>PART 1: Twitter for Beginners–What Is Twitter, and Why Should You Use It?

Businesses out there that are in the know have quickly been catching onto the usefulness of Twitter. Though often mocked and parodied for its ability to slip into the mundane, (update: “I’m eating a sandwich right now”), Twitter, when used correctly, has much farther reaches than just little ditties about the daily grind.

Twitter, considered a micro-blogging platform, allows people to post updates, messages, inquiries, and bits of correspondence as long as each message (“tweet“) can fit into a mere 140 characters. Originally launched as a way for people to post via SMS (text) message on their mobile phone, Twitter has evolved into a whole new medium beyond just bare-bones phone blogging. Now heavily accessed from the web and computer- or smartphone-based applications, Twitter has become a real “go-to” place for information, especially the most current of current events. People have turned to Twitter to get the news they are hoping for and that mainstream news media are unable to provide them.

Nowadays, I find out all I want to know about local weather, eating, and shopping on Twitter before all else. It’s also the first place I turn to for updates on local and world events–from something as small as a film festival to something as big as Iran’s “Green Revolution” or Japan’s current disaster situation. Rather than reading a single lengthy, one-sided newspaper article (whether online or in hard copy), you can perform a Twitter search and read a plethora of tweets, getting an overview of what really seems to be going on.

Apart from the usefulness of Twitter as a news medium, it is also fabulous as a means of connecting with followers–whether friends or fans–hence its designation as one of the big “social media” of today. Ranking up there with Facebook in terms of popularity, people can tweet their current updates on life and its happenings. From a business perspective, Twitter is a terrific invention to replace the old school newsletters and mailing list subscriptions that require a heavy time commitment to maintain. Having an impromptu sale? Don’t draft an entire flyer, convert it to .pdf, and email it out to all your followers–instead, send a concise, 140-character tweet (and send it multiple times throughout the day, if you’d like), letting people who are interested in your shop’s happenings know the discount or coupon code so they can make quick use of it.

But Twitter, even from a marketing perspective, is about more than just spamming people with promos and product placements–it is a chance for you to form more interesting and lasting bonds with potential and past customers and fans, making certain that they feel a deeper sense of commitment to your business. This trust does have to be earned though–people are quick to unfollow “tweeps” who get on their nerves or spam their entire feed with banal updates. Take time to let your Twitter followers sense who you are as a “real” person–as the face behind the business. Provide personal but thoughtful updates–no need to let us know that the pastrami in your mid-day sandwich tasted a bit off. Rather, keep posts on topic in regards to your larger business strategy, philosophy, and mission.

So–you make, sell, promote, or blog about cloth diapers. Personal updates about your family, baby, laundry routine, or general mommy moments will help people to remember that you, too, are just a real mom with woes, worries, joys, and funny moments of her own. We all connect with humor, joy, passion, and sorrow, so let your tweets give a bit of insight into those types of tidbits. Yes, as a business woman, manufacturer or blogger, it can take a while to find the perfect balance between tweeting the personal and business bits, but you’ll get the hang of it (watch to see who replies, follows, unfollows, and it will give you a sense of what people are or aren’t liking from you).

The beauty of Twitter is its interconnectedness. Not only can you share bits about your own personal life and business from within a bubble that you may be stuck in at home or work; you can also use Twitter to broaden horizons and form deeper connections with your community. By replying to others’ posts, mentioning partners, affiliates, and fans by username, and by retweeting (a bit like quoting or forwarding) the posts of others, you’ll help to build your own community and niche group within the vast world of Twitter. In particular, in terms of cultivating deeper cloth diaper partnerships and connections, you might pass along to your own fans the announcements of other shops, retailers, manufacturers, or bloggers that you’ve been admiring or partnering with (by using the retweet function). You could publicly reply to or comment on an interesting cloth diapers article. You might contribute a public factoid regarding the sustainability of cloth or of a new innovation that has come out in the industry.  Once you start crafting some thoughtful posts of your own, it is inevitable that other users will stop and take notice and start publicly mentioning you by name as well.

I know the nitty-gritty ins and outs of Twitter (and its lingo!) can seem daunting and overwhemling before you’ve decided to take it on, but all it really takes to get it under your belt is a half hour or so of sitting in front of the platform and observing its simple artistry. Moving away from the nitpicky details of how the platform works, there are a couple of big positives to keep in mind about why getting into Twitter is still worth it (even considering that you already have a lot on your never-ending to-do list).

