The first thing you need to do is open a Twitter account. Don’t worry, it isn’t brain surgery! Just go to twitter.com and follow the instructions. Make sure you chose a username that resonates with your brand.

Here’s a tip: if the username you want has been chosen, it’s become common practice to create a new one by simply putting an underscore before your desired username. For example, the username for my blog’s Twitter account is _flyingcarpet. Your full username has an “at” sign before it. Thus my Twitter username is @_flyingcarpet.

Now you’re ready to start Tweeting! Here’s a simple plan to follow your first month:

1) Learn the basics: Always remember that the goal of any Tweet is to provide relevant content. The tricky part is you only get 140 characters (including spaces) to do it, and everything is in real time. Since Twitter feeds don’t recycle past Tweets (like Linkedin and Facebook), this means that you will need to repeat your Tweet a couple times. But don’t keep Tweeting the same thing over and over, or you risk annoying your existing followers. I try and Tweet every item at least twice for each time zone I wish to cover. If it’s really great content, I’ll Tweet the same thing a couple times per day, with slightly different content. For example, if I’ve had a particularly good blog published, I will Tweet the same link with different photos attached. Which leads to: don’t forgot the photos! Attaching eye catching photos is a sure way to get your Tweet to stand out.

Retweeting: Look closely at a Tweet. Below the text you will see a number of little symbols: an arrow, two arrows in a rectangular shape, a star, and three dots. The arrow means “Reply-” it’s like making a comment on Facebook or Linkedin. More about this below (item 4). The star means “Favorite-” it’s the equivalent to hitting the “Like” button on Facebook or Linkedin. Three dots means “More-” I’ll save discussing this for my next post, targeted at more advanced Twitter users.

The two arrows are arguably the important in Twitterland- they mean “Retweet (RT).” This is like hitting “Share” on Facebook or Linkedin. Retweeting happens a lot in Twitter. It’s an excellent way of providing your followers with content, while engaging key influencers. Every time content is Retweeted, the originator receives a “Notification.” Showing up in someone’s notification means you’ve hit their radar screen. This is the first step to effective networking on Twitter.

Hash Tags: This is how Twitter and many other social media sites (Instagram, Pinterest) group content of similar topics and subjects. Including hash tags in your Tweets helps people in your target market see your posts. I recommend identifying five to ten hashtags that are highly relevant to your product or targeted demographic. To do this, go to the free site hashtagify.me. Type your subject into the tool bar on the upper right hand corner of the site, and it will generate the top ten related hashtags. Enter these in Twitter, find ones that generate content you find relevant, and start using them at the end of your posts. People who employ the scatter shot approach to gaining followers (see my earlier post for more about this: Twitter Basics for Business Owners: Part 1-Why Tweet) include many hashtags. I rarely use more than one because I think people’s eyes start to glaze over after reading too many non-alpha characters, and multiple tags can make your Tweet look “spammy.”

2) Open a Hootsuite Account: This is a free account that will help you manage your Tweets. You can create one for free at hootsuite.com – I find it easiest to login through Twitter. As you get more advanced, Hootsuite will be helpful for participating in and hosting Twitter chats. For now, you can use it to schedule Tweets in the future (helpful if you don’t want to sit in front of the computer all day), or shrink links. Remember: most good Tweets require links to external content. The shrinking application prevents you from using all 140 of your characters just to display link text.

3) Make a schedule: To use Twitter effectively, you need to be disciplined. The best way to do this is to create a daily schedule for Tweets, Retweets and Follows. I recommend targeting four original Tweets per day and four Retweets. The original Tweets can be written and scheduled every morning in Hootsuite. I like to have my original Tweets focused on brand specific content, and the Retweets on related topics. In the beginning, you need to be very active at following people. This is because following others is one of the best ways to gain new followers: you follow someone and odds are they will follow you back. These don’t have to be key influencers- just people you know, or people you find that are interested in topics related to your brand. In the beginning, I recommend adding 5-10 per day.

4) Identify Key Influencers: This is the piece of Twitter I never understood until it was explained to me by a colleague, and is arguably the most important. To put it simply, you need to strategically choose who you follow on Twitter. They should be people in your industry/target demographic that others listen to. You can find them by going to the free sites klout.com and buzzsomo.com. Enter your information, and search for people that you think would be interested in your product. To start, I recommend finding influencers in your space that have between 5k and 10k Twitter followers. I don’t recommend targeting people that have too many followers- they won’t care about you. I learned this the hard way. I spent months borderline cyberstalking Gwyneth Paltrow with absolutely no success. When I switched to smaller influencers, such as bloggers and chat hosts, I secured immediate results.

5) Interact with Key Influencers: Once you identify 10-15 influencers, you want to start interacting with them. Your immediate goal is to get on their radar screens. To do this, start following them. Next, you want them to follow you. It probably won’t happen immediately, so you need to be pro-active. Try and favorite a couple of their Tweets, or Retweet some of the content. Once they know who you are, you can send them a Direct Tweet (DT)- that’s a Tweet only the two of you see. It can be something you think they’d find useful or funny, or a response to something they said in a chat room. You do this by typing “@” in your Tweet line, followed directly by their username, then your Tweet. Another technique is to find one of their Tweets, and reply to it directly (use the little arrow below the Tweet).

Once you have established a relationship, they should start to follow you. Now you can start working together to promote both your brands.

What are you waiting for?

If you haven’t done so already, go to twitter.com, open your account and create your profile. This article contains enough content to get you up and running. Like anything, it takes a little practice. Next month, I’ll post Part 3 of this series: How to Participate in a Twitter Chat. In the meantime, if you need help feel free to post a response to this article, message me or send me an Inmail. Have fun!