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A Twitter page is displayed on an Apple iPhone in Los Angeles October 13, 2009. (REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI)
A Twitter page is displayed on an Apple iPhone in Los Angeles October 13, 2009. (REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI)


10 ways not to get turned off Twitter Add to ...

Twitter has come into its own as the Western world’s No. 2 social network, smaller than the leviathan of Facebook, but frequently offering more potential to reach new customers and make professional connections.

Its open-endedness, however is a weakness, too: Joining Twitter can be a disorienting experience that falls short on instant gratification. Here are 10 tactics for making an entrance on Twitter a rewarding experience:

1. Pick who you're following carefully

Of all the complaints that Twitter newbies make, “I can’t stand the people I’m following” seems to come up most often.

There’s a simple fix to this: Unfollow all the people who irritate you.

It’s true that there’s some value in following feeds for strategic reasons, but at the end of the (busy, overcommitted) day, you won’t use a service that irritates you. So do what everyone else on Twitter does, and customize your feed to suit your tastes.

2. Promote your promotions, but don't leave it at that

Once you’re signed up, the next question is what to say. The first temptation of many businesses on Twitter is to use it as a kind of short-form flyer service, blasting out links to their latest promotions and contests.

This isn’t a terrible idea on its own, but it will quickly get tired for subscribers. It’s best to mix it up with other content if you don’t want to risk becoming just another purveyor of promotional messages.

3. Don’t be afraid to be a human

What to leaven the mix with, then? For one thing, you can give your business a personal voice. One of the biggest challenges of using Twitter for business is that it’s still a social medium, and being strictly detached and businesslike won’t fly.

So even if you’re tweeting from a business account, don’t shy away from being yourself, with likes, dislikes and a sense of humour. It’s what will make your Twitter feed worth reading.

4. Scan for mentions of your business

Ever wonder what people are saying about your business behind your back? Twitter has a strong search engine that scans the service in real time for words or phrases. It works very well, even if it forgets everything within a couple of weeks. Use it to keep an ear open for mentions of your firm – for better or worse.

5. Reach out to people talking about you (but don't scare them)

Finding mentions of your business is only half the equation. Don’t leave it at that: Reach out to the people who are talking about you – many of them probably don’t realize you’re on Twitter.

You can thank people who are complimentary, offer to fix problems for those who complain, and answer questions from the curious.

Just remember that it can be disconcerting for a merchant to materialize out of nowhere in the middle of a conversation, so exercise discretion and explain why you’re interjecting.

6. Avoid gimmicky retweet contests

One trap to avoid is competitions that ask readers to retweet a message in order to be entered into a prize draw.

This is a tactic that’s been tried by companies large and small. It sounds good in theory – you get more exposure, and customers might win – but in practice, you’re asking customers to litter their friends’ Twitter accounts with impersonal messages.

This can do more harm than good – it’s an irritant, and you don’t want your name attached to it.

7. Turn your competitors into a community

Customers aren’t the only people to watch out for on Twitter. Keep a keen eye open for your competitors as well.

For one thing, you can use the service to keep tabs on them. But one of Twitter’s great benefits is its ability to make connections and turn strangers into colleagues and friends. Unless you’re locked in to-the-death competition, you could find common ground with people in the same business you are in.

8. Make friends in odd places

The same goes for people in your line of business around the world. Seek out and follow people who are doing the same kind of work in different cities, provinces and continents. Ditto for people in different parts of the same industry: suppliers, marketers, merchants, analysts, journalists, associations.

The unexpected connections that can arise can benefit you materially, promotionally, or even just on the level of making your days a bit more enjoyable.

9. Give yourself time to adapt and grow in the medium

Twitter still hasn’t perfected the new-user experience, and it’s hard to blame it: Just as when one enters any new social situation, it can take some time to find the people you click with.

Try not to bail immediately when Twitter fails to yield a cornucopia of returns in the first few weeks. Give it some time to try out people to follow, adding and removing to suit you. Even for those whose careers Twitter has vastly enhanced, it didn’t provide instant returns out of the box.

10. Stay off Twitter in the first place. It's okay!

Twitter has an awful lot to recommend it. But in many cases, it’s hardly the most pressing concern a business faces.

Nor is it a good fit for everyone; different industries have taken to social media at different speeds, as have different geographic regions.

Like all networks, it’s more valuable the more people in your industry are online.

Don’t join Twitter out of a diffuse fear of missing out – rather, check it out, see who’s online, and join if its possibilities appeal to you. If not, it will still be there should you reconsider.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues.

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