The social networking / microblogging site, Twitter, is so popular right now that it’s not a bad move to think you should use it for your business – as part of your social media strategy. In fact, you may go so far as to say it’s a necessary move. Sure, it’s cool to be able to follow the tweets of Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Fry on a daily basis and join in on casual conversations. But it’s so much cooler that Twitter offers you, through these conversations, new opportunities to expand your business and your brand.

Before you dive in and start twittering, make sure you consider a few important things first. You don’t want to start out on a bad note, after all.

Ask yourself how you want to use your Twitter

Sure, you can’t use Twitter yet as a direct revenue channel, but you can use it as a way to continue to enhance your brand and image. Will Twitter be a lead generator? Will it be used to promote your new products, services, and offers? Or will it serve to provide customer support and handle customer complaints? Make sure you have a clear idea of what your communication objectives are before posting that first-ever tweet.

Make a good presentation

Customize your Twitter profile to make sure you’re presenting something that suits your business branding. First, choose a profile name that contains your company name and which quickly describes the nature of your business (ex., @AuntMarys_Bookstore). Then fill out the description form, and remember to link to your official website in the URL field. Add a profile picture. Design a background image that looks professional and, at the same time, personal or casual. Twitter users follow people who appear to have something interesting to share with them, and not faceless promotion machines that don’t represent the actual company well.

Get employees to tweet

Why not? Twitter is about – among other things – conversation. It’s good to share the conversations that are happening from within your own team. It not only shows a more human side to your company; it also prevents you from getting stuck with just one voice, or one employee, tweeting for the whole company.

Tweet as if you were talking

Let that authenticity come through. Tweet as though you were talking to another being. And no, it doesn’t always have to be about business stuff. You love music or are into cooking? Say so, and don’t hesitate to have some fun tweeting. When you do talk about your business, be as engaging as you can, and don’t resort to tweeting fluff that make you look unprofessional. And don’t tweet like you’re an advertisement; otherwise you’ll turn off your followers.

Ask questions

What do you do if you’re on a first date and you’ve come to a quiet, awkward interval? That’s right – you ask a question. Keep the conversation going on Twitter by asking your followers questions. This promotes greater interaction and can serve as a great feedback mechanism.

Follow people relevant to your business

It’s easy to follow Taylor Swift and Adam Lambert, but it’s more important to follow people in your target market and in your industry. Also make sure you follow your employees and colleagues, relevant brands and competitors in your industry (yes, even them), and the people who tweet about your company, brand, product, or service. Leverage Twitter’s huge social network in order to build your own, and don’t follow too randomly. And save those celebrities for your personal Twitter account.

Monitor regularly

Twitter lists its trending topics at the home page; the site also has a search box to help you find what you’re looking for. Find people who are tweeting about your company using these tools, and interact with them. You never know who you might be introducing yourself to. Also, take advantage of the “trending topics” to monitor if something related to your business is being talked about. Tweet about that same topic and you’re positioning yourself to have your tweets read by a lot more users.

Consider using a Twitter application

A number of Twitter applications help you get organized. Tweetdeck, for example, is a personal browser to help you organize and connect with contacts across Twitter as well as other social media sites.

Share, reply, and retweet

Twitter isn’t a one-way conversation. Promote others as much as you promote yourself. Reply whenever someone mentions your company, and retweet things that you think are interesting enough to share to your followers. If someone compliments or complains about your product or service, respond in a timely manner. It’s not just about Twitter etiquette; it’s about showing your audience that you’re a company that cares and listens.