Twitter - is it right for your business?

Over the last few days, we've had many a conversation with our clients at Ditto HQ about twitter. Should you use it for your business? What should you tweet about? And how the heck does it all work, anyway? To be honest, I feel like a bit of a fraud evangelising about twitter. I've only been using it for the last month, and before that I definitely thought it was a waste of time. But since we've started tweeting, I've made contact with people who I otherwise wouldn't have spoken to - these people could prove to be really useful contacts, and may even become clients over time. I've received several lovely messages from new followers who have been driven to my blog as a result of twitter, and if I'm lucky, they might share my contact details with their clients. It's all great for business - think of it as cyber networking. The problem is that a lot of business people I speak to about twitter are unsure of its' implications for their business - and even if they think that tweeting is a good idea, they've no idea how it all works. Inspired by a chat this morning with a yet-to-be-converted client, I thought I'd share some of the basics and de-bunk the jargon:

1) First of all, get yourself a twitter account. It's free and really does only take a couple of minutes. You can make your profile pretty and personalise it with images and logos later if you like, but for now - you're online!

2) Find people who you want to follow. There are tons of brilliant, inspirational business people on twitter, so take some time and use the search bar to have a look around. You can search by company name, an individuals' name or by a category - if you were searching for me you might use the criteria 'marketing' or 'design' to track me down.

3) Start tweeting. You can tweet about literally anything, but those who get the most followers are the people who share useful information and post fairly frequently (anything less than every 3 days or so and you're likely to fall off the radar). Think about what you want to be known for when you tweet - make your posts relevant and helpful to others.

4) Respond to the tweets of people you're following if you think you have something valuable to add to the conversation. Don't be shy!

5) Avoid using twitter for a hard sell. No-one enjoys reading endless tweets about your latest offer - by all means, mention your product/service, but don't keep on about it - it's unlikely to interest your followers!

6) Remember your character limit. Sharing links can be tricky with only 140 characters; I use bit.ly to shorten my links. Just copy your link, paste it into their site and it'll give you a brand new, much shorter and twitter-friendly link to use.

So what else do you need to know? Well, I won't lie - there's lots of jargon surrounding twitter. Here's some of the important stuff:

DM You might see people tweet '@username - DM me'. That means they'd like to take the conversation to a direct message, which means the conversation will become private. Sometimes this is more appropriate . You can send a direct message by selecting the messages tab along the top menu bar.

@username In order to include, or mention, someone in a conversation, use the '@' symbol. For example, my username is hannahditto, so you might say 'I've just spoken to @hannahditto about my new leaflets'

RT - stands for retweet. If you've read something which you think your followers will be interested by, you can retweet it so that it appears in your feed and will be visible. When you want to retweet a comment, you can do so by selecting the 'retweet' option just under the post you want to share, although it's good etiquette to credit the person whose post you've retweeted. This is why you'll see 'RT @username :really fab blog post!' If you're keen to get yourself retweeted, remember that when tweeting you have a limit of 140 characters. I try to keep my tweets under 124 characters to give people space to include @hannahditto before my post.

# - The hashtag is a way of identifying the nature of the post. For example, I might say 'just read a brilliant book about #marketing', so that people who search for 'marketing' will see my post. This is key when you're looking to recruit new followers, so people can find you.

I'll be blogging more about twitter over the next few weeks, but hopefully this will provide a good starting point. What do you think about twitter - will you be incorporating twitter into your marketing mix?