Twitter is one of the buzzwords of the moment and a particularly effective tool for small- to medium-sized businesses to promote themselves online. But you need to put in a certain amount of effort to reap the benefits of having such a powerful, and free, marketing tool for your business.

It’s pretty straightforward to set your Twitter account up. But once online, what do you do next? The key thing when posting to your Twitter account is to keep it relevant. You need to post links that will interest your followers and make them keep coming back to learn more about what you’re doing, selling, observing and noting. Always ask yourself “Is this a worthwhile tweet or am I just tweeting for the sake of it?” If you’re tweeting for the sake of it – hold your tweets!

Twitter can really help a business in several areas. Firstly, it differentiates you and marks you out as a thought leader in your industry – you think differently, out of the box, have interesting views on your subject. The other way in which it can help is by creating a sense of community around your business. People feel they know you and bond with you, and so want to be a part of what you offer. Finally people following you on Twitter, and using your Twitter account to access your website or re-tweet your comments, can help move you up the ranking of the main search engines.

A good way to start is to follow others in your industry or in a similar line of business and watch out for trends and fashions. If you see something where you have a view, or have observed a similar trend in your business, then comment on it. Constantly look out for a relevant angle where you can add an individual and unique opinion – this will mark out your business as cutting edge and forward thinking. So stay abreast of current opinion both in your industry and more broadly. The impact of the Budget, the hike in VAT, changes in the tax regime, the scrappage scheme for cars – who’s to say what’s relevant to your business and where you can express a valid opinion.

If you really get into your Twitter and find you’re following many accounts and that many people are beginning to follow you, you may want to use desktop tools such as Twitterfox or TweetDeck. It simplifies managing your account and keeping track of the different strands of both those you’re following and those following you.

Always try to take the time to vet who is following you – check out some of their previous Tweets and their timeline. If you don’t, you run the risk of spammers getting in on your account which can spoil the Twitter experience for everyone.

Make sure you promote your Twitter account. Put a link to it on your website, your business cards and marketing literature. The more you market that you’re on Twitter, the more people will visit your account and get to know you and your company better. Familiarity in business does not breed contempt – it breeds brand loyalty and stickiness among your customer base.

Where’s the harm in dipping your toe into cyberworld and giving Twitter a whirl? All it takes is a bit of time and elbow grease and you may find you get both increased loyalty from your existing customer base and new customers as a consequence.