Following on the heels of my first article in this column, I want to go straight into some practical tips that you can use in your business, like starting today.

Most people unfamiliar with Twitter shudder when I mention it. It’s a scary thing; the little tweet button that, once clicked, will send your thoughts to a….void? Judgemental audience? Viral post? How do you even know what to say that’s worthy of some stranger’s attention?

I had the same trepidation when I first started back in 2012. I certainly wasn’t an early adopter, so the Twitterverse was already well alive and kicking. How could I be sure I had anything to offer that hadn’t already been said? A few months before joining I was browsing the marketing section in the St. Thomas library and a title caught my eye: The UnMarketing Book by Scott Stratten. Picking it up, I went home and learned from just about the best there is in the Twitter business. Scott Stratten is a Canadian who jumped on the bandwagon in its early days and quickly realized the advantages that Twitter can bring any business, in any industry.

Instead of paying huge sums of money for focus groups or consumer data, each and every company has its customer’s opinions at its fingertips. Rather than cringing when you get your first customer complaint on Twitter, why not take advantage of this direct message to you and your company about how it is viewed by the public? Particularly the public who cared enough to even talk about you, whether the comment was positive or negative? This is Stratten’s general premise as to how a company can use this unique time and place to correspond one-on-one with its customers; something that’s never been possible before.

I also liked that Stratten made the foray into using Twitter much less intimidating for me: he suggests  thinking of it like a party, where you go from room to room, having a quick conversation with one person here, then another there. You can choose to follow a conversation or thread, or leave it. No one will notice one way or another, but of course, the longer you stay, the more you will have a shared experience with others involved.

So where to start? The first five steps are easy: 1) Sign up. 2) Pick a username (called a “handle”, the thing with the “@” proceeding it in a tweet). 3) Put up a photo and 4) add a blurb about you. Your network will grow more quickly if people know you and your “context”. Then 5) begin by simply following other people. Local community leaders, politicians, and people who inspire you are a great place to start. For fun, add your favourite sports figures, comedians, or entertainers. Your child’s school and your workplace will almost certainly have a twitter account.

When you are ready to start tweeting but don’t know if you yet have anything original to say, begin by simply replying to other’s tweets. Hashtags are helpful clues to following a particular trend on Twitter, and when you start using it for business, this will become important. But in the early stages, you will really just need to get a feel for which party you feel like joining, and which ones you can skip out early.

Happy Tweeting!