In a webcast held this week by the National Prevention Information Network, the organization’s director of social media Erin Edgerton noted that while just 8% of online adults are using Twitter regularly, the medium is expected to expand this year to more than 7.1 million in the United States. Some of that growth no doubt will be among employers as they work to enhance online branding and employee communications. Thus, the NPIN session helped break down Twitter basics and offered strategies for making the most of Twitter for business purposes.

For professionals just starting out, Twitter is one the best social media tools to start with, Edgerton said, because it doesn’t require constant feeding. You can post tweets for a week, but then take a break if you go on vacation or need to focus your resources elsewhere.

The anatomy of a tweet is easy to dissect—there are only 140 characters, after all. Here’s a sample tweet, along with explanations about the content: 

@Handle: RT @Mention: This is a tweet. #thisisahashtag

@Handle: A handle is the name that you select for yourself on Twitter.

RT: This means retweet, and it shows that you’re interested in the content shared within the original tweet and you want to share it with your followers.

@Mention: This is when you include other people’s handles within your tweet; you’re engaging with someone or sharing something with them.

#Hashtags: These are trending topics that allow people to follow the conversation you or your organization wants to have (for example, the hashtag for the NPIN webcast was #SM4PH, for social media for public health, and the organizers were able to weed through the other conversations on Twitter to find out who was discussing their event).

Benefits

Edgerton outlined four benefits for using Twitter for business:

  1. Gaining immediate dialogue and feedback — people on Twitter are hungry for information just like you.
  2. Increasing organization visibility — you become a quick expert to the world in your subject matter.
  3. Connecting with stakeholders and connecting stakeholders to one another — it’s a new place to meet and one that’s filled with people who want to know more.
  4. Offering lower cost than other social media networks.

Pitfalls

Like any tool, Twitter isn’t without its dangers. Among them, Edgerton said, are:

Some organizations and people tend to want to use it as a broadcast-only tool. People who don’t engage in the discourse, said Edgerton, probably don’t have people listening.

There’s an assumption that it’s no cost. That’s just not true, said Edgerton. It takes time and energy for people who are monitoring and writing tweets and depending on your organization, you could also have people approving the marketing strategy and content.

Best practices

A lot of organizations are still not using Twitter, potentially due to lack of support from leadership, privacy concerns, outdated policies and/or lack of understanding about the resources it takes to tweet and the volume of content needed, according to NPIN. For pros looking to make the case for a business Twitter account, Edgerton recommended the following guidelines:

  • Identify allies at all organization levels during the planning phase.
  • Use the organization’s mission to frame your justification, and make sure you’re clear.
  • Develop a written strategy, including an outline of your annual goals and objectives. Edgerton emphasized that because Twitter is constantly changing, it’s important to set aside a period each year to review those goals, see what’s been accomplished and establish new ones for the coming year.
  • Map out staff and time commitments.
  • Make an editorial calendar for the month or year to help guide your content output on a given day. This will help you space out when you repurpose content or share content a few times to make sure all users get a chance to see it.
  • Make a plan for routing incoming questions.

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