Making the most of Twitter for small businesses

Making the most of Twitter for small businesses

If you run a large corporation - Dell, McDonald’s or Coca Cola - social media must seem pretty easy. You have a ton of fans and followers who lap up everything you throw at them (good and bad). You could be a terrible marketer on a large brand and still benefit from social media. But what about those of us running small businesses, or who work on our own? How do we benefit from social media such as Twitter?

We all know social media CAN be beneficial, but when resources are limited and hardly anyone has heard of your business, you can’t afford to produce multi-million pound campaigns across a multitude of social networks. So what do you do?

Rather than trying to do many things and spreading your resources thinly, concentrate on doing one thing exceptionally well. In other words, find one social network and do it brilliantly. Don’t worry about the other networks, they can be added in later. They aren’t going anywhere.

So the next question is: which social network is the most suitable for my business? This is a tricky question to answer in the space of this article, but there are some important elements to consider.

Some of these are:

  • Demographics: the age of your audience, and your location (if a location-based business), male/female bias

  • The size of your network

  • Competitors' activity

  • Your business objectives

  • What do your customers use?

  • The amount of time you have to devote to social media

  • Money

The last point here is simply an inconvenient truth: you might need to invest a little money to get some social media off the ground. This is particularly true on Facebook and LinkedIn, where promoted posts and paid ads can make a huge difference in your early attempts to gain fans.

For the purposes of this article, however, we are going to concentrate on Twitter and in particular getting the most out of it, without spending money.

At its best, Twitter can be an interactive, engaging nirvana where businesses can build relationships and sales. At worst, it’s a spam-infested 140-character nightmare full of people ready to critique your business’ every move.

Twitter is fantastic for creating loyal brand followers and advocates, but can also be tough to administer if you have a poor product. The first thing you should be certain of is that what you have to sell (your service or product) is as good as it can be. If not, expect plenty of backlash on Twitter, although this can help product improvement too, so don’t be disheartened by it if it does happen early on.

If you can use this insight and improve the product, you’ll be amazed how quickly those “negative nannies” turn in to brand advocates who tell everyone how cool the product now is: the chance to influence a product is a chance to take a kind of ownership of its development. This may even create your strongest brand advocates.

There are some key stages to a successful Twitter account, all of which are discussed here.

  1. Set up

  2. Gaining followers

  3. Improving engagement

  4. Turning potential into sales

  5. Management and monitoring

  6. Measuring success

So what can Twitter drive?

  1. Traffic
     An obvious one, but substantial traffic can be gained with the right content and the right people tweeting about you.

  2. Sales
    You might not see significant sales to begin with, but once word gets around about your awesome products via Twitter, you’ll see sales too.

  3. Brand awareness
    Perhaps a little fluffy, but depending on your business, just being in the front of people’s minds when they need your services is essential and Twitter can help this

Twitter can also gain you fans (or followers as they like to be called on Twitter). Although they won’t directly impact the business, the more followers you have the more you’ll get. After all, the main aim with Twitter is to grow as large a following as possible to make it easier for you to reach those you would never hope to reach ordinarily. More followers leads to more followers, it really is perpetual.


Setting up a Twitter account isn’t all that hard, but ensuring it is fully optimized is really important. So when you have your account up and running, consider the following best practice to make your profile rock.

  1. The main aspect of your user identity (displayed on your profile and next to your posts) is your profile “photo”. Use a high quality version of your logo at least 120x120 pixels in size (though it will be displayed at 81x81).

  2. Use a header photo sized at 1252x626px and again, ensure it is within the brand colours but don’t use the logo again (it will get lost behind the profile picture!)

  3. DO complete the biography section as fully as possible.

  4. Include your website URL in the correct section and don’t forget you can add clickable URLs to your biography if you have room.

  5. You don’t have to have a background image or custom theme, but it really does help make you stand out. Again, ensure it matches the brand colours to increase the trust associated with your Twitter account, especially if you weren’t able to get the exact match name for your brand or business.

Gaining followers

First things first. You’ll need followers. Without followers, you won’t have an audience to talk to or market to. The way Twitter works means your posts can be seen by anyone, but are only actually seen in other people’s timelines when they follow you. You can reach more people by including relevant hashtags and it is good practice to include at least one. However, don’t be tempted to overcrowd your tweet with lots of them.

You can find popular hashtags by using which not only tells you the popularity of the tag, but suggests others closely related to it (if you're interested in, say, Christmas you'd go to You’ll also find specific tags that relate to your business. Some industries have special days (like #TravelTuesday).

The key to gaining new followers is to advertise your presence everywhere to start with. Make sure you have a front page link from your website showing the Twitter bird logo. Ideally this logo should appear in the header area, close to your brand logo on your home page. You can also include a link to your profile page in your “contact us” page if you intend to answer customer service queries on Twitter.

Add your Twitter logo to your email footers, your LinkedIn profile, your Facebook page (if you have one) and anywhere else you usually place your telephone number. Include it in newsletters and marketing emails.

One of the quickest ways to gain new followers is to run a competition, offering a chance to win a prize in return for a follow.

Note, however, that competitions result only in low quality followers because (dependent on the business you are in) followers gained may not be all that interested in your product or may indeed be people who just use Twitter to enter competitions. But, it’s important to also understand these same people have friends who will see them tweet about your brand and who may well be interested. Initially, competitions are about reaching a wider audience.

Gaining high quality followers takes time and there are no short cuts. Posting high quality links to fantastic news or blog pieces that are highly relevant to your business or industry will start to help you gain more followers. Interacting with your growing audience will also help as every time a user replies to you your brand is exposed to their followers.

