Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

(Originally posted on http://www.womenunlimitedworldwide.com/how-to-use-twitter-for-small-business/)

Most people just jump straight in to Twitter, but that’s not the best way to use the popular social platform to help with your business and marketing goals.

What I recommend is having a simple plan and using some key free tools to help you do what you need to do and stay on top of the Twitterverse without it taking all day.

This is my own plan, and exactly what I do to manage my own Twitter account.

Why have a plan? Here’s what you’re going to do with the help of Twitter:

  • Send regular tweets (multiple daily) to encourage followers
  • Share the content from your website, if you have one
  • Drive sign-ups for your mailing list
  • Build relationships with other relevant businesses/organisations
  • Promote any events or offers that you want to run
  • Encourage people to like your Facebook Page or connect with you on LinkedIn

Get your set-up straight:

A) Optimise your Twitter bio – include keywords for your business and use all the characters allowed. Add a little personal flavour though – sound like a human, not a robot.

B) Use specific free twitter tools (this is exactly what I do):

1. Buffer (www.bufferapp.com). This is a simple way to schedule tweets. Set it up for free so that it sends out two tweets a day (I recommend that you spread them out with one in the morning and one in the afternoon). You can do the set up about once a week, and then you won’t have to worry about writing basic twitter content for days at a time. There is a mobile app for buffer, but I recommend using the desktop app to make it easier for you.

2. Feedly (www.feedly.com). Feedly groups blogs together in one place. Set up a free Feedly account. Find a bunch of sites that post cool stuff that your audience will like and then put them in your Feedly. When you want to schedule tweets in your buffer, you can go straight here to find things to tweet. Feedly integrates with Buffer, so you can add something to your Buffer account from within Feedly (clever, huh?). To get started I recommend finding the blogs and websites of:

  • Your key customers
  • Your key suppliers
  • Thought leaders in your industry
  • Key organisations/people/businesses that are well known in your geographic area
  • Publications that appeal to your audience and/or talk about your subject area

3. Twilert (www.twilert.com). Twilert searches twitter for specific search terms that you select, and is a great way to find things to retweet and people to follow. I would do a search for 5 or 6 key words that relate to your industry/subject area. Keep an eye on these and refine them over time.

4. Twitter lists (inside twitter). Twitter lists are a good way to group other people’s Twitter accounts together and keep an eye on what they’re saying so that you can strategically retweet them or talk to them. Create lists for things like local businesses that are complementary to yours, thought leaders in your industry, your key suppliers, and anything else that makes sense to you.

5. Twitter app on your phone. Check it once a day at a time to suit you and respond to anyone who is talking to you on Twitter – It’s the height of rudeness to ignore people who are tweeting you.

Have a Twitter schedule:

Once a week (30mins or so):

  • Check Feedly and find things to add to your Buffer account.
  • Mix up a few additional Buffer updates which are original; e.g. stuff that you’re up to, interesting things that you’ve seen, quotes, comments etc.

Daily (15mins):

  • Check new followers. Follow any back that look worthwhile. Say hello or strategically RT/mention any really interesting ones.
  • Check Twilert to see if anything is coming up that you want to RT or comment on.
  • Check your @mentions (i.e. people talking to or about you and respond)

Automatically (optional):

  • When a new post goes up on your blog, think about tweeting it automatically. Depending on the way that your blog is put together, there are different tools that you can use. If you have a WordPress blog then there are lots of free plugins that can do this for you.
  • Think about an autoposting system to tweet random old posts from your blog as well. This gives you extra Twitter content and helps your blog posts to have longevity. Again, if you use WordPress there are lots of plugins that can help with this.

If you can do all that, you’ll have Twitter in the bag. Let me know how you’re getting on in the comments or on Twitter – I’m @tamsinfd.

Visit our Twitter 101 page for even more Twitter advice!