You're not Charlie Sheen. If you were, you'd have accumulated 1 million Twitter followers in just 25 hours and 17 minutes -- a Guinness World Record. You'd also be having lots of fun at parties, but that's another story for another day.
Your small business marketing strategy might not result in a world record, but we're here to help you build your business's Twitter following and get the most out of your social networking presence. Here are 10 tips to get you started.
How to Build a Twitter Following
1. Optimize your Twitter bio and tweets with keywords
Google and Bing are increasingly adding tweets and other social network content to search results. To help boost your visibility in those results, make sure your Twitter profile is optimized with your business's most important keywords. Try to use your important keywords in tweets as well.
As always, moderation is essential. "Keyword stuffing," as it's called, is a turn-off to humans and might even do you more harm than good with the search engines. Rule of thumb: If what you've written reads awkwardly, then you've gone overboard with the keywords.
2. Don't just talk about yourself
Tweeting about how great your company and products or services are won't earn you many followers or encourage them to retweet your updates. Instead, share insights, provide tips, be funny or thought-provoking. Sean Donahoe, who tweets as The Manic Marketer (@seandonahoe), is a prime example of someone who uses Twitter to frequently share marketing tips, quotes, and insights.
3. Become a curator of interesting content
The more you tweet, the more followers you'll get. One of the easiest ways to tweet is to simply share useful, interesting articles or blog posts you read online. Most websites let you easily share an article on Twitter by simply clicking a link. For instance, if you read a post on the social media blog Mashable you like, just click the "Tweet" button. After you've linked your Twitter account, Mashable creates a tweet that includes a shortened URL.
4. Track trending topics and jump into the conversation
You can pick up new followers whenever you post an interesting tweet on a topic that many people are buzzing about on Twitter. Make sure to include the hashtag (#) in front of the topic name, such as #iPad2, to help Twitter users easily find your tweet.
To find out what's hot on Twitter, simply look at the "Trends" area on your own Twitter page (it's on the right-hand sidebar). Other options include Trendistic, a free tool that lets you track Twitter trends as far back 180 days and display the results on a graph; and Tweetmeme, a free guide to the hottest links and stories on Twitter.
5. Leave space for retweets
Getting retweeted helps you build a following. Twitter only gives you up to 140 characters per tweet. But you should use fewer characters, in order to leave space for your Twitter name plus the "RT" (retweet) symbol to be included in a retweet. When someone retweets your update from within Twitter, it will automatically include your Twitter account name (e.g., @yourtwittername).
A good rule of thumb is to count the number of characters in your Twitter name. If it's, say, 15 characters, limit your tweets to about 122 characters instead of 140. That will allow for the RT @yourtwittername to be added to the retweet without cutting off anything in your original tweet.
6. Time your tweets for maximum impact
Twitter is a never-ending stream of short messages, and your tweets can easily go unnoticed if timed poorly. For example, if you're a B2B company with customers throughout the U.S., you probably wouldn't want to tweet a lot during the weekend. The free HootSuite application lets you schedule tweets in advance, as well as give multiple people access to your company's Twitter account. By the way, some people recommend repeating your tweets up to three times, to ensure they gain maximum visibility.
7. Follow others
To get followers, you need to start following others. For one reason, when you follow someone, he or she may return the favor. Also, following others shows you're actively engaged in Twitter, not just periodically broadcasting tweets. Ideally, you should focus on following people in your business field. Remember that anyone on Twitter can see who you're following. So if you're a real estate agent who only follows celebrities (a la Charlie Sheen), that doesn't send a terribly positive message to other Twitter users about your professionalism.
8. When it comes to Twitter followers, quality counts
Google said late last year that Twitter links, and the reputation of Twitter profiles, are among the ranking factors it now considers when ranking a Web page for relevancy. Translation: Let's say you tweet about a new blog post on your website, and you include a link in your tweet to the blog post. Then, some of your Twitter followers with a strong "reputation" find your tweet interesting and retweet it.
Those retweets could very well help boost your blog post's search engine ranking. By the way, Google didn't specify exactly what it meant by "reputation," but it's likely that Twitter users with large followings and who tweet often themselves will have a stronger reputation in Google's eyes than someone with 20 followers who's only issued 12 tweets.
9. Customize your Twitter background
It's easy to just pick one of Twitter's stock backgrounds for your page and be done with it. But for branding purposes, your Twitter page should have a similar look and feel as your website and other Web properties. You can upload your own image to use as a background. If you want the image to take up the entire background, shoot for an image size of 1,024 x 768 pixels or 1,280 x 1024 pixels. You'll probably have to play around with image size adjustments until you get the desired effect.
For examples, check out these Twitter accounts with customized backgrounds: Bay Area Search Engine Academy (@bayareasea), Virgin America (@virginamerica), and Empire State Recordings (@empirestaterec). You can also view a gallery of highest-voted Twitter backgrounds, updated monthly, for inspiration.
10. Use one tool to post to multiple social networks
It's a lot of work to keep your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social channels updated. Ping.fm is an easy, free service that lets you broadcast one update to multiple channels simultaneously.
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