Twitter: How to Get Started Guide for Business People

Don't understand what all the Twitter fuss is about or why you might want to use this social networking tool? You're not alone, but you may be missing out on useful information and professional connections. Check out our quick and easy guide on how and why to get started with Twitter.

By C.G. Lynch
Tue, February 03, 2009
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"The people you choose to follow should bring something compelling to your life," says Fitton. "I feel sad people think that's important to follow a ton of random people or have people with a lot of followers to be important or get value from Twitter."

Owyang suggests starting with people you know. When you sign up for Twitter, you will be promoted to search for friends from your Gmail or Yahoo Mail accounts and show if you are on the service. Also, he says, you can use Twitter's search tool to look for people that might be twittering in your field.

You don't need to know people personally, but they should relate to your interests. You also might want to look for luminaries in your industry who often publish links to things they're reading with short comments on it. If you're into biking, you might follow Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong). If you're into politics, maybe you follow party operatives like democrat Joe Trippi (@JoeTrippi) or republican Karl Rove (@KarlRove).

Not long after you join, people will begin following you. Before you follow back, make sure you're going to get something substantive out of their tweets, Owyang says.

Other experts advise you think more broadly, at least to start. Stowe Boyd (@stoweboyd), a social media consultant who writes the /message blog, suggests following at least 100 people right away. He agrees with Owyang and Fitton that you should look for quality people, but believes it's important to throw yourself into the Twitter environment and see how information moves differently.

With Twitter, information flows to you, in contrast to more traditional mediums such as a news website, where you must click around and seek out information on your own. On Twitter, after you select followers, the information just comes to you.

"The point is getting in the flow, and having it wash over you," Boyd says.

Remember, You're Publishing: Google Will Find Your Tweets

It's important to remember that Twitter is a publishing medium. In many cases, Tweets can be picked up by Google. So remember what you say, especially if you tend to talk business over Twitter (as many people do).

An executive from a PR agency that works with FedEx published a tweet where he spoke ill of the shipping company's hometown of Memphis, Tennessee..

The tweet went: "True confession but I'm in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say 'I would die if I had to live here!'"

FedEx responded to him with an e-mail expressing its disappointment in the post.

"What you say can affect your blog or business. Your boss, competitors, wife or future wife," Owyang says. "You need to remember, it's publishing."

Another caution: because a Tweet is so short, it's even harder than with say e-mail for people to pick up context or tell when you're being sarcastic versus serious, Fitton says.

"You need to think carefully about how you put it and how it sounds," she says. "Think about not only your immediate followers but your potential audience, which is the whole Web. Tweets get googled pretty prominently."

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