Twitter for business: 5 ways to tap the power of the tweet

Twitter can be a valuable business tool -- if you know what you're doing

Imagine a business tool that lets you broadcast information about your company, listen in on discussions about how people are using your products and what they think of them, and get involved when one of your customers -- or one of your competitors' customers -- has a problem.

Imagine a tool that lets you have a conversation with early adopters and influencers who are eager to share what they learn with their friends and followers. A tool that offers something even the best focus groups cannot: genuine interaction with the people who choose to use your products.

You're probably already familiar with Twitter, the "microblogging" platform that allows you to create a stream of very short posts, or "tweets," that others can follow and reply to. But what you might not know is that Twitter is much more than just a way to tell friends what you're doing.

That business tool I just described? That's Twitter. If you put all of your ducks in a row, you can tap Twitter to be a direct link between your company, customers, clients and colleagues.

Twitter isn't just a tool, though; it's a community -- one that will stop paying attention if it feels like you're exploiting it. One way to make Twitter users feel exploited is to open an account and immediately start blasting out your latest press releases. That kind of headlong behavior could conceivably strike back against you, leaving your brand and your reputation in tatters.

That's why it's wise to devise a strategy before you jump in. To help you do that, we talked with two of the top Twitterers out there: Laura Fitton and Robert Scoble. Fitton, of Pistachio Consulting, helps companies develop social media strategies using Twitter, and is one of the leading Twitterers with more than 7,000 followers (@pistachio).

Scoble, of FastCompany.TV, is not just a popular figure on Twitter; he's been one of its most avid evangelists and has almost 40,000 followers (@scobleizer). He also writes Scobleizer, one of the most popular tech blogs on the Internet.

Here are the five ways they advise business users to get the most out of Twitter.

1. Decide what your purpose is

Have a clear purpose in mind to guide your use of Twitter. Do you want to reach key influencers in your field? Or are you trying to engage end users of your products? Your use of Twitter -- whom you follow, what you tweet and how you interact with other Twitterers -- will be different for each.

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