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Social Media is no longer optional for businesses - it's a must-have and Twitter is one of the most-used Social Networks out there. Everyone has Twitter, so if you don't it's about time you did!

In an ideal world, every business would have their own Marketing/PR team to run their social presence for them, but not many start-up's or small businesses have the resources or can justify the additional costs for this. This means you're going to have to do it yourself. But wait - before you even think of sending that first tweet, there's a few things you need to understand. Twitter Law. Don't worry, it actually doesn't exist, but today that's what I'll be calling it in order to get my message across. Twitter law's not so much a legal manual - more of a do's and don'ts list that'll help you get the most out of the social network. If you're aware of these do's and don'ts before giving your business a voice on Twitter, you're going to reduce the risk of damaging your brand/reputation, and you're also going to see better results.

Today I'm going to give you five tips to help get you started. Following my tips, trust me, you'll be en-route to Twitter success in no time at all.

1. Don't be an egg

twitter-eggNobody likes a Twitter egg, so don't be that egg.

If you're genuinely a Twitter virgin you may well be wondering what an earth I'm talking about, so allow me to explain. An 'egg' is a person who still has the default display pic on their Twitter profile (which yep, you guessed it; is a pic of an egg). They come with various colour backgrounds, but they all feature the same old egg.

Instead, be creative - edit your profile and use your company branding to bring your Twitter profile to life. For your display pic, use your company logo or a picture of yourself. You can also upload a background image, a cover image (sits behind your profile/ display pic), and you can also change the colour of links within your tweets. If you're not technically-minded or able to use PhotoShop, ask someone to help you out. Or of course, you could just hire us.

2. Find and follow influential people in your industry or niche

Using Twitter's in-built search feature, find and follow the most influential people from your industry or area of expertise. This may or may not include your competitors (try and see past that, you're there to network and who knows, you may even learn something from them).

Many so-called "Marketing experts" will suggest following any old users who 'follows back' (#Followback), just so you can bump up your numbers. I'm against this*. The aim with your Twitter account should be to network with people who have an interest in your niche. Why? Because they're the people who are most likely to become a client, customer, engage with you, and/or share the content which you publish.

3. Be an ice-breaker

It's important to break the ice with people who have followed you as these are the people you'll later be looking to engage.

It's easier to break the ice early on while you have reason to tweet them - simply thank them for following you. "Hi Roger, thanks for following me :-)" works well, try it. Or you could even take it a step further, for instance let's assume 'Roger' has a photo of a car as his profile pic: "Thanks for the follow, Roger. The car in your profile picture looks awesome, is it yours?". Bam! Instant ice-breaker. From there-on, you and that follower are no longer strangers.

Get acquainted.

4. Follow back, but remain disciplined

When someone follows you, don't instantly assume they're worthy of a follow-back. Check out their profile first - firstly, does it look like a genuine account or is it a spammer? Secondly, do they tweet regularly? A few other things to consider: Have they been engaging with people (check their tweets)? Check their follower stats - if they follow 5,000 people but only have 150 followers that usually tells you they're not worth following. And last but definitely not least - do they look like they have an interest in your niche?

Why be so careful when following people back? Numbers.

Last thing you want to do is end up following more people than what follows you - reason for this is that when someone checks out your profile to see if you're worth following, they'll check your following/ follower ratio and if it's negative - they'll assume you're a bad tweeter/ not worth following.

So, try to keep your following/ follower numbers even (or better still, have more followers than the number of people you follow).

5. Perform regular follower maintenance

You really need to keep on top of your following/ follower counts so as to keep your counts level or positive (more followers than following) and it'll soon become a full-time job if you monitor this manually. Thankfully, there are some great apps out there to help you manage your counts.

Tweepi - this is a free web-based app which allows you to see which users you're following but aren't following you back. It also lets you see which users are following you, but you aren't following. You can stick a tick in the box next to multiple users and bulk follow or unfollow them at the click of a button. Click here to check it out.

LazyUnfollow - this works in the same way as Tweepi, but is an app for the iPhone. Great for performing follower maintenance on the go. It costs $0.99 (around 79p) but is well worth the money. Click here to check it out.
Update 05/10/2014: LazyUnfollow has gone downhill in recent months, and I'm now using FindUnfollow. A free version is available, although for the sake of 69p it's worth purchasing the Pro version.

When unfollowing users who aren't following you back, don't be too harsh - some users are worth following whether they're following you back or not. I'm referring to users who offer 'value' in their tweets - you know, the kind of people that you're looking to follow in the footsteps of. People who share valuable information, link to quality articles, tweet funny pics, or interesting and entertaining videos.

Bonus - cheat your way to your first 100 (real!) followers

Starting out on Twitter is the hard part - gaining your first 100 followers will seem like a huge mountain to climb and many of you will feel like giving up before reaching this first milestone. However - you can cheat a little.

You can literally 'use' the #followback crowd to work your way to your first 100 followers. Here's a few lists of users which follow back: List oneList two. Oh, and here's a list of verified users who will follow back (you know, people with the little blue 'verified' badge on their profiles - music artists, etc). Go follow 100 or so of these users then wait a week and most of them will have followed you back.

Why commit this naughtiness? Because, without any followers most people will take one look at your profile and assume you're not worthy of a follow. By using this 'cheat', you're giving yourself a head-start. They're real people, not 'fake followers' so don't worry. But remember - this is only temporary. Once you've built up a more targeted following, you can then go back and unfollow this lot.

In conclusion

It's a long haul to Twitter fame and it's going to take some time, patience, discipline, and you're going to need to use it regularly, but if you hang in there and follow these five tips, you'll soon be on the road to Twitter success.

Do you have any Twitter tips that you'd like to share with us?