Finally, use Followerwonk to find industry advocates and high profile figures to engage with and then actually do go ahead and engage with them. Retweet their great posts, favorite tweets and reply, thanking people for awesome content.

Reciprocal following also works (to an extent), so to start with, it's worth following people you think are likely to follow you back. You can always trim later.

Some words of caution though. There is no short cut to high numbers of good followers. Sure you can take up one of those dodgy internet offers that promises “5,000 real followers for £299” but you won’t get much if any benefit other than a stroke of ego. Trust me, I’ve investigated these services to find out what (if any) value they give and the benefit is negligible. After making a purchase of 5,000 followers, just a week later the account had 2,400 left. Within a month this had dropped to fewer than 1,000 followers, despite the fact I was posting great content. When drilling down to examine the quality and relevancy of the followers remaining, we found just four who had tweeted or had any link to the (motor) industry. If you are happy to pay £299 for four good followers, then go ahead, I guess.

Improving engagement

You don’t have to reply to everyone, though initially it will probably be feasible to do so as you won’t have many followers. As your follower numbers build, you can be more selective with your responses.

Follow basic business etiquette and before you start replying, decide what your voice should be. Using first person and switching to third will confuse followers, so figure this out up front (ie, are you tweeting as you, the individual, or as your company?) You should decide if you want to be casual, relaxed, funny or straight when you reply, and stick to it. This is usually defined by how you would want to speak to clients and customers offline and face to face. If you already have a successful brand, make sure you take the same working ethics onto Twitter.

Be courteous and polite, regardless of your tone of voice, and don’t bash the opposition, no matter how hard it is to resist at times!

You should also remember that expectation on social media has gone through the roof. If someone messages you, they expect an answer back quickly, usually within the hour (unless it’s out of hours, when the following morning is a must) so make sure you can resource this.

There are plenty of excellent programs to alert you including TweetDeck for home and office PCs and the built-in Twitter app on an iPhone. They both have the ability to track mentions of your brand account and alert you.

It’s also worth remembering that those who contact you on Twitter usually want to be dealt with on Twitter. If the conversation is private or more detailed, offer to call the user if they can Direct Message you a number (you have to be following each other to open a Direct Message). Offer your email address as another alternative.

Turning potential into sales

Turning conversation into sales is by far the hardest part of Twitter. Your success rate will depend on what type of business you run and the type of industry you sit in. It is common to get direct approaches for business via Twitter. I’ve known window cleaners, car mechanics, accountants, lawyers, dentists, satellite installers and cleaners all to be approached directly on Twitter asking for their services.

Be prompt, reply politely and grab the job with both hands. A successful transaction that results can also help you further. Don’t be afraid of asking those who bought from you for a quick mention on Twitter if you have provided them with a great service/product. Again, they will be reaching people you can’t even see, let alone speak to.

If you are a local business, make sure you find your most popular local hashtags: almost every city and town has one. Include them in your tweets where relevant.

As you gain more followers, turn up the mix of posts you make from being purely informational to start with, to adding in the odd marketing message of your products or services, but don’t overdo it, especially when you have so few followers. Once every other day to start with is fine and if you can mix it up with some case studies of happy customers, (ideally linking to a blog post).

Study your competitors and see where they get leads from within Twitter.

Finally, remember that it is exceptionally rare that a business can survive on Twitter leads alone. It should be considered part of your overall digital marketing strategy and complement your offline activity, not replace it.

Management and monitoring

With a plethora of tools available to monitor Twitter, it’s tough to know which ones are best. Personally speaking, there are only two (free) monitoring tools that also allow you to interact and manage accounts effectively while enabling you to get on with your work without sitting there glued to the screen waiting for tweets all day.


I use Tweetdeck to monitor Twitter. Some prefer Hootsuite and I’ll admit, its most recent features for multi-platform management are excellent. But I prefer TweetDeck, because it's specifically for Twitter and it’s completely free. You can also use it for powerful monitoring purposes including custom, private lists which enable you to spy on your competitors without them even being aware!

TweetDeck is great for tracking your Twitter mentions and your brand mentions where they occur in casual conversations. The custom columns can also be set up to show specific keyphrases, so taking keyword data from Google Analytics or Wordtracker becomes a really powerful way of finding the people on Twitter who are talking about the products and services you provide.

You can also combine this information with FollowerWonk data. FollowerWonk has a more explicit way of searching for accounts, including those who mention a keyword in their biography or their name and you can use it to drill down to location. Which is great for small businesses as they can really benefit from strong local connections.

Measuring success

One of the fabulous things about Twitter is that it has thousands of tools and plugins available. Some of these cost a lot of money but many are free tools and combining a few of them can prove exceptionally powerful.

We’ve included some of the best tools below to help you measure the impact of your Twitter strategy with a brief explanation of each. All of these are free of charge, apart from Sprout Social which costs $39 a month for a basic account.

Sprout Social – Great all-rounder for measuring and monitoring not only Twitter, but other networks too. Small monthly charge.

TweetStats – Great for seeing graphs of your tweets, who retweeted you, monthly breakdowns of statistics.

Twitter Counter – Great for seeing how your followers fall and rise over time.

BrandMentions  – Great for monitoring brand or competitor mentions further afield than just Twitter, covering both news and social media.

Klout – Good for measuring your overall engagement and influence via social media. Alternatives include Kred and Peerindex. – Excellent for getting statistics on specific hashtags including finding high influencers.

You can read more about Twitter marketing here:


Meanwhile, are you following @Wordtracker yet?