Twitter is one of those social technologies that people either love or hate, and too many people tend to make that decision within the first five minutes of using it.

The first thing to remember when starting Twitter is that it is NOT just a status tool to keep everyone constantly updated on what you’re doing.  Furthermore, it should not be used to mindlessly broadcast content over and over.

Twitter should be used as a networking tool for finding like-minded users, interacting with them, sharing content and opinions, forming relationships and creating a community.

That might sound very abstract if you’re a beginner, but here are five steps to starting your Twitter strategy.

Step 1) Follow relevant users

There’s no point in talking if you’re not communicating with anyone.  That’s why the first step to starting Twitter is following other like-minded users to see what they’re saying.  Use Twitter’s search engine to find keywords or phrases related to your business.  Check out  other users’profiles in the search results and see if they may have interests that coincide with your goals.  Follow whomever you like, and then move on to step two.

Step 2) Engage with the people you follow

Once you’re following about 15 or 20 (or 100) people, the next step is to listen to what your newly formed network is talking about and engage in conversations.  Twitter is a lot like real life, except people are much more open to having random conversations with strangers.  If you don’t know how to talk to someone specifically: simply scroll down your Twitter feed to find an interesting, funny or otherwise relevant tweet, click “reply” and say something back.

If you’re unfamiliar with the way Twitter works, mentioning someone in a tweet (by including @ in front of his or her username) will make your tweet appear in the user’s mentions section, which is located along the top menu (next to “Timeline) labeled as his or her Twitter handle (username).  You can track tweets that mention you by clicking that option within your feed, and that is how two-way conversations happens on Twitter.  (You can also send direct, private messages to users; but you should only do with this with users you actually know.)

The trick is to communicate as a human, and not some mindless promotion machine.

Step 3) Retweet other peoples’ content you like

For a lot of people, Twitter’s primary purpose is to promote their own content.  That means you should help them (so they’ll feel more inclined to return the favor).  There are two ways to do this.  The first: when you see an article you like, click “ReTweet,” and the tweet will populate in your own feed, sharing it with all of your followers.  The second (and more engaging approach): reply to the tweet with a personal message of feedback, followed by the letters “RT” and that person’s tweet (with the link, if there is one).

Example: “Very insightful article about mustaches RT @TheMustacheMan Knowing when to trim your mustache

The magic of Twitter happens when you tweet something so popular that your followers retweet it to their followers who retweet it to their followers who retweet it – exponentially expanding the number of people who read your tweet.  That is how many viral videos, stories and other content are born.

Step 4) Produce and share your own content

Once you have a few followers who you regularly engage with, the next step is to start producing and sharing your own content.  Write relevant posts for a blog, upload relevant videos to Youtube, or simply share already-produced content on the Web, and tweet it to your followers.  If you want to reach specific followers, include that follower’s Twitter handle (username) within your post with the @ sign in front of it.

If you would like your tweet to appear within a topic in the Twitter-sphere (or start your own topic), you can also include a hashtag.  A hashtag is basically just a word or phrase (without spaces) with a # sign preceding it (example: #SmallBusinessSaturday).  When a hashtagged topic becomes extremely popular, it appears under the “Trending Topics” section in your sidebar.  You can jump into one of those topics by including the hashtag in your tweet, contribute to topics your followers are having by including hashtags they use, or start your own topic with your own hashtag.

The important rule to remember is not to forget rules one through three.  You must always continue to engage with your followers on a genuine level, and retweet their content so that they feel more inclined to share yours.  Otherwise, you risk looking like a spam machine.

Step 5) Develop a pattern

Now that you understand the basics of what you can do, it’s time to develop a regular pattern you can rinse and repeat every day.  One easy strategy to get you started: write or find a blog post in the morningand tweet your post (while including the handles of relevant users).  Only tweet it once, and continue engaging your audience.  A few hours into the day, tweet your post again (possibly to some other handles).  Try not to tweet your post more than about five times a day, or you’ll risk annoying people into un-following you.

Try this strategy for a few weeks, and see how many followers you have.  The more you participate, engage and interact, the more your audience will grow.

And don’t forget to tweet us your posts; we’re always willing to spread the RT love. : )



Sarah Jordan

Sarah Jordan

Sarah Jordan is the VP of Marketing for PaySimple, the leading provider of service commerce solutions for SMBs. At PaySimple, Sarah leads the company's brand, acquisition, lifecycle, and product marketing strategies, and has been an integral player in growing the company from a fledgling startup to a leading SaaS platform, serving over 15,000 businesses across the country. She loves live music, being outside, great food, and hanging out with her husband, little boy, and dog.

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