Twitter can be a useful tool for reaching customers, but there are a lot of other businesses vying for their attention. Luckily for you, many of your rivals don’t know how to write the kinds of updates that are most effective. We have some tips to that end.

If you’re just getting started, you’ll want to learn how to create a Twitter account first, and don’t think this is the whole story; we also have some basic Twitter term definitions too.

Once you’re ready to start reaching out to customers, make sure you have all the following bases covered:

1. Keep It Short

Brevity is the way on Twitter; your goal is to get the sentiment and information to your followers as succinctly as possible without sacrificing any intent or meaning. Twitter actually won’t publish updates that are longer than 140 characters.

Rather than using difficult-to-read short hand, find to-the-point ways to say what you mean while still coming across as professional. There’s an art to it, but it often simply comes down to not trying to do too much with each individual tweet. So long as every tweet has one clear purpose, it shouldn’t be difficult to stay within the given constraints.

You’ll sometimes find yourself sharing links to web pages or news articles, but these are often very long. You can save that space by using a URL shortener like bit.ly, which will generate a very short address that refers your followers to the longer one.

2. Keep a Personal Voice

People follow you on Twitter because they relate to your brand — something about it resonates with them personally. Reward their attentions with tweets that are personal too.

Your followers are more likely to read your updates and keep following you if they sense a real person behind the messages, so don’t send them generic or corporate-seeming miniature press releases.

So use the term “I,” or at least the editorial “we.” Let them know you’re a human being, not some kind of web marketing robot.

3. Reply to Your Followers

Even if you’ve proven you’re a real person behind the machine, that’s for naught if the people you’re trying to reach get the sense that you’re not listening to them.

It turns out there’s an easy way to prove you’re listening: reply! People on Twitter will occasionally direct their own updates your way, or at least mention your business or brand in passing. When they say something interesting, reply to them with something just as insightful.

You can even retweet their messages — it’s the ultimate form of online flattery. They’ll know you’re listening, and on an internet full of people shouting without really paying attention, you’ll stand out.

4. Stay On Message

Sure, you should be personal in the sense that you should carry on actual conversations with your followers, but don’t take it too far; Twitter isn’t Facebook, and no one cares what you had for lunch today.

Stay focused on your purpose. Every tweet you write should have a purpose to serve either your business goals, or the needs of customers or clients.

5. Be Professional

This point might seem obvious, but because Twitter is both a marketing tool and a social network, it can be easy to lose the correct balance. Yes, you’re trying to be personable, and yes, you want to build relationships, but don’t forget that these are business relationships.

Specifically, try not to become personally defensive or publicly frustrated when people harass you or criticize your business. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to do say terrible things without fearing any consequences.

Be professional by staying above the fray when things go wrong.

[Image credit: Martin Dufort, presidentPutnam]