Welcome back to the Twitter party – the largest social gathering you’ve ever been to with a guest list of many thousands, if not millions, of people from all walks of life.

In my previous post, I warned marketers working for Fortune 500 companies against using Twitter – and their corporate Facebook or Google+ pages for that matter – as a vehicle to transport visitors to sales pages.

Twitter is an ideal platform for content marketing because it is designed as a tool to strike up two-way conversations and once your followers are talking to you, they will soon start talking about you to others.

So how do you use Twitter to strike up a dialogue with followers and engage influencers? Quite simply, by taking the rules of successful face-to-face conversation into the online arena and behaving like a human being, not a corporate robot.

Start with small talk

In the real world, when I attempt to engage with my young relatives I’m often blown away by the almost breathless monologue that comes back as a reply to my ‘conversation starter’ questions, such as: “How was school today?”

And by the time the five-year-old has finished telling me every detail about their day at Bessie Street School – including graphic descriptions of the contents of their lunch box – I’ve lost the will to continue the conversation.

Now that type of small talk is cute in five-year-olds and leaves me wishing I had such levels of enthusiasm for everyday life, but in content marketing such behaviour is a guarantee of social media isolation.

To join in a real-life conversation you have to make small talk and Twitter is the same.

Small talk does not mean a breathless monologue of your sales pitch, nor does it mean a barrage of business-speak. Instead, it involves adopting a human voice to strike up a two-way dialogue.

Offer an opinion

Once you have started a dialogue, keep the conversation going by offering an opinion.

“What? We can’t do that. It might alienate some of our customers,” I hear you cry. Nonsense. I’m not suggesting sending out contentious tweets that will polarise opinion, but your best chance of standing out and engaging your followers in genuine debate is if you dare to take a stand. Remember, the top influencers on Twitter offer fresh insights that spark new discussions.

Southerly recently tweeted about a blog by Hootsuite about brands having awesome (that’s their description, not mine) conversations on Twitter, which highlighted how @TescoMobile has made a name for itself on the social platform through its witty banter with its customers – and has taken it one step further by being brave enough to troll its own trolls.

The blog reported: “While their quips can seem controversial to some, their conversations with customers, non-customers and even other brands have recently captured the attention of the social media world. By doing so, they have made themselves relevant, snarky and just that much more human.”

We wanted to screengrab some of this Twitter brilliance, but quite frankly Buzzfeed captured Tesco Mobile’s best Twitter exchange more than adequately.

Join other conversations

The best way to make your brand known on Twitter is to join other conversations. But just as in the real world, anyone butting into a chat risks being given the cold shoulder. And the same is true of Twitter.

So take care when selecting which Twitter conversations to join and only do so when you have something useful to add to the discussion. Otherwise, you’ll just come across as rude and obnoxious.

Don’t talk about yourself

No one likes a self-obsessed show-off, so stop being one on Twitter.

Twitter is the place that people go to let off steam and engage with each other – and certainly not to read your self-promotional content. The only way your followers will truly engage with you – and spread the word about your brand – is if you use your corporate Twitter account to strike up real conversation that offers genuine value; show love to your followers.

Can’t I include any promotional material?

That’s a good question. Mrs R and I had a night out this week at The Soho Theatre watching Jack Dee perform his new Helpdesk show. I only discovered this show was scheduled because I follow @sohotheatre on my personal Twitter account and the venue tweeted about Jack’s upcoming shows.

To me, that tweet was useful but I dislike receiving a continuous stream of special offers and have stopped following a number of large companies that broadcast sales information that I do not find useful. So, in my view there’s nothing wrong with tweeting promotional material, but make sure those tweets are useful.

Just finally, now you’re in the mood to join the (Twitter) party, loosen the corporate tie, put your business-speak in your briefcase and start shining the spotlight on your followers instead of yourself.

I’m off to do a spot more mingling….