Twitter is so red-hot right now that it's united Shaq and Oprah. It's also so good at attracting buzzwords that I can't decide whether to call it a microblogging service or a social-networking Web site. But it doesn't really matter what you call it, or whether you prefer to follow Ashton Kutcher or Britney Spears. What matters is that users are taking to Twitter in massive numbers. And your business should be there, too.
Does this mean that plumbers need to start posting messages about what they had for breakfast in order to drum up sink-repair orders from desperate Internet hipsters? No, but you can and should use Twitter to connect with your customers, clients, and fans in a way that you couldn't do before. Here are some tips on how to use Twitter effectively -- and a few cautions, as well.
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1. Don't automate it
If you've got a blog that's connected to your business, you can use a service such as TwitterFeed to directly channel your new blog posts into Twitter posts. Sounds nifty, doesn't it? Well, don't do it. Your business's primary Twitter feed ought to be hand-fed. If you publish a flood of impersonal links, your Twitter account will just seem like a faceless promotion machine. And that's not any way to engage people on Twitter. Link to the very best stuff on your blog, as well as relevant stuff you see elsewhere on the web, and also post items that don't contain links at all. (Don't forget to use a URL-shortening service such as tinyurl, is.gd, or xrl.us for your links.)
2. Be conversational
Your business's Twitter account should talk like a person -- even if it's a collective "person" representing your company or brand. Think of your Twitter account as a character in a little Internet play -- it's a walking, talking personification of your entire company. If you feel like it, take it to the limit: Use the first-person ("They're putting my stuff on sale again!"), invent a personality. Or just use the royal "we" and "our" -- "Our editors have the latest on so-and-so." But be chatty.
Some companies prefer to disclose members of their team when they're tweeting from the company account. That's a valid approach, too. For example, the clever group-tweeting service CoTweet (currently in beta) can automatically append your initials to the tweets you make while representing your company. (Macworld is testing out this service to see if it makes it easier for a group of our editors to jointly operate our various Twitter accounts.)