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Five ways small businesses should start out on Twitter

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To tweet or not to tweet?” It’s a question small, mid-sized and global companies are answering every day. Next to the in-store experience, Twitter has become as close to a real-time conduit for retailer-to-customer interaction as can be found anywhere. If you’re still debating, consider these stats from Richard Alfonsi, global vice president of small business at Twitter Inc.: as of the time of his presentation at Retail’s BIG Show, 60 percent of users accessed Twitter on their mobile devices. And in the last year, the average user posted 4.5 shopping-related mentions on Twitter each week, marking a 60 percent growth rate. Here’s an opportunity to connect with a savvy group of potential customers who are tweeting more about shopping. Convincing, right? But before jumping in, Alfonsi stressed that no matter your size, businesses should take steps to sit back and learn.

1.  Listen – Sounds simple, but there’s plenty one can learn as a silent observer. Define a strategy relevant to your business by searching for relevant keywords and hashtags others are using. Not only brands, but potential customers you’re trying to reach. “What are people saying about businesses and industries like yours?” he asked.

2.  Find your voice – A conversational tone is essential to come across as you, Alfonsi said. At the end of the day, what resonates is authenticity and the values you want your brand to project.

3.  Establish a presence – Once you lock down a Twitter handle to call your own, start following users similar to you. Using the lessons learned by observing, building a loyal foundation of followers will be easy.

4.  Create a tweet calendar – The real-time nature of Twitter’s timeline makes the process like a “raging river,” he said. Think ahead and plan a promotion schedule to highlight the unique aspects of your businesses. Creating a cadence will help take some of the guesswork out of tweeting. Alfonsi presented a mock timetable to consider:

Monday – Take users “behind the scenes.” Tuesday – Highlight promotions or specials. Wednesday – Provide helpful tips that are pertinent to your industry. Thursday – Media spotlights. Friday – Focus on your followers. (“Follow Friday,” or #FF, is one way to achieve this.)

5. Take advantage of Twitter “Promoted Products” – Also known as Twitter ads, this must be the final step because it amplifies a company’s presence organically. There is a ton to learn about the process, but it’s important to have the essentials down first before diving in. As the success stories explain, it’s a refined way to get noticed and see results from your target customers.

So what does the mean for the future of retail? Pointing to the good PR Morton’s Steakhouse earned when they met a man at Newark airport after he joked about meeting him there with a steak, it’s an opportunity for a delightful surprise. And on the sales side, a “Flock to Unlock” promotion from @Bonobos announcing an exclusive flash sale delivered a 1,200% ROI. From building genuine relationships to driving sales, there’s plenty of proof that illustrates the power of Twitter to boost positive brand awareness.