There's no business like Web 2.0 business, and the newest virtual buzzword that is invading the physical world is Twitter.
President Obama and Oprah use it, and local television news anchors are soliciting viewers to follow them for bragging rights about how many followers they have.
Veteran business people know that the path to success is accomplished through people connections.
In the 1980's, the desktop Rolodex, a telephone and the first phases of basic e-mail were the conventional ways of maintaing contact with necessary constituents. Software soon made the Rolodex obsolete with the V-card, and Twitter's microblogging service could replace e-mail for simple notifications.
Today, social media has allowed executives to meet people globally without limitations. Executives no longer have to "pound the pavement" to make sales calls — they just have to "pound their keyboards."
Twitter has taken the ability to network in the virtual world to a whole new level, something like LinkedIn on steroids.
There is no social networking service in existence that has the reach and the immediacy provided by Twitter's highly advanced search function. There isn't a search engine in existence that provides Twitter's real-time updates for any world event or the latest thoughts on any topic.
Setting up an account and beginning to "tweet" (writing posts limited to just 140 characters) is very simple, but there is a lingo that needs to be learned along with preliminary tips.
The No. 1 excuse from hesitant Twitter users is: "I don't have the time." In response to the time concern, IAC Professionals has devised a program that can keep business networking current through Twitter for only 10 minutes a day.
First Learn Twitter Speak
— "RT" stands for Retweet. This is how people forward posts they see from someone on Twitter to their own network of friends. For example, if you want to pass on to your friends something I wrote, you could Twitter, RT@IAC_Heather — what I wrote.
— "#" is the sign for "hashtag." It's a way for users to categorize their posts for others to view. For example, if I'm at a trade show like South by Southwest (SXSW), I'll put the "#SXSW" hashtag at the end of all my posts for users who are monitoring Twitter for the latest SXSW news. The hashtag is a signal that something is searchable in third-party Twitter tools like TweetDeck or TWhirl. Click on the hashtagged phrase and it opens a browser using the search.twitter.com tool to search the hashed phrase.
— Managing Web Links. Twitter posts are so brief (limited to 140 characters), conventional website addresses don't fit. People can use link shorteners like TinyURL and Bit.ly to abbreviate links. You'll read later that sharing links is a great way to increase your followers and engage them.
Now You Are Ready to Begin
Many business leaders purchase mailing lists to promote their business and increase their active customer base. These lists, referred to as leads, are becoming increasingly obsolete because social media allows you to develop your own loyal customers and associates through personal relationship development.
1) Use an application: Twitter.com is just one way to access Twitter updates. Applications like Twhirl, Tweetdeck and Twitterrific give you a lot more control over what you see on the screen and keep your contacts and topics organized and characterized. Twitter will make it faster and easier to post your own items as @replies, direct messages, and web links. It is very efficient to link your Twitter account with other social networking pages like Facebook.
2) Get followers through common interests or industries: During signup, Twitter will let you scan your e-mail address books to see which of your friends are using the service. Since the key to having a good experience is following the updates from people you care about, this is a vital step to getting started. Pay attention when Twitter suggests following several popular celebrities — you might not want to hear all of their tweets.
You can find followers who are related to your business and special interests through Twellow.com, TweetFind.com, and search.twitter.com. For example, a publicist who is a beginner can engage in conversations through the #journchat (simulation twitter chatroom).
3) Break through the clutter and make yourself attractive: This is very important. When you engage, comment, retweet and share links you become more memorable than handing out your business card. Unlike other social networking services like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter should NOT be a "who has more friends" contest. The key is to build quality lists of business contacts who are trusted advisors and potentially a source of business referrals.
4) Ten to one rule for business expansion: No more than 10 percent of your tweets should be self promotion. For example: Don't miss @IACEZ on FOX News. Ninety percent should be about personal thoughts or ideas, marketing relevant information and engaging with your Twitter community. We briefly touched upon hashtagging and retweeting. When you first join, look at the public timeline or special interest groups for information that would be of interest to your constituents. Respond to or ReTweet 4 or 5 of them a day. For example:
#followfriday in honor of SaaS:@iacez @crakowitz @benkepes @sunir @cloudworks @dobesv
5) Beware of Privacy issues and public disclosure: It is urgent to remember that Twitter is an open forum: Everything you type can be seen by anyone who follows you, and by default anyone who wants to follow you. Your tweets are also catalogued through Google. You can, however control access to your updates:
— If you want to block random users from following you, you can set your account to "protected." Then when users want to follow you, you'll have to approve them.
This is useful if you want to use Twitter as a private communications medium, but you shouldn't over-control your Twitter account.
If you have something you want to say and you don't want the Twitter world to see it, put it elsewhere. Twitter works best when you join its larger community.
— There's a protocol on Twitter for replying to particular user's updates. If you want to comment on something someone else said, write@and then their name in your post (or "Tweet"). For example, "@IAC_Heather, Interesting point." Then the user will see what you said even if they are not following you, and anyone else who sees the update will know it's a reply to another user.
— Direct messaging or (DM) is a way to send someone on Twitter a message that they will only see. In order to use it, preface your post with D, for example "D IAC_Heather Please call me at 212-222-2222 accounting emergency." However you can only DM someone who is following you, so if you want the person you're messaging to be able to DM you back, make sure you're getting their updates. Type F (for follow) and then the user's name. I.e.: F IAC_Heather. A follow command will be recognized by Twitter but won't show up in your list of updates as a post.
Now you are ready to begin. Many new users report that tweeting is similar to learning how to ride a bicycle or learning how to speak a new language.
It can seem intimidating when you first begin, but it is important to stick with it and practice.
Once you commit to allocating ten minutes of your day to Twitter, it will become a part of your daily routine.
Don't get discouraged by the dreaded "Fail Whale" either. It is not personal — Twitter goes through short phases of breaking down from time to time.
Good luck fellow tweeters! I look forward to working with you in Twitterland.
Heather Villa, a certified management accountant, is the founder of the Miami-based IAC Professionals and creator of IAC-EZ accounting software.