How to Use Twitter for Online BusinessTwitter is an essential way to connect with existing customers, potential customers, and fellow business owners. Here’s how to use Twitter to develop relationships with your online customers in a way that complements their existing interactions with your business.

If you’re operating an online business, your customers are already interacting with you over the web, so it’s very likely that they will extend the conversation to your social media platforms too.

Follow the Right People

Follow the Right People

Once you’ve created your Twitter account, you’ll want to let everyone know about it. Leverage the existing tools at your disposal to get the message out there. Write about your new Twitter account on your blog and on your website, mention it in your newsletters, tell your Facebook followers, and so on. But you should also spend some time finding and following the right people.

Twitter’s advanced search will help you narrow down your results. For instance, if you’re an online retailer of coffee products, you can start by typing a keyword like “coffee” in to the Twitter search bar. If this is a search you think you’ll make often, click the “Save this search” button near the top-right of your results page. This will allow you to go back to your previous searches from the “Searches” drop-down menu on the homepage.

To refine your search and find people you should be following, find the “Refine results” link below the “Save this search” button. You can search by words, phrases, hashtags, language, Twitter accounts, location, and sentiment. If your online store only ships to locations in the United States, you may want to focus your search exclusively on that location to find coffee fans in your shipping area. You can also save your refined searches for future reference.

Besides seeking out customers, you may find that Twitter is a great place to connect with other online retailers. Following a variety of like-minded online business owners is a great way to set up a support system and to discuss topics relevant to your industry.

Engage and Build Relationships

Engage

Twitter may be a great place to publicize your business and its products, but make no mistake: This social network is a first and foremost a community. It’s about more than having your followers read your every tweet; they also want to connect with you.

It’s important to reply in a timely manner to people who ask you questions. On Twitter, there is a pretty high expectation for immediate customer service, especially for businesses that operate online. For example, someone who asks you a question via Twitter might not be too pleased if you don’t respond within hours. When your business is exclusively online, this could mean the difference between a sale and a fail.

After you’ve been tweeting a little while, you’ll notice those people who are most engaged with your brand; they probably retweet and respond to you regularly. It’s important to recognize them with an occasional thank you message, recognition, or even a special online deal. You may also retweet some of your followers’ interesting tweets, or write about some of the most engaging customers on your company blog.

Beyond actively engaging with your customers, Twitter can be a great resource for both online and offline business owners. There is an ample support system at your disposal, you just have to know how to find it. Twitter chats are scheduled and run by other Tweeters. You can follow any chat by searching for the hashtag in the Twitter search. Here are just a few Twitter chats to get you started.

  • #EntrepChat: weekly business owners chat on Sundays at 10pm EST
  • #WIKIChat: twice a month chat about doing business on the social web, Tuesday 3pm EST
  • #CROchat: weekly chat about conversion rate optimization, Thursdays at 1pm EST
  • #winwchat: weekly chat for women using the web for business on Wednesdays at 11am EST
  • #IAWBOChat: weekly chat for women in business online, Tuesdays at 8pm EST

You may also find that there are Twitter chats directly related to the products and services you offer. These events can be a great opportunity to discuss and answer questions about your product in the proper forum.

Have a Content Strategy

Have a Twitter Content Strategy

Have a sense of what you’ll be tweeting before you start, and figure out what is and isn’t appropriate to share on behalf of your brand. Once an update is out on Twitter, it’s hard to take it back. Although you can delete individual tweets, you can’t tell who’s read them already. Here are some other things to consider when figuring out your content strategy.

  • Spread your tweets throughout the day. It can be annoying to your followers to have their feeds overrun by one tweeter. Be sure you’re not tweeting the same thing all day.
  • Follow trends. React to stories or topics that have to do with your line of business.
  • Share tips. When you don’t have a storefront, it’s even more important that your customers know how to use your product. Sharing bite-sized info as a tweet may be helpful to a customer who hasn’t read all your literature.
  • Run Twitter contests and giveaways.
  • Tweet photos.
  • Recommend others.
  • Use Twitter lists.

As an online business owner, spending time on Twitter will give you the insight to better manage your products and procedures. Creating a strong network of loyal consumers and trusted peers will give you always-open access to an online focus group. Take advantage of the free tools at your disposal to grow your understanding of your market and expand your business.

Are you using Twitter in your online business? Share your experiences in the comments below.

[Image credits: yum9me, Nicola Corboy, Melvin Gaal, striatic]