"Your business needs to be on Twitter." It seems like all the small-business-marketing publications tell you to do it. But how will Twitter help you improve your small, local business?
Twitter seems like the realm of celebrities, the media and businesses with a national brand (and national customers). And a Twitter feed for those people and businesses probably makes sense to you.
But how does a local caterer, landscaper or accounting firm can use Twitter to increase business and referrals locally?
1. Build relationships first, business second
Twitter is a networking tool for local businesses, not a new way to make a sales pitch. Later, it can be a referral tool. You wouldn't walk into your local Chamber of Commerce meeting shouting your latest special when people say hello. And you shouldn't do it on Twitter. It's not that you should never mention your business, but that mention shouldn't be more than a single-digit percentage of your tweets.
The point of Twitter is to network and create relationships just as you would in real life. For small businesses, the real relationships Twitter can foster often lead to more referrals and potential business than tweeting your latest special ever could.
For example, someone who follows me on Twitter conversed with me about a movie we both liked after I tweeted about it. We later learned that we also had a mutual love of football. After multiple conversations, I followed that person back.
Occasionally, my follower mentioned owning a local fitness studio. About three months ago, someone I know in that locale tweeted that they needed to get in shape. I tweeted back about the fitness studio where they live, suggesting they check it out. They did and they purchased a membership.
That's the potential for business generation and the referral power that comes from creating real relationships on Twitter.
2. Make local connections
Now that you know how Twitter can help you generate business and referrals, how do you find your local community on Twitter? Twitter Grader makes it pretty easy.
If you're in a big metro area, you'll probably find your city in the Top Cities list. If you live in San Diego, click on San Diego and you'll get the top 50 Twitter users listing San Diego as their location in their Twitter bios.
But what if you don't live in one of those cities listed on Twitter Grader? You can click on any top-city link and search at the top of that page for your own location. Type your city, your state, your country in the Search box, and click Go. You'll get a list of the top users in that city.
Look at the bios of the users in your city and see what they're tweeting about. Follow those you think you can find something in common with or that you'd be interested in learning more about.
Remember that your goal is not to advertise your services but to form local connections, much like you would at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. I tell people to follow those you'd be interested in having coffee with if Twitter were real life.
You can repeat this process for every city that your local business serves.
3. Find media contacts
Twitter can be a great tool for gaining traditional media exposure for your business. Thousands of journalists use Twitter. Just as you can seek out your local community on Twitter, you can find the media that are local to you or are specific to your niche. MuckRack makes it incredibly easy.
MuckRack tracks the accounts of thousands of journalists on Twitter and various other social media networks. You can use the publications list to find the Twitter accounts of all the reporters at specific publications, such as The Charlotte Observer.
The paid version of MuckRack allows you to search by "beats" and topics to find reporters specific to your niche. The pricing starts at $99 a month, which may be a bit hefty for many small-business budgets. But there is no minimum term or contract. So, you can sign up for one month and get a lot of information.
Again, the point of identifying these journalists is to create relationships with them and get on their radar. Do that long before you have a story idea to pitch or offer up your expertise for their latest story.
Rae Hoffman-Dolan, a.k.a. "Sugarrae" is a serial entrepreneur and well-known SEO consultant. She specializes in SEO audit services and link-building strategies. She is also the co-owner and SVP of marketing for Speedy Incorporation.