In my previous column, I talked about using social media to build your small business. In this second column about using social media to accelerate business growth, let’s talk about that sizzling new sensation called Twitter.

Twitter Explained For the Small Business Owner and CEO

Twitter is an effortless service that allows you to broadcast messages of up to 140 characters to everyone who opts to follow your ?tweets.

Need a sense of how that drives concise communication? Count the characters in the first paragraph, or the second, or this one; exactly 140!

You get the point, but there’s more to it than that. As part of an important behavioral shift ongoing in the Internet, content consumption is shifting from ?push? to ?pull. One of the forces behind this sea change is RSS Really Simple Syndication. With RSS, when you find Internet content you’re interested in, you can subscribe to its ?feed? and have your favorite ?reader? pull updates down to you automatically. This works for text, audio and video content, and can be as narrow or as broad as your varied interests.

Subscribing via RSS is similar to subscribing to a magazine except that you can specify exactly the subset of articles you want to receive (typically by topic, author, etc.). Instead of having to interrupt my day to go find the latest blog post by my favorite writer or the most recent New York Times article about politics, I sit back and wait for them to come to me.

You Are What Your Customers Say About You

Twitter shifts the power from producer to consumer. Winning content must be consistently interesting, ever more focused, and always relevant to its target, or folks will vote with their mice faster than you can say ?unsubscribe.

Back to Twitter: Unlike with typical email, members choose whom and when to follow by opting in and out. If you don’t follow someone, you don’t see their messages. Due to the simplicity of Twitter and because messages can be sent from or received via cell phone, computer, Facebook, Twitter Web site, and virtually anywhere else, people tend to tweet even minor thoughts and activities. While this can be overwhelming if you attempt to follow everything, with focus and organization it’s surprisingly enlightening. As a quote on the Twitter Web site says, it’s almost like ESP (extra sensory perception). By listening in, you can gain surprising insight into almost any topic or individual.

For example, I recently proposed a viral marketing project for a company that competes with SalesForce.com (SFDC). To get a better sense of the competitive landscape in their market, I searched Twitter for references to SFDC. In reviewing a few hundred related tweets from the past few weeks I was able to learn what SFDC users like and don’t like about that service. This provided key insights about how to design a campaign for the potential client, along with ideas for valuable new product features.

Some companies, including Ford, use Twitter to enhance internal communications. Imagine the value of having your sales and marketing teams interacting continuously. With little overhead, your company would be that much faster at learning, answering questions and identifying new product features, resulting in increased profitability. That said, such an application requires a well-defined ?use case? along with advanced Twitter features not discussed here.

What’s Next?

As a first step, jump in as a consumer. Get your Twitter account and follow CNNBRK? for breaking news from CNN, or follow DellOutlet? for hot deals from Dell.

You’ll find more that you’ll want to follow and at some point may feel overwhelmed. When that happens, download and install a free Adobe product called Tweetdeck. By then you’ll see many possibilities for your business.