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Almost everyone on the planet has heard of Twitter, but many businesses do not understand how or why they should be using Twitter.

1- Use Twitter to monitor the conversations about your business. Every business owner knows that word-of-mouth can have an impact on a business, good or bad, and the bad can spread like wildfire. This reminds me of a sign that was hanging in my grandparents’ camper. I would go camping once a year growing up, but the saying on that sign has hung with me for all of these years. “When I do something right no one remembers. When I do something wrong, no one forgets.”

This really applies to the word of mouth concept. With Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, the effects of word-of-mouth grew exponentially. The ability for someone to harm your business overnight is real. However, the benefit is that you can be part of the conversation and nip things quickly, when appropriate. There is a lot of strategy involved with this, but the key is that you login and see what people are saying about your business. Many Twitter apps can help you with this, but to start, you can go to search.twitter.com and type in the name of your business. You may be surprised at what you find.

2- Use Twitter to offer special “inside” deals. The best way to get your customer base to follow you on Twitter is to offer great inside deals that are only available through Twitter. By doing this, you will coax some of your customers onto Twitter that may not otherwise get onto Twitter. Why does this matter? Twitter can give you an unprecedented amount of access to your customers, so that you can get your message to them at anytime. This becomes a bit of the old school, “top-of-mind awareness” aspect. The more they see you, your business name, etc., the more likely they will contact you when they need a service you offer. In addition, with special inside deals, they will often buy something that they were not planning to purchase, but found too hard to pass up. Be careful to not be a twitter spammer by using deceitful practices.

3- Use Twitter to steal customers. This is a little like number one, but in this case you are monitoring the conversations in the industry to see where people are unhappy with your competitors. This allows you to be a hero and assist them. If you can find those opportunities and take advantage of them, you will have customers for life.

4- Use Twitter to keep your customers loyal. Just as you can use Twitter to steal customers from your competitors that are slow to reply, you can use Twitter to keep your customers loyal to you. When they can connect with a brand or a business owner, they feel like they have an open door to bring complaints to when something goes wrong. This fact can keep customers loyal as long as you use Twitter to reply to them and take care of business.

5- Use Twitter to find new customers. In the conversations that are happening on Twitter, you may be able to find circumstances when you can help answer a question. When you see a question that is applicable to your business, then you can respond and strike up a conversation and build a relationship. Because you reach out, you will have a lot of credibility with them that may lead to future business. For example, here is a tweet that would be relevant to businesses that do SEO and social media : “How does social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook help your SEO?”

6- Use Twitter to gain key connections. Twitter can be your key to unlock a relationship that you would never have obtained otherwise. Twitter enables you to talk with people who would not become a fan on Facebook, would not answer a phone call from you and would not reply to a letter. When you follow someone, reply to their post and ask questions to them directly, you have a chance to gain a relationship that would otherwise be impossible. Twitter can help you connect with the industry leaders as well as find some up-and-coming people in the industry.

7- Use Twitter to study industry news. Twitter search can be a very powerful tool to study what is going on in your industry. It helps you get a feel of how your peers in the industry feel about current issues. Doing Twitter searches on key industry terms can open your eyes to your industry in a way that you have not seen before.

8- Use Twitter to study trends and hot topics in your industry. By doing Twitter searches you can find out the news in your industry in a hurry, but you can also see what things are trending in the industry and the hot topics that relate to your industry. This will allow you to be ahead of the game and on the cutting edge of your marketplace.

9- Use Twitter to ask opinions. If you are wondering what your customers would like better, choice A or choice B, simply ask them. You never have to guess anymore which they would prefer. You simply ask them on Twitter for some feedback, then when they reply, take note. This will give you the ability to make better purchasing and marketing decisions. Of course, to ensure that you receive replies to your question, you could sweeten things by offering a little something for their time.

10- Use Twitter as a mini press release. While Twitter cannot replace the SEO effectiveness of a full-fledged online press release, it can be a mini press release for anything that you do online. It is a way to announce your most recent blog post, point traffic to your most recent video and even help drive traffic to a press release about you or your company. You may also be able to use your Twitter connections to help spread the word even further. When your followers retweet one of your Twitter posts, it reaches far more people.

Twitter has continued to gain steam. I watched a GACTV show last night in which they asked some of country music’s biggest stars about Twitter at the beginning of 2009. They had no idea what it was and said that no one would like to know what they were doing all of the time. However, those same people are now big Twitter users and have discovered plenty of good business uses for it.

Some business will say that Twitter is a waste of time and not worth two minutes. However, my 2010 prediction is this: Some companies with this attitude will go out-of-business because of what customers will say about them on Twitter. They may never even realize that Twitter was the cause of their demise. Will this be your business?