twitterimage As part of our special series Social Media 101 for Small Business Owners, today’ we’re discussing Twitter – the popular microblogging site that has become a favorite social-media tool for celebrities, business owners, thought leaders and Fortune 500 companies.

But what does Twitter mean for a small business owner? For many, it’s a way to keep up-to-date with colleagues, partners and customers while also being a key platform for broadcasting marketing campaigns and other important announcements.

Here are a few of the facts and figures that are persuading a growing number of small business owners to incorporate Twitter into their marketing mix:

• 51% of Twitter users follow companies, brands or products on social networks
• 87% of Americans were aware of Twitter in 2010, compared to 5% in 2008
• Twitter’s search engine processes more than 600 million queries every day
• 82% of companies using Twitter tweet company news, with an average of 27 tweets per week

With those amazing statistics, it’s not hard to see why businesses should be tweeting. Here are a few tips for those just starting out and for those who want to ramp up their efforts to grow their business using this powerful marketing tool:

Commit and Build
Twitter is definitely not something that you try once and then give up on. It requires continuous effort to find and build a community of followers. To begin, start following those in your industry – colleagues, vendors, peers and, yes, even competitors.

Takeaway Tip #1: Leverage tools such as TweetDeck to help sift through large volumes of tweets and focus on those that are truly relevant to your business

Promote Your Business the Right Way
Participating in conversation with your followers is the best way to promote your brand. Share what you’re doing, encourage conversation and mention what’s happening in your business. Just like with a website or blog, you need to engage readers with quality content – even if it’s in 140-character bites.

Takeaway Tip #2: Share links to interesting articles, retweet others’ links, offer tips, answer questions and do your part to interact with the community of followers that you’ve built.

Follow Twitter Etiquette
There are some unspoken rules that small business owners should observe to avoid turning off followers. First, Twitter was never intended to be a place to spam your products to large numbers of people, nor is it the place to share what you’ve had for lunch or other mundane topics. Always consider the value of what you’re sharing. Automated sales-y messages signal that you’re not interested in developing real conversation and will likely result in people “unfollowing” you.

Takeaway Tip #3: Make sure to give credit when retweeting content, and thank those who have taken the time to follow you.

Manage Your Time
Twitter can suck up huge amounts of time if you’re not careful. This is why it’s smart to set a time limit – such as 10 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes mid-day, and 10 minutes at the end of the day. You don’t have to read every tweet, and there are a growing number of applications that can help you streamline managing your followers or tweets.

 Takeaway Tip #4: Two helpful Twitter applications are, which can enable you to automatically follow those who follow you and unfollow those who unfollow you; and Hootsuite, which lets you delay posting tweets.

Consider Twitter a Networking Event
Just like a networking event, Twitter is a tool to build relationships, interact, engage and help others. It’s far more than just a site to promote goods and services. For those who get this concept and take the time to “network” using Twitter, the opportunities using Twitter are substantial!

Takeaway Tip #5: Consider promoting other people within your company and industry more than yourself. Goodwill and generosity with praise can lead to amazing opportunities!