Every business should be on Twitter — maybe you’ve come to realize that, but you don’t know how to get started. Well, the first step is simply to create an account for your business, and it’s pretty easy; here’s a step-by-step guide.

This guide is part of a series of articles at Sprout Social Insights offering the very basics for getting started with social media. Small and local businesses owners in particular are often not given the tools and instruction they need to keep up with the way their customers are using technology.

We hope this guide and our others are helpful to folks who are new to using social media to promote their businesses and brands. If you have any questions, or advice of your own, feel free to share them in the comments.

1. Sign Up

 

 

 

Visit twitter.com and click on click the big “Sign Up” button — you can’t miss it. You’ll be taken to a page where you’ll be asked to choose a username.

This is critical, because it’s how almost everyone who encounters your business on Twitter will first see you. Generally, the best practice is to use the shortest form of the name of your business or brand. Twitter messages can only be 140 characters long, and each time a would-be customer writes to you, he or she will have to include your entire username.

You can actually change your username later, but there are disadvantages to this; for example, it can confuse search engines that index your account. It’s best to get it right the first time.

You’ll also be asked to provide a full name (keep it simple) and a password. There are Twitter hackers out there, so make sure your password is secure by using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. When you’re satisfied with your choices, click “Create my account.”

2. Confirm Your Account

 

 

 

After you enter a CAPTCHA (an unusual word you have to type to ensure that you’re a human and not a computer trying to create scam accounts), your account will be created, but you’ll still have to confirm it — also a measure to prevent scam accounts from being set up by computers programmed to do so.

Twitter will send you an e-mail at the e-mail address you provide it, and that e-mail will include a link that verifies your account. You have to click on that link to activate the account.

Done? Congratulations, you’re now on Twitter. The next step is to customize your profile.

3. Add Profile Details

 

 

 

Now that you’re set up, you can visit your profile by going to twitter.com/yourusernamehere. Of course, if you do that you’ll see that there’s hardly anything there. Before you start building relationships and composing tweets, you should a profile image and some basic information.

Click on your username in the top-right corner of the Twitter home page and a drop-down menu should appear. Click the option labeled “Settings.” You’ll end up at a basic account info page, where you can choose your time zone, customize the way tweets appear to you, and change your username or the e-mail address associated with your account.

Make any tweaks you need to here, but the real meat is in the “Profile” tab. Click the word “Profile” above all the options and you’ll end up there.

First, upload an image. Pick something that’s clear and distinguishable even as a tiny icon. It doesn’t hurt to upload a larger image, though; Twitter will shrink it down wherever needed. You can also use this screen to add your location and a 140-character bio. Try to convey what your business or brand is about as succinctly as possible; we’d advise against going overboard with buzz words. Just make it clean and accessible.

4. Choose a Design

 

 

 

Now you need to choose a theme for your profile. The theme you choose will affect how the Twitter home page looks for you, but it also defines the appearance of your own profile to other users.

In Settings, click the “Design” tab near where you clicked “Profile” before. Twitter offers 19 default design patterns for your profile, but you can upload your own background image and choose your own color palette.

You can just click one of the pre-made designs if you want to use one, but the option to add your own image is at the bottom, labeled “Change background image.” Click it and you’ll see a place where you can upload an image from your computer. Make sure it’s simple, elegant, and very high-resolution — otherwise it will make a poor presentation for your business or brand.

Click on the button to the right of that (“Change design colors”) to change the colors of individual elements like the sidebar so they match your chosen background. When you’re done, click “Save changes.”

5. Make Your First Connections

 

 

 

Twitter is about social connections, of course. And the best way to get people interested in your business or brand on Twitter is to engage in a discussion with people you’d love to have following you. Twitter isn’t just a publishing or an advertising platform; it’s primarily a conversation.

Find some Twitter accounts you like — whether they’re would-be customers, or other businesses who are rocking this social media thing in a way you appreciate — and follow them using the interface on the right side of your Twitter home page.

You can also browse popular accounts by interest, as the label says. This can be useful when you’re first getting started. Reply with helpful comments and the followers will come.

Of course, you should promote your Twitter account to your customers directly through other media, too. Try putting your Twitter username on flyers, business cards, and other materials that represent you.

6. Send Your First Tweet

 

 

 

You’re all set up. It’s time to publish your first tweet! Each tweet can only be 140 characters long (or less), so you’ll have to be smart about how you word things. Try to be conservative with words, not just characters though; it doesn’t look very professional when you use shorthand like a teenager sending a cell phone text messages.

To send a tweet, go to the Twitter home page and type a message in the blank field beneath the words “What’s happening?” Hitting enter or clicking the “Tweet” button will publish the tweet. There’s also a number by that button; it tells you how many characters you have left.

To address a tweet to someone, type “@” followed by their username, then the message. For example: “@SamuelAxon Interesting dilemma. Let me know if I can help.”

If you see a tweet you think would be helpful to your followers, move your mouse over it and find the tiny link beneath it that says “Retweet.” This will publish that exact tweet to your followers, but it will add your username so they know it’s been re-published by you.

Have you started a Twitter account for your business? Let us know by leaving a link to your Twitter account in the comments below.

[Image credit: Brokentaco]