Twitter is a great tool for researching your target audience, targeting relevant customers and driving them back to your website.  But how can you use it effectively?

Many people think of Twitter as a simple broadcast tool that allows you to dispense random status updates to a list of people who don’t really care what you have to say.

Twitter is more than a talking tool.  It is a listening tool, a search tool and a networking tool.  Below are three concepts you may not have known about Twitter at first glance.

Search Engine

Twitter not only functions as a communication tool; it also functions as a search engine – like Google and Bing.

Twitter’s home page displays the search engine as its main feature.  Once you create an account and log in, Twitter’s search engine sits in your side bar along the right.

Twitter’s search engine allows you to search any word or phrase, and pull up tweets (messages) from people all over the world who have typed that exact word or phrase into their Twitter update.

This is very useful when looking for people who could use your product or service.  For example: if you manage a Web design company, search for “how can I build a website” and find hundreds of people who are already searching for your service.

@Mentions

After playing around on Twitter’s search engine for a few minutes, you might see people who use @ symbols at the beginning of some words.  These are called mentions.

When you want to tweet (communicate) at someone directly, type an @ symbol, followed by the person’s username.  For example: Include the word @KingJames in your update if you want to communicate directly at Lebron James.

People will then be able to read your mentions in their mentions section (located in your side bar along the right).

#Topics

Twitter allows people to communicate openly, where anyone around the world can join the conversation and respond.

The best way for you to participate is to join Twitter topics, which are usually indicated with a # sign that precedes a word or phrase.

For example: During the World Cup, if you were to include “WorldCup or #worldcup in one of your tweets, your tweet could be read by anyone following that topic around the world (which would have included millions of people).

You can either join discussions already happening, or you can start topics of your own.  Let’s say an earthquake hits your hometown or city.  You could go to your Twitter to ask, “Did anyone feel an #earthquake in #KansasCity;” or “Does anyone know anything about a #KansasCityEarthquake.

Anyone who searches that topic would see your tweet and could respond.

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