Twitter seems simple, but it’s not.

Used correctly, it can gain you visibility and drive lots of prospects to your web site.

Misused, it can turn you into a global punchline in less time than it takes to fly from London to South Africa (click here to read about the #hasjustinelandedyet debacle).

Most of us will never post something truly cringe-worthy. But most of us are probably not getting the most out of Twitter, either.

The marketing utility of Twitter is chiefly in building a reputation for subject matter expertise, and this is accomplished by being informative as well as personable. It suggests a mix of tweets with links to content as well as a few personal observations. The ideal ratio of content-links to personal notes is probably about five to one although no one has really done a thorough analysis of this to date.

Despite the lack of pure data, we have seen a consensus building around certain best practices that combine common sense with observable results.

Here are some guidelines to help you fly high with Twitter:

Tweet with consistency
Tweet several times a day, but not all at once. If you have several tweets to send, schedule them with a time interval in between. One tweet an hour for several hours makes for a good presence. Dumping all your tweets at once may seem like spam or frenzy—neither is likely to enhance your reputation.

Go easy on self-promotion
If you’re in business and tweeting for business, everyone knows you’re tweeting to get customers. Tweeting about yourself, your business or your expertise is fine in moderation. The most important thing to remember about followers or potential followers is that they are just like you are: they want something that helps them out in some way much more than they want to hear crowing.

Dinner is not a topic
This should be obvious, but too many marketers destroy the good will they’ve been trying to create by mixing entirely unrelated posts with their business posts. If you sell garden hoses, tweet about gardens. But don’t take a picture of your T-Bone steak and say “mmmmm” to your followers. They don’t care about your steak, and soon they may not care about you either.

Everyone is a curator
“Curation” is the latest synonym for “serial content linking”. It used to describe the job museum directors do: they decide what gets in the museum and what does not. Think of your Twitter output as a museum of your own expertise and taste. Find content you didn’t create and link to it. In fact, the majority of your tweets should probably be like this. It enhances your reputation as a subject matter expert but it also says “I’m here to help”.  Good links are good business.

Listen and respond
Your brand may come in for a bashing now and then, especially if you serve the public at large. The worst way to respond is with indignation or anger, even if it’s justified. Try to be conciliatory or informative. And if an apology is in order—do it! A reasonable amount of humility goes over big in any public forum and Twitter is no exception.

Be Buzzy
Nothing is more ephemeral than a tweet, except Snapchat. Since Twitter is instant, use it to tweet about new, interesting, humorous, or top-of-mind subjects. If there’s a way to link a hot topic to your business in some way not too tenuous or annoying, feel free to do that. Twitter is an in-the-moment medium. Tweets should come across as fresh, and they don’t need much of a shelf-life.

100 is the new 140
Keep your tweets short. If this seems crazy, remember that you want people to retweet your tweets; and that you need to give them some character space to do so.

Hashtags should be short and also relevant. Most often, you will want to use hashtags that already exist; and especially hashtags that are popular in your line of business. Think of hashtags as magnets for potential followers. Contrary to what you may believe, often a hashtag should be less specific rather than more specific. For instance: #marketing will get more views than #petstoremarketing.

Share and mention @otheraccounts
Twitter is a Social Media tool and so don’t leave the social out of it. Sharing interesting content by others that align with what your business does, or is simply very interesting, is a great way to build relationships. That means, share the content by other companies or bloggers and be sure to use their @handle so they’re aware of the mention and perhaps retweet your message which means their followers will see you on their feed. Also, you’ve given them a reason to return the favor, they’ll be more likely to share your posts.

This list may be helpful but it isn’t comprehensive. As you will have noticed, common sense plays a big role here as elsewhere. Twitter is about building relationships, establishing yourself as a leader in your industry, building trust and ultimately attracting visitors to your site.

Following these guidelines will help you tweet with eagles and leave the turkeys scrabbling around in the barnyard. Happy Soaring!

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