At the time of its SEC filing in early November 2013, Twitter had more than 232 million active monthly users, 53 million of which were in the United States. That makes Twitter a potentially powerful marketing tool -- if you know how to use it.
So how can you leverage the popular 140-character social media site to drive more traffic to your business or website? Dozens of Twitter experts, marketing pros and business leaders who have used Twitter to market their brands, products and services share their top 14 tips for how to successfully market your business on Twitter -- or employ Twitter as a marketing tool.
1. Optimize your Twitter bio. "Make sure your company identity and voice are branded well," says Jon Ferrera, CEO, Nimble, a provider of social CRM. That means having a bio that tells people who you are and includes a link to your company website or a landing page -- and having "a consistent tone so that people clearly understand who you are and what you do."
2. Find out who the influencers and experts are in your target area(s) and interact with them on a regular basis."Use Twitter search or a tool like Topsy [or Followerwonk] to find like-minded prospects, customers and influencers/media by searching keywords that relate to your industry," says Stacey Miller, social media manager at cloud marketing provider Vocus. Then follow and interact with them on a regular (daily) basis.
"Make a list of the 100 most influential people in your space -- journalists, thought leaders, potential clients/customers, big-name bloggers and writers, potential partners, etc.," says Shanelle Mullin, the director of Marketing at Onboardly , a provider of PR and content marketing for startups.
"Add them to a private Twitter list and engage with them daily. (Tools like HootSuite make managing this process much easier.)" And remember to "be casual [and helpful], not promotional," Mullin says. "Build a real relationship and then look for opportunities to collaborate."
3. Get colleagues involved. "The first people to help build your brand should come internally," says Amanda Cohen, marketing coordinator, Homescout Realty. "Make sure your coworkers are following you on Twitter and tweeting, retweeting, engaging, etc."
4. Tweet regularly. "Regular tweeting is a sign of an active, healthy profile," says Sandra Fathi, founder & president, Affect, a public relations and social media firm. "If you only tweet once a week, or once a month, you aren't keeping up with the Joneses [or the Twitter equivalent]. Worse, folks will forget about you," she says.
"I recommend daily postings and engagement so that you are top of mind on a consistent basis," Fathi says. Just be sure you are tweeting relevant or useful information, content your followers will read, click on, retweet and/or favorite.
5. Don't be afraid to ask for some Twitter love. Ask followers to retweet, mention or favorite your tweets -- or to share content with a fresh tweet.
6. Track mentions -- and respond if appropriate."Track brand mentions and keywords to make sure [you know what's being said about you]," says Vikram Bhaskaran, director of marketing at Freshdesk, a customer support Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution. And be sure to respond in a polite, professional manner if appropriate. "After all, customer service is the new marketing!" And many customers now post their product queries and complaints on Twitter.
"Monitor the conversations in that search and jump in to the conversations when appropriate," Geoffery she says. "For example, say you're a dentist in Buffalo. You could set up a search for the term 'dentist Buffalo.'" Then, when "you then see someone in Buffalo tweet 'I need to go to the dentist but it's so hard to get an appointment,' you could jump in and [tweet], 'We'd love to have you as a new patient.'"
[Related: 16 Tips for Ecommerce Holiday Season Success]
7. Retweet. "Don't be afraid to retweet as this will help link you with and cement your own thought leadership within your industry," says Mark Rushworth, head of Search at Blue Logic Web, a Web services provider.
8. Favorite tweets. "Many people don't know about favoriting tweets, but it can get someone's attention more than a retweet or a mention," says Amy Marshall, COO, Fathom, a digital marketing and analytics agency.
9. Follow trends/hashtags. "Look at the trending topics and hashtags and find a way to make a relevant connection to your brand," says Crystal Cantabrana, director of Operations, Grizzly Group LLC, which provides social marketing solutions. "By putting your business among the trending topics, your handle will be seen when people search tweets regarding that particular hashtag."
"Tagging our posts with one or two relevant and trending hashtags has [helped us] to reach new users," says David M. Burrows, vice president of marketing & PR, Cinsay , an online video commerce company. However, "hashtags should be used sparingly, as they can be seen as 'Twitter spam' when over used or attached to irrelevant content."
10. Offer discounts or special deals to Twitter followers. "Run Twitter contests such as: 'The next 50 people that retweet me will receive a coupon for 50 percent off,' or have people post pictures of themselves in the store or using the product and do a random drawing," suggests Marshall.
11. Use images and videos. "Get visual," says John Lee, manager, Brand + Social Marketing, Webtrends, a digital marketing solutions provider. "Photos and videos drive three to four more clicks on Twitter."
"Images, videos and other rich media have proven to receive more views, clicks and shares than plain text tweets," says Marko Muellner, vice president, Marketing, ShopIgniter, a social performance marketing platform.
"While community managers may be doing a great job engaging followers, a banal post about enjoying the weekend is much less effective than rich, in-stream content in which someone can, for example, view a film trailer and find out where the movie is playing in their neighborhood," Muellner says. "In fact, research shows that rich tweets have significantly lower negative feedback rates as consumers appreciate interactivity and content designed for their social mobile context."
12. Use Promoted Tweets. "Be sure to directly target your audience with Promoted Tweets," says Bryan Shaw, community manager at 3dcart, an ecommerce platform. "Failing to define exactly who you're trying to reach [could] cost you time and money."
Just "be sure that your promoted tweets aren't spammy," says Aaron Endré, a marketing and PR expert helping B2B tech startups. "The goal is to provide value that establishes trust and credibility, not trick people into clicking a link."
And "Keep it fresh," adds Alicia Antoniolli, account manager, Social, 3Q Digital, a digital marketing services provider. "Make sure your promoted tweets don't run for too long." If you want to continue to get that message across, find a slightly different way to say it.
13. Make sure Twitter is integrated with your other marketing efforts. "Twitter, like other social media platforms, is much more effective when integrated with your other marketing activities," says Mark Schmulen, general manager, Social Media, Constant Contact, an engagement marketing company. "For example, if you're running a promotion or contest on Twitter, let your email subscribers know about it, as they are another customer base who have already let you know that they want to receive messages from you," he says. "Inversely, by occasionally tweeting out the link to your mailing list, you can also tap your Twitter base into your email content."
14. Use Twitter analytics. "Use Twitter's native analytics daily to get a grasp on what's resonating and what's not with your audience once you've built it," says Miller. "In the analytics dashboard, you'll be able to tell what your best days to tweet are, the types of content that are more favored and the demographics of the followers that you're attracting," she says. Then you can "replicate what's working and rework or reevaluate posts that aren't."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.
Read more about twitter in CIO's Twitter Drilldown.