Somewhere along the way, we lost our common sense.

With the explosion of social media over the last half decade or so, a new venue has reigned supreme in the world of customer acquisition and retention.  As always the case, where the eyeballs go, business budgets will follow.

And although the king medium has changed, the way consumers think, behave, and spend, has not.

Today, as people turn off the TVs and open up their Facebook profiles, the way a business enters a consumer’s realm, has adapted.  For those businesses who have failed to adapt, I’m guessing you’re either failing, if not already out of the game.

What you’re doing wrong

Every time I spend any tangible amount of time on Twitter, I’m inundated with substandard marketing tactics.  Repeatedly shoving links down the throats of your 5,000 “followers” is not good use of social media.  For those who curate others content purely to sell advertising or affiliate businesses, would likely disagree.

I’m not talking to them.

I’m talking to you.  The business looking to build a brand.  The business looking to build customer loyalty that you can carry with you from one social fad to the next.  The business that is looking longer term than the next few quarters.

If you’re still with me, good.  You’re trying to build a legitimate business.

The bad news is, if you’ve been using the same social media tactics that are taught en masse from [insert social media ninja’s name] free e-book, you’re likely failing your company.  The good news is, you’re here, and you’re ready to learn eager to learn a better approach.

So without further ado, I now present to you:

3 Effective Ways to Use Twitter for Business (Without Annoying People)

1.  Stop talking, start listening

Do you know who owns your company?

If your answer was anything other than “your customers”, you failed this quiz.

The Internet has flattened communication.  Now, more so than ever, businesses are able to understand exactly what it is a consumer wants.  As a result, the products, and services available to consumers, have improved, and are ever improving.  This is accomplished through a seldom used tactic in business known as “listening”.

By tapping into the conversation that’s happening in your industry, you can fully paint a picture of who your consumer is, what they want, what they don’t want, what they value, who their friends are, etc.  The companies that listen best, are consequently the best at adapting to consumer needs.  Building a product or service, dusting your hands off, and back patting may result in temporary success.  However, as soon as your competitor finds a chink in your armor, by listening to your consumers, they will soon became their consumers.

Here’s how you use Twitter to listen:

Pick your favorite Twitter client (I prefer Hootsuite), and set up 15-20 different search columns appropriate to your business.  This can include (but is not limited to), industry keywords, your brand name, your competitors brands, geo-targeted searches, or trend based searches.  Spend time every day looking through the collection of your consumers Tweets.  See what they’re saying.  See where you’re failing.  See where your competitor is succeeding.  Adjust your model.

Eventually you’ll find that different search queries have more useful data than others.  Start to fade out what isn’t yielding good data, and try new combinations.  The more you do this, the more efficient the time spent listening becomes.

2. Solve People’s Problems

If you’re not familiar with the power of reciprocity, you’re missing a big opportunity in your business.

The sole act of issuing someone a favor has been demonstrated to increase consumer purchasing behavior in much greater excess the the value of the original favor.  One setting you can easily find this tactic being demonstrated, is at your local watering hole.  When a man buys a woman a drink, what he’s asking for in return, is probably worth more than $7 (not to assign a monetary value….).

From a businesses approach, the power of reciprocity can be an extremely powerful tactic.  Anyone who’s taken a sample from their local Costco probably already knows this.  In exchange for the 3 oz. taster, at the very least, you give the worker the time to finish their spiel.  More often than chance, you’re actually buying the product.  Although you’ve already paid the annual membership, the subconscious sense of debt for this minuscule taster, makes their product display a profitable move.

Here’s how you use Twitter to solve problems:

There’s no one size-fits-all approach to this one.  It will depend on your industry.  Be creative.

One idea: if you work in the restaurant industry, set up a search of all of the tweets going out within a 25km radius of your zipcode, and right around 10:30AM, offer them a 25% discount off of their lunch.  If your business is location sensitive, insert your industry in place of “restaurant”.  If your business is online, make the searches keyword focused, and offer a discount.

Another, more general, approach is to answer people’s questions, regardless of how tangible it is to your business or not.  Like when a friend picks you up from the airport, subconsciously, you know that you owe that person.  When you get that call a week later, very politely asking to borrow your car, saying no seems impossible.  When someone wants to know the best place hotel to stay at, the best restaurant to eat at, the best business book to read, etc., you should be there to shed some valuable knowledge.  The more helpful the favor, the more powerful the sense of reciprocity becomes.  Try it.

3. Only share quality content

I don’t know when Twitter turned into a high school popularity contest, but there’s a difference between being popular (followers) and being profitable (customers).  If done well, your popularity will come organically.

What do I mean?

Take a look at your Twitter stream on any given Friday, tell me what you see.  Most likely, it’s a #FF followed by every twitter handle on that person’s list, spread out over a few tweets.

Their thinking: purely by mentioning their name, I’ve exercised the Power of Reciprocity (see: #2), and they owe me a mention when I share a link to my latest deal!

In moderation, the collaborative elevation method can be useful.  But when deciding what information to share with those who trust and follow you,  instead of determining it based on favors owed, look at quality of content.  As soon as you share a tweet with a link that you don’t even take the time to read, which ends up being some 150 word post of watered down, poorly written content, you’ve done damage to your own brand.  The next time you put something out there, your followers are far less likely to click through.  Focus on your 1,000 true fans, and not the 10,000 phony followers.

How to use Twitter to share quality content:

This is easy, take the time to process through the content you decide to share.  Does the article contribute something new?  Is the content written well?  Will your readers have something to gain?

Don’t worry about the content not being your own work.  The simple act of sharing it with your followers demonstrates that you have access to good information, and the trust will be spread to you vicariously.

Taking the time to curate quality information, not only provides value to your customers, it helps to establish you as an industry expert, thus raising your brand equity in your consumer’s eye.

Don’t share content simply for the sake of gaining point or paying favors.  You’re not doing any favors to yourself.

And there you have it.  Follow these three simple principles on Twitter along with some persistence, and patience, and your brand will be headed in a direction that it deserves.

Author: Zach Davis is an independent Internet marketer, video editor, and creative content developer based out of San Diego, California.  Read his creative blog, follow him on Twitter, and like him on Facebook.