It’s been nearly 10 years since Twitter first launched its social media platform, and much has happened in that time. The term “hashtag” became part of our vernacular. People stepped away from traditional outlets and turned to Twitter for live news bytes. And 300 million active users joined the online community

And yet with all that evolution, many have yet to join the Twittersphere. To many, Twitter is still just a weird word for an unknown world.

But it can be more than that. For your business and your career, Twitter can be a great tool for marketing and sharing information with your prospects and customers. Below are four steps to get you started on Twitter:

Step 1: Setup Your Account Profile

It’s important to first determine if you’ll be tweeting as yourself or on behalf of your company. In other words, will your twitter handle (i.e., username) be a person’s name or a business name? There are pros and cons to both approaches. For example, using your business name can build more awareness and equity for your brand; however, using a personal name may give you more authenticity. You could setup two accounts and see which one resonates most with the Twitter community you build. Whatever you decide, though, create a Twitter handle that’s both memorable and brief.

Next, write your bio. Twitter only allows you 160 characters, so you’ll need to be clear and clever. Incorporate keywords and the brand voice you intend to use within your tweets. It’s best to keep it consistent with the style of writing you use on your website and throughout your marketing collateral.

Finally, upload high-quality profile and header images to your account. Ensure the images are sharp by properly sizing them before uploading. Your profile photo should be 400 pixels wide by 400 pixels high, while your header image should be 1500 pixels x 500 pixels.

Step 2: Follow and Be Followed by Others

At this point, you’ve now been added to the Twitter community. The only problem is that no one knows you’re there yet.

To get noticed, you first need to start following others on Twitter. The easiest way to do this is by using the Search function to look for businesses you use, people you know, celebrities, business leaders and news sources. There’s also a “Find Friends” feature that allows you to link up your Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail and Outlook accounts and search for contacts already on Twitter.

As you get more active, Twitter will eventually build out a “Who to Follow” feature that includes accounts of people and businesses who are talking about topics you’ve tweeted about or searched for in the past.

After following others, you’ll see that many of them will follow you back. To increase your audience, though, retweet interesting tweets and use hashtags in your own tweets. (See more info on “retweeting” and “hashtagging” below.) Additionally, leverage your website, email lists, and other social media platforms to ask your followers in those communities to follow you on Twitter as well.

Step 3: Learn the Language

As you’ve probably already discovered, Twitter has its own terminology. Before you get active, it’s important to learn some of the basics:

· Retweets: To retweet is to simply share someone else’s tweet with your audience, while also giving you a chance to add your own comments. For example, the original tweet by HubSpot could be: “@HubSpot: Twitter is fun!“ Your Retweet then might be: “@ABC_Company I couldn’t agree more! RT @HubSpot: Twitter is fun!” In this example, your comment sits first and the “RT” denotes that all subsequent content was part of the original tweet.

· Hashtags: A hashtag is any word immediately following the pound sign (#)—with no spaces after the sign or between words. For example, your tweet might be: “@ABC_Company People need to be more authentic with their blog writing. #ContentMarketing” By adding the hashtag #ContentMarketing, anyone who searches that term can find your tweet. The hashtag makes any word in your tweet searchable, but don’t overuse it. You don’t want to annoy your followers. Use the hashtag on relevant keywords so the right audience finds you.

· Likes: Until recently, this feature was called “Favorites.” It’s simply a one-to-one way of giving kudos to someone on twitter for a particular tweet. Unlike a Retweet, though, it does not allow you to reshare the original tweet with your audience.

· Direct Mail: If you want to send someone a private message on Twitter—meaning no one else can see it—you can send him or her a Direct Message. To do this, though, you must first follow the person, and he or she must follow you too.

Step 4: Tweet Away

Now that you know all the basics of Twitter, it’s time to get Tweeting! But first, let’s define the word “Tweet.” In simple terms, it’s a brief expression of a moment or idea that can contain words, photos and videos.” Think of it like a short SMS text to your family or friend, except it’s shared in an online public forum for everyone to see.

You’ll need to keep all your tweets under 140 characters; however, it’s even better practice to keep your tweets around 120 characters. This leaves enough characters for your followers to Retweet your tweets.

So, unlike your long-form content, you’ll need to find ways to keep your messages concise. Abbreviating text and using symbols are two easy ways to do this. Twitter also helps out by automatically altering the length of any URLs you include to 22 characters.

But no matter how concise your messages are, they still must be relevant and valuable for your audience. With 500 millions tweets being sent each day, there’s a lot of clutter to cut through on Twitter. Don’t add to the noise. Create content on Twitter that gets noticed by your followers and makes them keep coming back to see what you have to say.

One easy way to stand out is by embedding your own media to your tweets—be it a video or photo. As users scroll through their feed, the visual appeal of your tweets will help them rise to the surface.

Ok, you’re ready now to tweet away!

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