One of the Internet’s fastest-growing social networks is good for more than just casual socializing--strategic use of Twitter can help businesses grow their brand and online presence, turning a steady following into a loyal clientele. Tweets alone won’t suffice in these endeavours, however; rather, a well-planned approach, careful monitoring, and thorough research together can push a company in the right direction.

The business benefits of Twitter are many: it’s instantaneous, versatile, cost-effective and global in scope. It’s a great way to spot trends and competition, and find top influencers who may be willing to help promote your brand--or, at the very least, serve as an example of the do’s of the Twitterverse. And ultimately, it can’t be beat for networking. But before you embark on a Twitter marketing campaign, consider a few key actions:

Prepare a solid strategy to guide you

To build a customer base, it’s necessary to have every step and tactic planned out, to know all about your community, and to participate in the top conversations of the day. This applies both online and offline. Decide what, when and how often to post, and whether to retweet content or make an original tweet.

Build brand awareness and loyalty

Start with word-of-mouth publicity, follow top companies and industry leaders and share your knowledge and expertise. Continue with an active online presence and keep followers and clients alike up-to-date on your company’s work.

Remember SEO

Be sure to optimize your Twitter page so it gets picked up by the major search engines. Use the right keywords for your business and industry, and use them often. Keep your tweets between 120-130 characters, and make them compelling.

Monitor your progress

Use the right tools to measure the reach, influence and value of your Twitter presence and brand. Save time and resources by using such social media platforms as HootSuite, TweetDeck and Help Desk Software.

Engage with your clients

Nurture relationships on a small scale for profit on a large scale. Join conversations and start your own. Respond to and retweet posts about your business and your brand. Be honest and open. Good dialogues can quickly turn into actions.

Be human

See Twitter as more than a means of squeezing out dollars from clients. Share the human side of your company by tweeting about universal experiences and injecting light humour into your posts once in a while.

Reward loyalty

Find a way to reward loyal customers and followers who tweet positive messages about your business. Offer incentives and tangible products for good publicity and press from tweeters.

You have just a bit more than a split-second to make a good--or great--impression. Make it with Twitter. Work in concert with your online community to create engaging conversations and spur action. Tweet, and watch your business grow.

Maya Sokolovski