One of the biggest advantages of Twitter is that it allows anyone to engage with everyone on the network. You don’t need to be a fan, or even a follower, to reach out to someone in real time — just find someone you’re interested in and send them a “mention.

If you’re operating a local business, you can use the interactive nature of Twitter to find and engage local tweeters who are interested in your brand. Here are some tools and tips to help local businesses do just that.

Search for Local Tweets

Search for Local Tweets

One of the best resources for local businesses is Twitter’s own Advanced Search. Using this application, you can use keywords to search for tweets that originate within a specific location.

Here’s a real-world example provided to us from a local dentist in Scottsdale, Arizona: Using Advanced Search, he looked for mentions of the word “dentist” within 15 miles of Scottsdale. He also selected the “Question?” checkbox to narrow the search results to tweets that also posed a question.

Sure enough, the search returned a match from someone in Scottsdale asking his or her followers for recommendations for a good, local dentist. The dentist then responded to the tweet, letting the tweeter know that first-time patients at his clinic get x-rays and a free cleaning. The next day, the dentist had a new patient thanks to Twitter.

You may not find potential customers in your first search, but don’t worry. Use the “Save this search” button to keep your search; run it again from time to time to see if you find the results you’re hoping for. You can see all of your saved searches by clicking the “Searches” tab on your Twitter homepage.

Discover the Top Local Tweeters

Discover the Top Local Tweeters

Want to find out the local Twitter rock stars in your area? Tweet Grader lists Top Twitter Cities based on the total number of tweeters located there. Click on any of the cities listed to see the “Twitter Elite” for that city.

You can also try WeFollow, which lists its own top Twitter cities. If your city isn’t listed, just search for it as a tag and you can find the top Twitter users almost anywhere.

Finally, TwitterCounter has a top 100 list of Twitter accounts that have the most followers. Narrow down the results to your city by finding it in the “Global top 100″ drop-down menu near the top of the page.

Find Tweeters Who Share Your Interests

Find Tweeters Who Share Your Interests

Looking for people beyond the Top 100? Then try out Followerwonk. Use the “more options” link to search for specific keywords and locations listed in people’s Twitter bios.

For example, local stores that sell sporting goods can find athletes in their area that might be in search of new equipment. Automotive parts retailers can find auto enthusiasts who are looking to upgrade their cars and trucks. The key to finding local people with shared interests is not just to follow them, but to interact with them as well.

Discover Local Tweets, Visually

Find Local Tweets on a Map

If you want to go beyond searches and lists and actually see tweets originating from your neighborhood, try Bing. Visit Bing Maps, click on the “explore map apps” link, and scroll down to find “Twitter Maps.”

Once you zoom into your area, you’ll see new tweets created by tweeters who are sharing their locations through smartphone apps, Foursquare, and other Twitter applications. You can also use the search box to search for particular keywords mentioned by users in a particular region.

Do you use Twitter to promote your local business? What other tools and tips would you suggest to improve your local marketing with Twitter?

[Image Credit: Stuck in Customs, rojabro, Images by John 'K', alobos flickr]