There are lots of success stories and case studies that document the success businesses have had through Twitter. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use the social network for new business benefits.
1. Monitor real-time conversations
Use Twitter search and other simple listening tools to monitor real-time conversations about your brand. This will help your marketing and management teams see what people are really saying about your company.
There are a variety of free and effective listening tools available that allow you to save searches, such as Tweetdeck and HootSuite. One heating and air-conditioning company had its best year ever simply because it monitored tweets about broken home systems and offered prompt help.
2. Extend customer service
A lot of companies and organizations use Twitter as a form of customer service. You can find many well-documented best practices if you do an Internet search on the topic. When people "call" your company on Twitter, do you pick up the phone?
3. Offer helpful links and headlines
Drive traffic to your website, blog, landing pages, YouTube channels, Facebook, etc., when you offer helpful links and headlines in your tweets. Despite the hype about social media, websites are still important in the social information eco-system. Your website is usually the place where you ask for money—registrations, downloads, or whatever you're selling.
4. Catch problems early
Twitter can help you discover consumer problems, product issues, or potentially damaging PR disasters before they cause trouble. Pick up conversations about your company and respond quickly.
5. Break through communication barriers with tweets
If you have a hard time making business connections with cold calls and email, try a tweet or direct message. You will not believe how well this works. People may not return calls, but they almost always return tweets. I don't know the psychology behind this, but I know it works.
6. Run special deals and promotions
Special deals and promotions on Twitter can drive traffic or move slow-moving stock. If you've done a good job surrounding yourself with targeted connections, they should be interested in your specials, right?
A local bakery can use this idea to move its products if it baked too much of a certain item that day. Here's an example tweet: "Come by before 4 p.m. for 2 for 1 coffee cakes." In my opinion, coffee cake qualifies as meaningful content!
7. Build your personal brand
Twitter is an exceptional way to build your personal brand. It provides an opportunity for global reach that a several-month speaking tour could never accomplish. And, Twitter causes a lot less wear and tear.
8. Find new business contacts
Find new business contacts and sales leads through directories such as Twellow and the advanced Twitter search.
9. Enhance business relationships
You can learn a lot about your potential customers if you follow them. This information will help you connect when you meet the person.
I once recognized a stranger at a meeting because he looked just like his Twitter picture. When I introduced myself, he greeted me like a long-lost brother; he felt he knew me through my Twitter posts. How many cold calls would you have to make to get a reaction like that?
10. Boost your visibility on search engines
Did you know Twitter can help your visibility on search engines? Just a few years ago, search results only turned up websites. Today, searches bring up everything from LinkedIn profiles to videos to Twitter profiles.
11. Use tweets as real-time testimonies
Use your tweets as marketing tools. One college featured real tweets about the school on an electronic highway billboard (not in real-time). A coffee shop featured happy customer tweets on a flat-screen display in the shop.
12. Find public validation
As people post nice tweets about you, save them to your favorites. Simply direct people to your Twitter page when you need to show some social validation. Tweets are public information for all to see.
13. Take advantage of PR opportunities
Journalists are extremely active on Twitter; they use it to seek information on leads and sources. You might get some PR placements if you establish yourself as a voice of authority on Twitter—especially if you combine your tweets with blog posts.
14. Host a tweet-up
I love the way businesses use tweet-ups—networking meetings of Twitter enthusiasts—to effectively promote themselves. Twitter loyalists love to get together in real life.
If you have an appropriate meeting space or venue, sponsor a tweet-up to introduce people to your facility. This would be effective for restaurants, clubs, banks, nonprofits, schools, health clubs, real estate offices—almost any place with a large meeting space that serves local clients.
15. Keep up on news and trends
Twitter is a great way to keep up with the latest news and trends. Turn this into a competitive weapon for your organization. What if your employees had access to real-time news and market information that your competitors didn't have?
Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He blogs at grow, where a version of this article originally ran.