3 Simple Ways Small Business Can Maximize Twitter

By now you've probably read, "Your business needs to be on Twitter!" in one small business marketing publication or another. But you may be asking yourself, "How will Twitter help me improve my local small business?"

When we think of Twitter, we often think of celebrities, the media, and businesses with a national brand (and national customers). And Twitter probably makes sense to you in those instances.

But maybe you're wondering how a local caterer, landscaper, or accounting firm can use Twitter to increase business and referrals on a local level.

1. Build Relationships First, Business Second

Remember that Twitter is best used as a networking tool (and later a referral tool) for locally based businesses—not a sales pitch tool. You wouldn't walk into your local Chamber of Commerce meeting shouting your latest special over and over again every time someone walked up to you and said hello. And you shouldn't do it on Twitter either. Now that's not saying that you should never mention your business, but it shouldn't be more than a single digit percentage of your tweets.

The point of Twitter is to network and create relationships like you would in real life. As a small business owner, creating real relationships through Twitter will often lead to more referrals and potential business than tweeting your latest special ever could.

Need an example? Someone who follows me on Twitter began conversing with me about a movie we both liked after I tweeted about it. We later found out that we also had a love of football in common. After multiple times of conversing back and forth, I ended up following the person back. Occasionally this person made mention that they owned a local fitness studio. About three months ago, a person I know in that locale tweeted saying they needed to get in shape. I tweeted back that so and so had a fitness studio where they lived and they should check it out. They did and ended up purchasing a membership.

That's the potential for business generation and referral power by creating real relationships on Twitter.

2. Make Local Connections

So now that you know how Twitter can help you generate business and referrals, how do you find your local community on Twitter? A site called Twitter Grader has made it a pretty easy process.

If you're in a big metro locale, you'll likely find your city in the "top cities" list. Let's say you live in San Diego. Click on San Diego from the top cities list and you'll quickly be given a list of the top 50 Twitter users listing San Diego as their location in the Twitter bio.

But what if you don't live in one of the "top cities" cited on Twitter Grader? Never fear. You can click on any top city link and find the locals in your area by performing a new search at the top of that page for your own location. Say you're on the San Diego page. Simply change out the "San Diego, CA, United States" in the search box at the top of the page with "Your City, Your State, Your Country" and click "Go" and you'll be presented with a listing of the top users in that city.

Look at the bios of the users in your city and check out what they're tweeting about. Follow those you think you can find something in common with and/or that you'd be interested in learning more about.

Remember that your goal is not to advertise your services to these people but rather to form local connections much like you would at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. I typically tell people to follow those you'd be interested in having coffee with if Twitter were "real life".

You can repeat this process for every city you can think of that your local business serves.

3. Find Media Contacts

Twitter is not only great for creating a referral network, but it can also be a great tool for gaining traditional media exposure for your business. Thousands upon thousands of journalists use Twitter. Much like you can seek out your local community on Twitter, you can also seek out the media that are local to you and/or specific to your niche as well. And a site named MuckRack makes it incredibly easy.

MuckRack tracks the accounts of thousands of journalists on Twitter and various other social media networks. You can view their publications list to find the Twitter accounts of all the reporters at specific publications such as The Charlotte Observer.

The paid version of MuckRack also allows you to search by "beats" and topics to help you find reporters specific to your niche. While the pricing (starting at $99 per month) may be a bit hefty for many small business budgets, there is no minimum term or contract. So you can always sign up for one month and get as much "advanced information" as you can during that time.

As with making local contacts, the point of identifying these journalists is to attempt to create relationships with them and get on their radar long before you have a story idea to pitch or potentially offer up your expertise for their latest story.

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