To tweet or not to tweet: What is Twitter and why should business owners care?

Before you can decide if Twitter the right strategy for your business, you must first understand the basics of the popular social networking service.

Many understand that Twitter is part of the “social media” world. Unless you’ve taken the time to learn all about it, however, you might not understand if you should invest time in it as a way to reach customers. This article will address the “what” of Twitter (also see articles on the “why” of Twitter and the “how” of Twitter).

Let’s first understand a bit about Twitter – what it aims to accomplish and how it is used to communicate.  Twitter is a micro-blogging interface that is accessed through the Internet or mobile phone.  The service limits users to 140 characters per message.  The short messages are called “tweets” and the people that receive tweets are “followers” – that means that they have subscribed to a user’s tweets and the use sees them in his or her feed.  Users can also “follow” other Twitter users.  Each user decides if they will allow anyone to follow them or approve followers one by one.  Users can decide how much they want to share and with whom.  Twitter also allows users to block followers at their discretion and they have a list of rules and terms of service that each user must follow.

Once a user has sent a message, it can be replied to by users or “retweeted.” Messages that are retweeted are shared in their entirety by people who appreciate your sentiment or want to spread the word.  A retweeted message will begin with “RT” and other users can tack their own message onto that message. Users can also send direct messages to followers that are not public, reply to users by putting their username in a tweet (usernames with the “@” in front of them) and link your tweet to a topic by utilizing a hashtag (# symbol).

Hashtags are topical ideas, usually short phrases, with no spaces that can be added on to a tweet to tie your tweet to others on the same topic.  For example, if there is a festival going on, any user can add that as a hashtag (i.e. #festival2013).  The advantage of hashtags are that any user can search for information on that topic and share their impressions or thoughts.  Twitter scans messages using computer algorithims for popular words that are repeated and they become “trending topics.”

To find out more about how to get started with Twitter and how it can help your business, check out Why Twitter and How to best use Twitter from Michigan State University Extension.  For more information on marketing your farm, food, agriculture or natural resources business, contact the Michigan State University Product Center at 517-432-8750.

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