be short and simple. Believe us; communicating in the short form isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially if you want to get a message out. Still, millions of people are using Twitter, and many brands are finding success.

Different people use Twitter to

  • Build a community. The best reason to join any social network is to grow a community of friends and advocates. Your community consists of the people whom you build trust and relationships with because they view you as being accessible. These people are the ones who will have your back.

  • Find new customers. Thanks to the Internet, you now have the ability to reach a whole new global market. With Twitter, you have the ability to reach millions of new people. Each person you interact with has the ability to reach people, as well. You can leverage all that reachability into sales.

  • Have a conversation. The best part of Twitter and other social networks is the ability to sell without sounding like you’re selling. It’s called conversational marketing, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. When you have a conversation with your friends and followers, people get to know who you are and what you do. When they have a need for someone who does what you do, they’re more likely to call on you. They may even like you so much that they decide to buy what you’re selling just to support a friend.

  • Ask questions. The best way to learn about your customers and potential customers is to ask questions. We’re not saying that you need to have a Twitter poll (unless you want to), but there’s nothing wrong with dropping a question now and then to find out about a demographic or habit.

    Use Twitter to ask questions and learn about your brand’s community.
    Use Twitter to ask questions and learn about your brand’s community.
  • Get customer support. Many people like to reach out to their favorite brands on Twitter to ask questions about a product or service, or to ask for direction or technical support. Twitter is another way to be accessible to your customers. You can also use Twitter to search and make sure your customers aren’t having issues.

  • Discover what people are saying about you. It’s important to receive feedback, especially unsolicited feedback. Sometimes folks are talking about your brand online, and you definitely want to know about it.

  • Promote your content. Did you just write up a killer blog post? Are you releasing a new video? Do you want to let folks know about a new product launch? Twitter is an awesome tool for promoting new items.

  • Host Twitter chats. Twitter chats allow you to discuss topics at length or bring in special guests. They’re another way to interact with your community.

  • Promote brand visibility. When people see your logo on Twitter and they see you communicating with customers and other Twitter friends, they feel confident in the brand. They like the human element and especially knowing that when they reach out to you on the social networks, you’ll be there to respond.

  • Give out perks. Some brands share Twitter‐only discounts and freebies as a way to reward their followers. Lucky recipients will no doubt share these perks with their own followers.

Twitter is a commitment. Networking on Twitter isn’t as simple as sending a tweet and expecting to bring in the masses; it’s also a matter of building ­relationships, getting to know people, and holding a conversation.