Say what you will about the power and popularity of social media, but it’s not going to make a number of marketers, business owners, and brand managers stop asking questions about what to do with it.
Take Twitter, for instance. Questions about its viability are being asked over and over. If you’re one of those who have to keep asking, don’t be embarrassed. It’s okay to be skeptical. And it’s perfectly natural to scrutinize the immense popularity and business viability of Twitter before you dive in and make it part of your strategy.

For the sake of clarity, let’s take on 9 burning questions about Twitter.

How can Twitter and its 140-character limit possibly have any real business value?

Twitter is more a communications platform than a mere application. And that’s where its value lies. It allows you to easily enter into conversations with other users – conversations where you can listen in, receive precious feedback, share information, and, essentially, engage.

Oh, okay. Wait, isn’t that what Facebook is for?

As Mark Zuckerberg himself will tell you, Facebook is a way to connect with friends, families, colleagues, and communities. You can do that with Twitter, too, but less effectively. But what Twitter does really well – and which separates it from Facebook – is offer an experience, or a stream, of information, news, opinions, thoughts, feedback, and updates in a way that’s instant, direct, non-contextual, and concise. (Hence, the 140-character limit.) It’s a way to share – and know – what’s happening – with the world, with your brand, with your business, with your customers.
Twitter is also a way to stalk your favorite celebrities. Kidding.

So how do I begin to use Twitter?

Do whatever you want to do with it. Use it to announce events, promos, news, and happenings at your company. Use it to communicate transparently with your employees and partners. Use it to receive feedback and respond to your customers, as well as to manage your online reputation. Use it to humanize your brand and give it endearing quirks. Use it to raise funds. Use it to voice your opinion, establish your authority, give nods of approval, or agree to disagree. Just don’t use it to spam unsuspecting followers. (Check out our separate post for more on how to not use Twitter.)
In essence, Twitter – in spite of (or maybe precisely because of) its 140-character limit – is freedom. One tweet can be heard by any number of users in any number of locations. It’s up to you to decide what you’re going to say.

Why am I not getting any followers?

We have written about how to retain your Twitter followers, but what if you can’t get any at all? Allow us to direct you to this awesome article by Brent Ozar, “Top Ten Reasons I’m Not Following you on Twitter”. Among his reasons:

  • “Your tweets are all links. I’m not even going to click on ‘em to find out if they’re to your own site or not.  I have a hunch that you’re advertising something, and all you do is yell about your product all day long.”
  • “I looked at your tweets, and you’re not interacting with anybody.”
  • “Your profile doesn’t have the Holy Trinity: a bio, a location, and a link.”

Um, what’s a hashtag?

Hashtags are tags that are prefixed with the hash symbol (#) to add context and metadata to your tweets. Not only do they designate topics that people might search for using Twitter’s Search function; hash tags also distinguish the topics of your tweets from common phrases, so that they’re easier to find and retrieve. For more info, visit Twitter Fan Wiki’s Hashtags page.

Um, what’s a retweet?

A “retweet” – or an “RT” – is basically a reposting of someone else’s tweet. Twitter has an official RT function that allows you to repost – or retweet – tweets that you like or find interesting. But if you want to add your own comment, you can simply add “RT” followed by the @username of the person who wrote the original tweet.

What good does it do me to retweet other people?

Apart from giving due credit to Twitter users who post original, interesting content, a retweet enhances your online visibility in the public experience of information on Twitter. It also allows you to give your followers an idea of what you like and which interests and topics are most relevant to your brand.

How do I create – or back up – my own Twitter archive?

There are ways to archive your tweets (or someone else’s tweets) so that you could read, search, share, and store them all in one place. We have written about those ways in a post entitled, “Your Guide to Creating a Twitter Archive”.
You can also save your energy and wait for the day when Twitter comes up with an official archiving feature. Here’s what the company has to say:

We have all your tweets. The bad news is that we currently only allow you to see the 3200 most recent tweets (this could also be construed as good news, as that number could be lower than 3200). The other good news is that we are eventually going to build something that will allow you to see ALL your tweets. Among the gazillion things we want to do to make Twitter better, this hasn’t yet reached the top of our list, which is largely based on what we hear from people like you. At some point, you’ll be able to get on a twime machine, visit your twistory, and tweminisce.

Can small businesses succeed with Twitter?

Absolutely. Don’t think that only global brands can make their presence felt on Twitter. Houston-based independent coffee shop Coffee Groundz, for example, is blessed with a Twitter-savvy general manager in J.R. Cohen, who has gone out of his way to engage with the café’s most loyal fans and customers. He also made it a point to connect with Coffee Groundz followers on Twitter, thus gradually and organically growing its follower base to over 10,000.
Not only that. Two years ago, J.R. also began to take to-go orders via Twitter direct messages. To this day, customers can reserve tables, order from the patio, and book the place for events and functions – all via Twitter’s Direct Message or “DM” feature.
“It just makes sense,” J.R. says. “If a customer is sitting on the patio in front of the store with his dog and doesn’t want to leave it there unattended while he orders my food inside, he can DM me, get whatever he wants, and I’ll even bring my customers dog a bowl of water!”
(Read more examples of social-media-savvy brands on Twitter.)