Trust me, Twitter–above most other social media platforms, is worth the minimal time investment it takes to learn, for a couple of reasons:

People love feeling connected to someone or something “bigger” than themselves. After all, we flock to celebrities like Oprah and Charlie Sheen on Twitter because we are curious, and because–let’s face it–it feels flattering when you have even the tiniest connection to someone you’ve long admired, read about, or innocently cyber-stalked. Yes, even though you may just be a WAHM, blogger, or a cloth diaper retailer who doesn’t think your job is so glamorous, people will like feeling connected to you because, in their eyes, you do something important, interesting, and admirable.

Twitter is concise and mobile. While many of your fans and followers may feel too busy to keep up with their blog subscriptions, mailing list emails, and even Facebook news feeds, they often find they have time for Twitter. After all, it only takes a couple of minutes in a waiting room, crowded bus shelter, or–let’s face it–even a bathroom, to feel “caught up” on the world of Twitter.

People will follow you much more liberally with Twitter. In my experience, many people are reluctant to add you to their Facebook stream, blog subscriptions list, or to hand out their email address to you simply because they’ll find your updates intrusive. With Twitter, however, the average user follows hundreds–if not thousands–of other users without thinking twice about each new follow. After all, even if you update frequently, you’re only taking up 140 characters of their feed, and they can deal with that.

You can reach whole new audiences and niche groups with Twitter. As a business, when you update by Facebook, blog post, or email fan-out, you are only sending information to people that already follow and take an interest in you. By sending out tweets on Twitter, your bits of information can be read by absolutely anybody out there in the world who is searching for information on a topic. Include the hash-tagged phrase #clothdiapers somewhere in your topical tweet, and your tweet will find its way to anyone (whether they follow you or not) who is looking for cloth diaper information at that particular moment. Twitter effortlessly draws in a huge new audience for you to connect with.

Twitter can help improve the feel of customer service that your business puts out. Replying to numerous requests for information by phone, mail, fax, or email can be a daunting task. On the other hand, replying by tweet is quick, efficient, and easy. The more you get customers connecting with your business over Twitter, the less you’ll have to connect with them through more time-consuming, conventional means. By feeling less overwhelmed, you’ll also find yourself less likely to drop the ball on timely replies, and your customers will notice that sort of improvement.

Twitter gets people to do free marketing for you. If you write interesting and useful tweets, people will take notice (and possibly even retweet them)–often, they’ll even start sending new followers your way without you having to a single thing to consciously attract them. People will help you spread links and information. If they like you, they’ll direct people to your websites, sales, and products. Twitter is extremely viral in that sense. its users love to spread news like wildfire and jump onto causes to help others out–it’s part of the Twitter culture.

Twitter makes it easy for you to connect with people and topics. When writing a tweet, throw an @ symbol in front of another user’s name to tag (“mention”) them. To tag a topic, throw a # symbol (“hashtag“) in front of a keyword or phrase (but ensure there are no spaces) to get your tweet to show up on public listings about that topic. With these two simple techniques, there is no need to list your account or posts in any sort of directories or topical databases–simply use these types of tags to make each tweet relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach, and your information is guaranteed to find its way to the right people.

Twitter is always fresh, current, and immediate. There is no such thing as outdated information on Twitter. With datastreams literally being updated by the second, you can post something and have your followers reading it pretty much that same instant. The live vibe of Twitter will help you generate instant buzz and a dynamic feel for your online business or persona.

Twitter is trendy. People like to see their favorite businesses, blogs, and personalities evolving with the times. Plus, it’s exciting for them to look up all their favorites and to find them listed amongst the pages of Twitter users. With the simple click of a “Follow” button, fans find it fun to collect their favorite celebrities, businesses, brands, and causes and wear them with pride like the girl scout badges of our childhood. Once people become loyal to you, they’ll go out of their way to help promote your image and get your name out there for you, simply because it’s a fun and cool thing to do.

Okay, so maybe you wanted to wait a while to see if Twitter was just another passing fad like MySpace or Tickle-Me-Elmo. However, having been around for a good few years now, it’s plain to see that Twitter is not starting to fizzle out; in fact, just the opposite is true: it’s taking root now more than ever with increased daily backing from celebrities, brands, and normal, everyday users like you and me. If you are a cloth diaper vendor, manufacturer, promoter, blogger, or just enthusiast, you need to join us on Twitter. Not only is it a ton of fun; you’ll also be amazed to see just what it can do for you amongst the #clothdiapers community.

Now, where do you go from here? For more information, you can work your way through the Twitter for Businesses tutorial. Then be sure to head on over to http://twitter.com and sign up for your brand new account. Oh–and when you get there, don’t forget to follow @EverythingCloth–we’d love to welcome you to the neighborhood 😉

This is post 1 of 2 in our Twitter and #clothdiapers series. Check back tomorrow for the second installment: How to Make Twitter Work For Your #clothdiapers Businesses, Blogs, and Dealings

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