Twitter 101 for Small Businesses

Twitter seems to be a polarizing social medium. You either love it or don’t really see the point. Many small businesses in Southwest Florida have an account but aren’t really sure what to do with it or if it’s even worth their time. Here’s a brief introduction to get you started.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is all about microblogging- that is, saying something compelling in 140 characters or less. If you use Facebook you’re probably familiar with updating your status. Twitter is basically a website with only status updates. You can also post links and “tweet” (send out) a picture.


There are four basic uses that I’ve found for Twitter.

1. Social Updates

When their day takes an unexpected turn people go on to Twitter to express their excitement or frustration.

Ex. “So excited for @TradeJoes to come to Sarasota!”

Or: “Starbucks #PSL latte isn’t in for another week. #caffienebuzzkill

(Wondering what the “@” and “#” symbols are for? I’ll get to that soon).

2. Emergency Communication

If you have a large number of the right followers Twitter is a great way to get out important information in a crisis. This is especially popular among universities. For example, when a junior student at CSU died of a meningitis infection the school used Twitter to contain the situation by directing students and parents to a website where they could find more information. In a less dramatic instance, it also could be used to notify people to last minute changes. A famous ice cream truck in NYC will tweet if the truck is going to be out of commission for a few days.

3. Promotions

Twitter can serve as a sounding board for any news going on in your company. Opened a new store? Closed for Labor Day? Just get in a new shipment of scarves? I’ve seen all promoted on Twitter. Some companies even get creative, tweeting a special “code word” that can be used for discounts.

Although Twitter is a good platform to broadcast news about your company, if you only talk about yourself people will get bored. My advice is to find a relevant thread to talk about. Let’s say you own a catering company. You can use Twitter to announce specials but also should tweet wedding reception ideas you found posted on Pinterest or Soon to be brides will start following your account for its relevant information.

4. Personal Communication

This is where the “@” symbols come in. Twitter can be used to send a message directly to another Twitter user. To send a direct message you use the symbol at the very beginning of the message: “@efvillageshop How long is your 50% off sale lasting?”

You can also “tag” a user by putting their username with the “@” symbol in a post. This lets people know when their being talked about and directs your followers to that person’s page: “Just attended the UEP Kick Off Luncheon with @SuncoastCommCap. Best of luck!”

This can be really cool. A friend of mine (an over achiever with 600 followers on Twitter) once tweeted at Candace Cameron Bure, aka D.J. Tanner from Full House. The conversation looked like this:

D.J. Tanner:  Very excited for my new Christmas movie to appear on Hallmark!

My Friend: @CandaceCBure Can’t wait to watch it! What’s it about?

D.J.: @BethanySchuelke A woman who adopts a dog just in time for Christmas. It’s very fun.

That’s the power of Twitter: putting you in personal contact with your childhood idols (or journalists, lawmakers, business partners or people who can help your business).

Other interesting stories:

  • A couple of Christmas’ ago there was a blizzard in Denver. People who tweeted their frustration of the delayed flights received faster assistance from the airline than those calling into customer service. No one wants poor customer service broadcasted across the internet.
  • A coworker at my last job was fed up with traffic and tweeted: “What’s up with the road block on #I85 @cityofseattle?” The city immediately responded with their apologies and offered an alternate route.

Lastly, but most importantly, the hashtag…

Ever wonder why people put the phone number sign in front of random words? Or even a string of phrases? When you tag something in a post using “#”, it makes that word, or phrase, a keyword. If someone wants to find out what’s going on during the 4th of July weekend they might search: “Fourth of July SRQ”. Everything tagged #fourthofjuly or similar will be pulled up in a search. So in this instance it would be beneficial to tweet: “Founding Father’s sale! 25% of jewelry this weekend only #fourthofjuly”.

Companies will also come up with their own hashtags to encourage other people to tweet about them. In the very first example #PSL was the hashtag Starbucks advertised for the annual Pumpkin Spice Latte. TV shows will flash their hashtag during an episode (#Glee, #Dexter, etc). Just in case you wanted to tweet about how awesome that night’s episode was.

Now that you know the basics I feel confident sending you out into the wide world of Twitter, good luck, and follow these final tips!

  • You get followers by following people. It’s called Twitter karma and there actually is an app to measure who follows who. Many people also have their account set to automatically follow all followers. It’s worth a try to follow a random stranger.
  • Follow people who follow your followers. If someone follows you because they love hearing updates on your food truck, it’s likely it’s the kind of thing their friends are interested in too.
  • Tweet regularly. People don’t follow accounts that aren’t active.
  • Lunch is the best time to tweet as it’s when people check their phones for updates.
  • Set Twitter to let you know what’s “trending” in your area (which hashtags are the most popular).
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