David PayneBy David Payne

Surely, you’ve heard the terminology by now: trending topics, tweets, Twitter-sphere. Twitter has become the biggest breakout social media hit of the last year.  And because my column is how technology is being used both by local consumers and local businesses, Twitter seems like a perfect topic: it serves both parties unusually well.

First, let’s cover the basics. Twitter began in 2006 to enable the delivery of short bursts of real-time information – those “tweets.” You begin by signing-up for an account and “following” people who interest you. So let’s say you cared about NPR, Martha Stewart and Whole Foods, you simple follow @nprnews, @MarthaStewart and @WholeFoods. Each time one of these accounts tweets, you’ll see it in your feed. And it’s easy to stop following and start following other people. You can even set it up so that your cell phone receives a text when someone tweets.  Or – better yet – put software on your phone to keep up (I use Tweetie on my iPhone).

As long as your message is less than 140 characters (similar to a text message), you can say and link to whatever you want. You can “tweet” any mundane detail (as is the running joke about Twitter) from “just ate lunch” to “I just won the lottery.”  And while it all may seem trivial to some, imagine receiving a few of these details per week about a friend. The next time you meet up with that person, you’d know they were painting their house, their car broke down, they just got a new computer and are addicted to some local sushi place. Sometimes it’s those small details that bind lives together… and as busy as we are these days, those little things are the ones we can connect with.

So how can Twitter be used by small businesses? First, plan to “tweet” a few times per day about “behind the scenes” goings on in your business. If someone is following you on Twitter, they are a “fan” of what you do, so it’s interesting to them to see behind that curtain. Any more than a few tweets per day, though, can be too much for readers, so try not to be the “annoying self-promoter” on Twitter. Next step is to grow your followers; make sure your customers know you are on Twitter by putting it on your website, your emails, and signage in your business. Then follow the people that follow your business and interact with them. The key with all social media is providing value to your followers. Lastly, as with all social media platforms, there’s a tendency to spend too much time with it because it’s free. Twitter will be an important part of your marketing, but be careful not to overuse it!

And when all else fails, copy the masters! Take a look at @eatataxels, @WilloughbyRoad  and @thesugarmommy.  All of these are local businesses utilizing Twitter in ways that strengthen their bonds with their customers.

David Payne, a local entrepreneur, began www.scoutmob.com & www.skyblox.com to help local businesses utilize new media.  You can contact him at dave@scoutmob.com or @davempayne on Twitter.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.