It almost goes without saying but social media marketing is essential for business these days. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to sell doughnuts or tickets to the Mega Millions lottery, social media helps drive targeted traffic to your products. If you do it right, the return on your investment in time and effort can be quite substantial. With an estimated 328 million monthly active users, Twitter is the 9th largest social network in the world and your business needs to be there.

Twitter is not about sending out 140-characters ads, rather it’s a medium for communicating with existing and potential customers. Following the best practices for using Twitter in business will help your company thrive in the modern social world.

First of all, you need to define your brand and how you want to convey your marketing messages to the public. The header and image on your profile page are limited in space but it is essential to include your company’s logo. Your tweets shouldn’t be strictly sales pitches, yet they do represent your brand so it’s important to clarify your tweeting policies.

Once you’ve established your brand’s Twitter identity you’ll want to develop a Twitter following. You start by following others – competitors, industry leaders, and consumers. You can easily see who is following your competition by simply clicking on its list of followers. Once you follow someone, hopefully he/she will follow you in return.

Before you start tweeting, look and learn. See what others are doing, especially your competition. Learn how to best convey a marketing message in 140 characters without it coming across as a sales pitch. Your business’s Twitter presence is not intended as a forum for giving lectures. Twitter, like other social media platforms, is a way to communicate within a community. Tweet openly with others and send direct messages when messaging needs to be kept private.

Do your research into hashtags, because using them is a great way to get your tweets to a wider audience. Use the hashtags appropriate to your business and read tweets using other hashtags to gain insights how to improve your marketing efforts.

Reach out to influencers in your industry and try to enter a discussionwith them. Establishing contact is as simple as including their Twitter handle in a tweet. Getting them to respond is more of a challenge. Don’t go overboard, however, as you could end up damaging your brand if your tweets become a subject of ridicule.

Use tweet scheduling programs so that you can make sure your tweets reach the largest possible audience, no matter the time of day. When you see a tweet that you like, make sure to favourite it. And if the tweet is good, re-tweet it.

Your use of Twitter will succeed if people enjoy reading what you’re tweeting. Don’t use Twitter as an advertising platform but as a way to engage with customers. Be authentic; be believable. The better the content in your Twitter feed, the more successful you’ll be in attracting new customers to your business.