Ahh, it’s that time of the month again already: the self-professed social media maven is back in the ring to bang the drum about why upping your social media game is so vital to your success in these modern times. Today, I’d like to wax poetic about Twitter, since a large number of companies don’t even know what in the heck a tweet is, and even more aren’t sure of how to use it to their advantage. Listen and learn, future tweetaholics!

First and foremost: what exactly IS Twitter, and why is it so important? Based on a micro-blogging concept, this application allows you to “tweet” a constant stream of consciousness to your “followers” in 140 characters or less. The website has more than 470 million users, and averages over 175 million tweets a day. The re-developed website also offers a “newsfeed” of sorts, compiling relevant news stories based upon whom a user follows and their interests.

More importantly, what is the real purpose of taking time out of your day to tweet, and how can tweeting be beneficial for business? For starters, you should employ Twitter to consistently and cleverly tweet deals, discounts, specials, tips, industry news, and other daily updates; this encourages followers to check your feed regularly, and familiarizes them with your products, pricing, and methods of business. Retweeting and sharing funny and interesting tweets related to your industry or brand is also a fabulous way to generate interest in your company and build a rapport with your brand community. A valuable use of Twitter is researching prospective clients before meeting them—you can garner a great deal of information just from glancing over their tweets, mentions, and followers. Another important aspect of good Twitter etiquette is taking the time to respond personally to customers, potential clients, and followers that directly address you in a tweet—individually recognizing people shows that you are listening to them and signifies that you genuinely care about them and their opinions. These are the basics—but what about throwing some real strategy into your social media plan?

If you are really serious about effectively aligning your social media plan to generate results (which you definitely should be!), then the following tips are smart ways to enhance and fully take advantage of your Twitter presence. One great way to maximize the impact of your tweets is to begin a Twitter campaign. This involves using hashtags to make tweets related to your company easily searchable and trackable. For those who are unaware, a hashtag is a word or phrase designated by a number sign (#) that differentiates it for search mechanisms, categorizing tools, and marketing tactics. For instance, when I tweet this article, I will include the hashtags #DTPblog and #DTPtweet so that I can easily track and participate in any conversation that the blog post generates. For specific marketing campaigns, you can even create an interesting/compelling hashtag that persuades people to join in on the fun; Domino’s Pizza encouraged followers to tweet using the hashtag #letsdolunch, and once 85,0000 tweets were reached (what’s known as “trending”) they dropped prices by more than half during that day’s lunch hour, as promised.

Another worthwhile tactic is employing a social dashboard like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to organize Twitter accounts into different columns based on categories like social networks, search terms, and hashtags. Creating these different categories (like Clients, @Me, Inbox, #marketing, #smallbiz, etc.) allows you to quickly and easily access the information most relevant to you, and provides you a shortcut to participate and engage in the conversations that appeal to you and your company. It’s an efficient way to ensure that you are staying on top of the info you need, allows you to take part in important industry dialogue, and ups your chances of connecting and building a relationship with valuable contacts in your field. It also allows you to feed your tweets into other social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, making the time you devote to social media more efficient and thorough.

An additional “in-the-know” aspect of Twitter is Follow Friday, which is an easy way to refer and promote businesses you care about, whom will then hopefully return the favor. The best way to do this is to pick followers you recommend in a certain category (whether that be foodies, websites, publications-anything) and squeeze as many account handles in a tweet as possible, accompanied by the hashtag #FF. This allows you to subtly compliment the businesses you care about, putting yourselves on their radar and encouraging them to send the same positive feedback back atcha. Remember to spread your tweets out throughout the day, as you want to reach the widest audience possible with your tweets—one handy way to take care of this is to spend some time scheduling your tweets in the morning.

Now that you’re a Twitter aficionado, make sure to publish your Twitter handle on all marketing collateral, including business cards, email signature, email newsletters, web sites and brochures to up your followers and maximize your exposure. See ya around the Twitterverse, tweethearts!