by Andy Barr, Head Yeti of 10 Yetis Public Relations Agency.

The explosion of social media in recent years has opened up a world of opportunities for businesses to get their name out there, reaching out to an audience that never before seemed wholly achievable. Whilst there is a mass of social media platforms from which to project your company voice, this article will concentrate on the power of Twitter, and how placing your business on it can maximize its potential.

Why Twitter?
The popularity of Twitter over the past year alone has gone through the roof; something that the business-minded have been quick to catch on to.

Not only are there solid and proven examples of the financial return on investment of using Twitter, for example Dell says that is has generated over $3m in sales direct from Twitter; but there are also wider benefits.

Respected research company Forrester found that the average cost per interaction using customer support centres costs around £8.00, yet self service options including social networking site interaction can cost as little as 17p!

The benefits of using Twitter continue, but hopefully the above two are enough to get you locked into the need to at least have a presence. After all, the idea is simple: 140 characters to talk about whatever you want, openly published for the whole global Twitter community to see. From this, you build and gain followers; allowing those who are interested in what you have to say to keep track of your ‘tweets’, and vice versa.

The platform is an excellent tool for businesses who wish to convey their news/ aims/ thoughts and offers to a wide and varied audience; as well as being an excellent way to learn about what others within your field are getting up to. The platform is essentially a ‘real-time’ communication tool, allowing businesses to interact instantly with their target audiences.

How do I get on there?
Getting your business on to Twitter is easy; but creating a successful profile is where some fall short of the mark. Following this step by step guide on how to maximize your business Twitter potential will help with any queries you may have:

1. Getting Started- Who You Are

The most important part of a business Twitter account is clearly stipulating who you are and what you do through your profile. Your profile can be thought of in three key parts; username and avatar, background, and biography:

•USERNAME/ AVATAR- When signing up, be sure to select a username that clearly communicates who you are as a business. Whilst “JoeBloggs123” may sound funny, this in no way affiliates your twitter profile to your business. Using your business name word-for-word, or a recognisable abbreviation is the best way to create a twitter brand for yourself. The same goes for your ‘avatar’, or profile picture for the technophobes amongst us. Use your company logo; your followers will grow to recognise your tweets, again creating a social networking brand for yourself.

•BACKGROUND- Although the background styling to your profile may seem of little real importance; businesses must consider, once again, the Twitter ‘brand’ they are creating. Whilst ready-made backgrounds on offer are fine, a personalised background to your business will speak volumes about you as a company, emitting a professional vibe from the off. There are several great sites on offer that allow you to design your own background, many with sections to write in company and contact information; definitely worth the effort.

•BIOGRAPHY: Arguably the most important part to creating your profile. Your biography, a small information box below your username, is your chance to sell yourself to the Twitter masses; encouraging them to follow your tweets. In this you should give a brief description of who you are, what your business is, and what areas your tweets will mainly cover along with any industry keywords. As this is a business profile, too much humour isn’t highly recommended, although putting a light hearted slant on what your company does would never be a bad thing.

So, that’s your business profile sorted, now what? Secondly comes your followers, which walks hand in hand with who you choose to follow. In the Twitter world exists an unspoken etiquette of ‘following;’ ie. many who you choose to follow, so long as they are relevant to your own tweets, will more often than not choose to follow you in return. Although this may sound confusing, it highlights the importance of carefully selecting who your business chooses to follow; the more relevant to your business they are, the more relevant target twitter audience you gain in followers.

2. Next Steps: Who should my business follow?
Who you choose your business profile to follow is subjective; yet following these guidelines on where to start off should make sure that the followers you gain are relevant to your desired Twitter audience.

When getting started, search for Tweeters with key words relevant to your industry. For example, if you are in publishing, typing ‘publishers, UK’ into the Twitter search engine will produce a list of profiles who mention the keywords in their username or biography.

The same can be done with location keywords and company names. Following Twitter accounts relevant to your business will not only establish relationships with others in the industry, but will allow you to see how they manage their own business profiles.

This is also a good method for finding more people to follow. See who follows and interacts with other businesses; the chances are they will be the types of followers you’d like to gain for your business.

Don't forget, there are wider benefits of selecting the right people to follow, for instance, have a dig around and try to find journalists from your own sector and follow them. This way you can try to engage and share company information that could result in media exposure.

3. How to manage your business profile
So, now everything’s set up, you’re ready to start Tweeting. To keep your followers interested, and to ensure that you maintain and attract a relevant Twitter audience, making sure you tweet regularly is key.

This can be about anything - company news, results, questions or even just general wonderings; so long as the content is interesting and engaging for your followers.
Reply to the tweets of others, and be sure to reply to anyone who takes the time to ‘tweet’ or ‘re-tweet’ you; this will show that you’re on the ball as far as communication is involved, and will keep others interested in what you have to say.

The more tweets you do, the more followers your business is likely to gain. It also pays to be on the ball when it comes to keeping an eye on your followers. It is a good idea to keep numbers of followers and followees at a relatively similar number; too many of one or the other can show a lack of attentiveness.

Finally, try and remember that being successful on Twitter is not about chasing numbers, i.e. how many followers can you get, it is about relevance and engagement.

Make sure your Tweets are relevant to why people started following you in the first place and most importantly out of everything: engage, engage, engage. Don't just pump tweets out, get involved with your community of followers and the wider Twitter community itself.