Twitter can be a powerful promotional tool for many small businesses. By connecting with your customers in meaningful ways you can increase loyalty and engagement with your brand, which can result in increasing awareness and sales. But with so many companies on Twitter, how can yours stand out? Where should you (or your designer) even begin?

Step One: A Picture?s Worth a Thousand Tweets

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Photos create a direct and powerful connection on Twitter. Your profile and cover images should immediately engage your audience and create a narrative that is uniquely yours.

With a resolution of at least 400 x 400 pixels, profile pictures should showcase either your logo or an image that represents your company. Make sure this image is consistent across all of your web properties and marketing materials. You want to strive for imagery that is artful and compelling without being too complicated. The profile picture is small and simple; landscapes and other ornate images don’t translate well into limited dimensions. Similarly, your profile description should explicitly state, in the simplest wording possible, what you offer.

Twitter cover photos are a larger, customizable image size 1500 X 500 pixels and present an opportunity for companies to creatively showcase their expertise (for example, a shelf full of the newest or most successful products) and vision. Use only high-resolution images, and maximize the power of each pixel. Cover photos should work in conjunction with the profile picture and description to create the story about your business that only you can tell.

Step Two: Why Curated Content is King

By balancing your tweets between providing original content about your business with relevant retweets? (retweets are the equivalent of forwarding an interesting email article to your Twitter followers), you’ll demonstrate how well you know your business sector and engage those who are following you. Create a weekly calendar (through apps like HootSuite) of curated, pre-scheduled tweets that are automatically sent at strategic, high-traffic times to make this effort less cumbersome.

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In addition to scheduled tweets, your feed should include tweets that are culturally relevant and sensitive to current events. This allows you to use trending stories to reach new audiences. For example, during the Super Bowl or the Oscars, post live updates with clever, relevant hashtags (these are phrases like ?#whatsuperbowl? or ?#wishiwasontheredcarpet?), and you’ll attract more interest to your feed. Or, commemorate the achievements of a peer important to your industry to help your followers understand your values.

Step Three: Create Hashtags that Break the Ice

Starting an online conversation can be difficult, especially when you’re dealing with leery, web-savvy customers. Hashtags, however, are an effective means of closing the gap between you and your potential new customers by saying something akin to Hello, we share this common interest. But, the overture must be sincere. If you choose to connect with customers through your appreciation for web design, fantasy football, or environmental sustainability, be ready to continue the dialogue with astute and compelling insights and commentary. Discussions about everyday experiences and passions not only make your company appear more human, but also more accessible to customers who want to feel like they’re connecting with like-minded personalities.

You can create a hashtag not only for your company, but also for each product and marketing campaign. These hashtags allow your customers to share their experiences with your brand, and help build outreach. To draw attention to specific products and sales, you should ?pin? a particular tweet in your Twitter feed. Pinning positions selected tweets at the top of your page so visitors see them first, even when you publish new tweets and retweets. Pinned tweets are an excellent way to promote specific products and time-sensitive sales offerings.

Step Four: Share the Love and Stay Committed

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Online relationships aren?t so dissimilar from their person-to-person counterparts. Express your dedication to being a faithful Twitter member by liking, retweeting, and tagging others in your tweets (do this by adding the ?@? sign in front of their user name). Drive conversation. If a customer expresses praise or issues with your brand, product, or services publicly, reach out to him or her to share your gratitude for their feedback. Do this on a consistent basis, and you’ll show your followers that you’re a committed member of the community, interested in building lasting relationships.

Work out problems together. Celebrate successes together. Be part of their Twitter lives. Your efforts will be reciprocated by loyalty, a powerful online presence, and, perhaps most importantly, sales.

Intelligent designers and content providers appreciate the mutual dependency of imagery and words on Twitter. Developing a cohesive and engaging narrative through useful content and striking photos can help your business grow.

Though these four tips will help get you started on the right foot, don’t forget that as with any marketing initiative in which you attempt to engage with your customers, be honest, be creative but, most importantly be yourself.