Block t Twitter IconI coach small businesses on how to use technology and social media to their advantage so Twitter comes up in conversation quite a bit.  And rightfully so!  Twitter is a very important part of the social media world and is growing every day.  While it’s several times smaller than Facebook it is showing up more and more in marketing, product packaging, and even TV shows.  The question of course – what IS Twitter?  And more importantly, what does it mean to my business?

What is it?

Twitter is an information-sharing service.  Its 100 million users from around the world publicly share their thoughts and opinions on every topic imaginable in short status updates of only 140 characters called “Tweets.”  While 140 characters may not sound like a lot, there are tools out there that allow people to include links to websites, to share pictures and to add all sorts of rich content to their tweets, all while staying under the 140-character limit.

Twitter Follow ButtonLots of people you know use Twitter.  Political figures like Barack Obama, celebrities like Justin Beiber, companies like Coca Cola, and regular  folks like me all use Twitter on a daily basis.  The nice thing is Twitter accounts are public by default so if you’d like to see someone’s tweets all you have to do is search for them on Twitter.com and see what they’re saying.  To subscribe to their tweets simply click the “Follow” button on their profile.

Once you’ve clicked the “Follow” button you’ll begin to see that individuals tweets; however, unless that person follows you back by clicking the “Follow” button on your profile they won’t see any of your status updates.  You don’t need to sign up for a Twitter account to make use of the service though.  By default you can see anyone’s profile (and tweets) just by searching for them.  You can also search Twitter to see what topics are trending around the world at any time for free!

Twitter Signup FormWhy then bother to sign up?  Because Twitter, like all other social media outlets, is about building relationships.  That starts with listening to what other people have to say but at some point you’ll want to begin responding to the tweets you come across and “Following” your favorite accounts.  Additionally, signing up for a Twitter account makes it much easier to manage your Twitter experience – you can group people of common subject matter together in Lists, send private messages back and forth to users, etc.

 

What is it not?

Twitter is not Facebook.  By default it’s a much more public service.  Tweets are public and you don’t need someone’s permission to follow them (unless they’ve made their account private).  Unlike friending someone on Facebook, following someone on Twitter is a one-way relationship.  Just because you have “Bieber Fever” and follow JustinBieber so you can hang on his every tweet doesn’t mean he’s going to follow you back.

Farmville is AnnoyingYou’ll also notice Twitter is missing Farmville, Mafia Wars and all other built-in applications.  Twitter profiles are very simple compared to Facebook.  There’s no life history, photo galleries, or any extra fluff – just recent tweets, a profile picture, information about friends and followers, and a short bio.

Twitter is not complicated.  There are really only a few things you can do with the service:  Search, Tweet, Follow, ReTweet, Create lists, and send Direct Messages.  That’s it!  But don’t be fooled.  Much of Twitter’s power lies in its simplicity.  Because the service is capped at 140 characters people have to be clever with how they craft their thoughts.

 

What does it mean to my business?

Believe it or not, people are already talking about your business on Twitter.  The question is whether you’ll answer or not.  And I know at this point you’re incredulous – you think your business is too small to be talked about and you may be right.  What’s important to note is even if people are not talking about your business by name yet, they are certainly talking about your industry, products, services, or even your competition.  There are many uses for Twitter – it can be a customer service tool, a marketing tool, or even a market research tool.  The possibilities are endless.  How could Twitter be useful to your business?  Leave a comment below and let us know!