Twitter is like the Swiss Army knife of social media networks.

At first glance, it seems simple—a network where people share news stories, blog posts, and other content and engage with colleagues and businesses using 140 characters or less.

But take a deeper look into how it can actually be used, and you find that the value it brings to small businesses is anything but simple. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful networks available to business owners today.

This week, I sat down with Azure Collier, Education Development Specialist at Constant Contact, and asked for her thoughts on the ways Twitter can be used by small businesses.

This week’s Ask an Expert is jam packed with must-read Twitter tips including:

  • Four ways Twitter can be used for small business
  • Eight tips for giving your content more exposure
  • Three pieces of advice from a Twitter expert

Here is the transcript from our interview:

What are some of the different ways small businesses can use Twitter?

The most obvious way—and the way most people think of Twitter—is to promote yourself and your business. Whether it’s sharing content you’ve created, linking to your website, or tweeting pictures and videos—it’s a great way to showcase you and your business to a wide reaching audience.

You can also use it as a form of customer service. People love asking questions on Twitter because the communication is so quick. And it’s a really effective way to respond to your customers online.

Twitter is also useful for doing research and discovering information in your industry. You can do searches of different topics or just follow people within your industry. It’s a great way of staying on top of industry news and learning about any upcoming events.

Twitter is big for events. Using an event hashtag makes it easy for you to follow along with what people are saying at your event and can really add a whole new level of engagement for attendees.

Attendees at Constant Contact’s Social Media Week London event, can connect and share their feedback on Twitter using #SMWCTCT.

How can a small business make sure the content they share on Twitter is actually being seen?

It really starts with making your content easy to digest.

Things like “Top 10 Tips” are always good because it lets people know exactly what they’re getting into. Or using words like “Always” or “Never” or “Best Example” or “Worst Example”—those extremes will always catch people’s attention.

It’s good to think about it like you would an email subject line. Use some of the same things that get attention in the inbox, like: asking a question, keeping it short, being personal, or using words like “you” or “we.”

On Twitter, people are always asking, “Why should I care?” So think about what your target audience will care about enough to click, retweet, or reply to your tweets.

Adding a comment like “I found this great article that helped me do (BLANK)” is a great way to show why you care, and why they should too. And it’s a lot more effective than just auto-sharing content or spitting out links.

Asking a question when sharing a link will catch your audience’s attention and invites feedback to your tweets.

Also remember to keep it visual. People love photos, videos, infographics—anything visual will typically drive big engagement.

And another way to get your content in front of the right people is by doing searches on Twitter. If you’re a dentist in Boston for example, you can search “Boston Dentist” and you may find people in your industry or even find someone in your area that actually needs a dentist.

You can also think about doing a Tweet Chat. The value of Tweet Chats is huge because you get to know people on Twitter, talk about what you know, and share your expertise. You’ll typically get several followers from Tweet Chats because you’re sharing your expertise, which is a why most people will follow you in the first place.

If you want to find a Tweet Chat, just hop on Google and search “Tweet Chat List.” I’ve found some great lists and even an online wiki that make it easy to find Tweet Chats about any topic or industry.

What is your best advice for a small business that’s just getting started on Twitter?

You need to make sure that people know you’re there.

Link to it from your website, link to it on your Facebook Page, announce it on your Facebook Page, announce it in your email newsletter, or you may even send out an email saying “Hey, we’re on Twitter.” You can even take things a step further and do things like embedding a Twitter feed on your business’ website.

And make sure you’re active, posting at least a couple of times a week. When people are searching for people to follow on Twitter and they go to your profile and see you haven’t tweeted in a month, they might not follow you.

People on Twitter are looking for value. They want to know what’s in it for them and they want to know how following you can help them. If you’re not offering anything, they’re not going to follow you.

And make sure you’re retweeting other people. You don’t have to just create content yourself. It can be really flattering to know someone saw your tweet, liked what you had to say, and wanted to share it with their followers.

How to do things the right way on Twitter

Using Twitter for your small business really starts with understanding what you’re trying to achieve.

Are you looking to promote your organization or drive activity to your website? Do you want to provide your customers with an easier way to connect with you online? Or are you just trying to add a new element to your next event?

Understanding what you hope to gain from using Twitter will help you make better decisions about the content you create and improve the likelihood of getting noticed by your target audience. It will also help you make decisions about how you want to promote your Twitter handle and give your content more visibility.

For your convenience, here are eight tips to help give your content the exposure it deserves:

  • Make it easy to digest (Example: 10 Tips to Help You Do [Blank])
  • Use words that catch your reader’s attention (best, worst, most, least…)
  • Think of tweets like email subject lines
  • Remember Twitter’s most important question: Why should I care?
  • Use a personal comment instead of just auto-sharing links
  • Take advantage of Twitter’s “Search” tool
  • Make it visual: use photos, videos, infographics, etc.
  • Join a Tweet Chat

We want to hear your Twitter insights! Share your biggest piece of advice for an organization that’s getting started on Twitter below.