twitter small business marketingTwitter is a social media platform with a seemingly steep learning curve. Its marketing value is less than straightforward, so do not feel bad if you’re having a tough time figuring it all out—you’re not alone.

Many small business owners struggle to develop an effective Twitter strategy, so they’ll give up out of frustration. What you need to do is look past the high-tech interface and focus on good-old-fashioned marketing basics.

At its core, Twitter is a powerful marketing tool. At any given time, there are millions of conversations that business owners could start or join.

Many brand leaders perceive Twitter as overloaded with meaningless chatter, but beneath the surface, there’s much more: thought leaders from every field, possible brand partners, and potential customers.

Obviously Twitter is a place where meaningful connections can be made. Here are 5 ways that small businesses can leverage Twitter’s advantages:

1. Networking

As a small business, your goals will be twofold: (1) generate awareness about your brand and (2) provide value to your target market. Conversation is the best way to accomplish both of these objectives.

If you come across blog posts that you like, reach out to the authors on Twitter to build a genuine rapport, and be prepared to do the same for others when they reach out to you. Ask people specific questions and become a resource for the individuals you interact with.

Eventually, you may be able to take your conversations to another platform –like e-mail—or even offline. Just imagine that you’re going to the longest and most heavily populated conference that you’ve ever attended. What would be your strategy? The answer to that question should be your brand’s Twitter networking approach.

2. Content Curating

People appreciate when companies share valuable content. That doesn’t mean that every blog post and e-book that you share needs to be produced by you. You can always pass along useful resources you come across online. Support your fellow bloggers and partner organizations when they have something valuable to say.

When you produce relevant content, you can intermix your content pieces with the other resources you are posting. Your followers will appreciate the value of a consistent flow of good material, regardless of where it came from – and your partners will appreciate the share.

Rather than scouring the web for trustworthy blog posts and news articles, you can leverage your Twitter feed to collect information in one place. Follow influential leaders so that as they share valuable content, it comes to you. RSS aggregators such as Google Reader are also a great way to stay up-to-date and find the most timely and relevant resources to share. All that you’ll need to do is share and retweet the articles that are relevant to your audience.

3. Blog Topics

If you manage a company blog you’ve probably – at some point or another—experienced writer’s block. It’s a total brain-drain that will waste your time. Instead of sitting in front of your computer with a blank stare, see what people are talking about in the Twitterverse. If you see a compelling question, write a response as a blog post. Take the process a step further by sharing your writing in the conversation stream.

If you know what’s catching people’s attention, you’ll be a much more influential writer. After all, two-way dialog is content marketing’s most compelling and powerful value proposition.

4. Consumer Trend Analysis

Ever wonder what people think about your brand, partners, and competitors? Are you thinking of carrying a new product line in your online store? Are you hoping to launch a new service but want to assess the market first?

In addition to your basic internet research, you can use Twitter to research real-time and past conversations about any topic that you like. Of course, Twitter won’t be a replacement for a thorough market analysis study, but it’s a place to quickly get going and find information.

If you can’t find a relevant conversation, start your own. Ask your followers—what do they think? Reach out directly to your newly found Twitter connections.

Tip: Be sure to use hashtags to categorize the topic of your tweet – this technique will help you increase your reach beyond your immediate followers.

5. Customer Support

Everyone knows that customer service can be incredibly frustrating – why in the world should people spend an hour on the phone for an answer to a quick question? What about customer support forms with impossible to read captcha codes? Those are no-fun either.

Twitter provides a quick way to ask and answer questions. Let your customer know that your Twitter profile is yet another channel to reach out to your brand for quick answers and assistance.

Final Thoughts – Get Creative!

Twitter is extremely versatile. Beyond the ideas presented in this bog post, small businesses can leverage Twitter for a range of marketing goals. What have been some of the most creative ways that you’ve seen Twitter used? What strategies have worked for you, and what inspired you to launch them?