Jump Start Your Business - with Twitter!

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson
Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows you answer the question, "What are you doing?" by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called "tweets", to your friends, or "followers." The short format allows quick communication, and the ever expanding network of "followers" opens up your circle of contacts. Twitter can be downloaded (free) from twitter.com, and accessed through the web, cell phone, and various programs (also free) such as Twhirl and Tweetdeck.

If you're shaking your head and muttering right now - I understand. I'm not one to jump into new technologies, especially those that involve me communicating with large groups of people. It seems silly - and rather high-schoolish. I was finally dragged into the Facebook arena and have only recently found the business value that the social network offers. I use Facebook primarily to keep up with friends and community organizations - but I've begun creating an identity for our online publication, Mid Shore Life, there as well. MSL is now a group on Facebook, with a slowly growing number of fans. I can send messages to all these fans, alerting them to events and businesses I want to promote.

I was not eager to jump into the "Twitter World", but I finally signed up using the screen name "MidShoreLife". My goal was to find another way to promote the events and businesses on Maryland's mid-shore. I wanted to find other local twitterers, but the twitter.com website would only let me search for specific names or offer me celebrity and large business twitterers. (I'm now following Brent Spiner and the Discovery Channel)

I soon found Mr. Tweet and Twellow, two services that categorize the seemingly endless supply of Twitter personalities. I searched for anyone on the "eastern shore", and followed the handful that popped up. I then searched through their followers, and found quite a few more people and businesses, including several in Annapolis and Baltimore. I signed up to follow the Baltimore Sun Travel editor, Green Building Annapolis, and more.

Instantly, my browser page (I was still using the web browser at this point, I now use Twhirl, which makes things easier and doesn't use as much bandwidth) was filled with "tweets" or short sentences and links from people and organizations all over the area. And yes, some are the "I'm eating pasta" variety - which is not that interesting coming from a complete stranger. But an amazing amount of information and links were filtering through, as well. I found a tweet announcing that Ed Begley, Jr was coming to Annapolis to promote his new book and talk on environmental issues. I sent the posting group a direct message (only went to that specific group) asking for permission to re-post the information on the Mid Shore Life website. I also mentioned I'd like to re-tweet (pass the information along to my followers, but wasn't sure how). Within minutes my cell phone rang - and I was speaking to the woman who had posted the initial information! (no, twitter never has your personal information - but I had included a link to my website, which does!) She promotes events in Annapolis, and we chatted for awhile about using Twitter to help small businesses - and she taught me how to re-tweet!

I am now using Twitter regularly throughout the day to promote Mid Shore Life and mid-shore events and businesses. Sometimes I re-post links to articles, other times I chat up local businesses with a direct link to their site. I also tweet about what's going on at the moment, such as Rita's Ice giving away free treats to celebrate the first day of spring! (and the Fudge Brownie flavor was awesome!). Within a few days of "twittering" I was up to 77 followers, whereas the month of Facebook Mid Shore Life promotion gathered about 30 fans. Twitter is faster - things happen quickly!

Other small businesses can benefit from this type of low-key (and free!) promotion, as well! There's a candle store in Annapolis that relies on social media to promote their business - and it's working! They regularly tweet about products, benefits, sales, etc. They also get involved in other conversations with those they follow - building relationships. In today's market - building relationships is the BEST way to build your customer base (which is why we build & host interactive websites - that help you build relationships with your customers).

So...go to Twitter.com, choose your username, and get started! If you can dedicate the time involved (it will take a few hours to get started, than you can do updates quickly throughout the day) you'll be amazed how quickly Twittering affects your business. If you can't spare the time, or are totally terrified of trying to set up your own account, drop me a line and I'll help you get started! It works!!!

Cyndi Johnson can be reached at cyndi@MidShoreLife.com or 410.924.7772

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