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Watercolor Bird with Speech Bubble (Stephen Emlund/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Watercolor Bird with Speech Bubble (Stephen Emlund/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ten simple ways to generate leads on Twitter Add to ...

People are pushing out information 24/7 on Twitter for everyone to read so why not take advantage of these 140 character ‘announcements’ to generate leads for your small business?

If you know what to look for, Twitter can open the door to sales opportunities, help you expand your audience, and take your business to the next level.

1. Start by building your community. When someone follows you on Twitter, they become part of your audience. They are giving you a chance by listening to what you have to say. If you focus on what your audience wants to hear and tweet business-related news they might enjoy, then you can promote your own coupons or offers now and then to those who are already interested in your business.

2. Make it retweetable. If your audience likes your business-related updates and news, they will retweet (RT) what you have to say and spread your message to their followers. Craft your tweets to be much less than 140 characters – there is more of a chance people will promote your message without any retyping involved. Easy sharing lets you know who else may be interested in your business – follow them too.

3. Start conversations and retweet others. If someone retweeted an article that you shared, ask them what they thought about it. This will help you determine what really interests your audience. Start conversations and get to know the community you are building around your small business. Retweet what they are saying. They will see what you’re all about, follow you and perhaps even email or call you.

4. Follow or create a hashtag. A hashtag is like a party invitation. Everyone ends up at the same place because they know the address. Click on the # sign next to an acronym or phrase. For example: #torontoevents will show you tweets related to events in Toronto and all the people who are talking about going to one. You can create your own hashtags too – they allow people to come together online and be part of your shared community. Going to an industry conference? Follow the conference hashtag on Twitter and you may meet some familiar faces when you arrive.

5. Host a Twitter chat. This is a similar to hosting a radio talk show, but in tweets. There may be a specific time of day your audience would enjoy a Twitter chat to get them talking about a topic related to your business. Just include a hashtag in every tweet, like #headstartchat for example. Have a list of questions ready to poll your audience and drive the conversation. Designate a time every week so that people know when to “tune in” to the conversation. The more people tweeting, and coming back to participate every week, the more chance there is to speak directly to your target market.

6. Find out who is tweeting next door. As a small business, unless you ship products or provide services globally, you are more likely to generate business closer to home. To find people who tweet close to a location where you do business, go to twitter.com/search and type in near:city, then the key word or phrase. For example, near:Toronto hiring.

7. Promote your followers. Consider using a service like paper.li to generate an online collection of articles that have been shared on Twitter throughout the day, similar to a newspaper. The people you selected for the paper will be credited for their contributions when it’s published on Twitter (with a mention). By promoting the articles and tweets of others, you promote the people related to your business, increasing the likelihood of referrals.

8. Create a daily or weekly tradition (meme). You may have heard of Follow Friday. Every Friday, people recommend a great person or company to follow. For example: #FF the @globeandmail for insights into news and events. Create your own repeatable tradition or promotion related to your business using a hashtag. For example, #DollarOffTues. People will start to recognize that at a certain day or time, you have a special deal or service to offer and start retweeting. They will also talk about it within their own (offline) network.

9. Listen to your community. Don’t push them. Use a Twitter software program such as TweetDeck or HootSuite to keep tabs on business-related key words, phrases, hashtags, or events you want to know about. Don’t do the “hard sell” if you think someone may need your product and service – just engage them in light conversation and offer to follow up with an e-mail. If someone is talking about the competition, let them know that you are on Twitter to answer any questions they may have but don’t tell them they should, could or need to use your product or service.

10. Take it offline. Use direct messages on Twitter (similar to private text messages) to share e-mail addresses and phone numbers. It’s always best to connect “offline” privately so that you can build trust and make it easier for all involved to take the next steps in a business relationship.

Susan Varty is the Director of Digital Strategy for HeadStart Solutions Inc., a social recruiting and career management consultancy in Toronto’s tech community. Follow her on Twitter @SueVarty .

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeSmallBiz

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