6) We're a small company trying to get a Twitter presence. Any ideas on how to get followers?
Start by following others. A good place to find people is Listorious, a site that aggregates Twitter lists of professionals by position. Once you're following the right people, retweet their messages. They will see your retweet, and some of them will follow you back.
The real key, however, is to provide useful information. This can be in the form of articles or blog entries from your own site or those that you find elsewhere. Some people swear by the 7:2:1 rule—that is, seven out of every 10 tweets are links to someone else, two are links to your own site and one is openly promotional. That means thinking first of how you can help others by giving them useful advice. If you do, they'll follow you in return.
7) How do you grow your following on Twitter?
First of all, be interesting. Post useful information that helps others do their work, educates, informs and entertains. You will not build a follower base if you're boring. Also, follow the people whom you want to follow you. Comment on their tweets, retweet them and complement them on a job well done. They will come to recognize you and many will follow you back.
Remember to find lists of people with similar job titles and interests, as on Listorious and TweepML. Pay special attention to promoting and interacting with their members. Each Friday, post a list of people you follow under the hash tag #FollowFriday or #FF. Many of them will thank you and follow you in return.
8) What do you think of using a scheduling service like HootSuite
HootSuite is only one of several tools that can schedule tweets for designated times in the future. With these, you can schedule the message to go out, for example, at 9 a.m. the next morning. You can also use schedulers to time your tweets for international audiences, tweeting (for example) for 12 hours in the future to reach followers in Asia.
9) How do you handle people who tweet negatively about your business?
Consider first if they have a point. Perhaps there's something about your business process you should change. If you're sure they won't have a discussion with you (I recommend trying to engage with them twice), then you might consider creating a page on your website that gives your point of view. Call it something like “The Facts About...” and tweet it to detractors or simply as an occasional reminder that there is another side to the story. Avoid public debates with critics. Try to take the discussion to a private place as quickly as possible.
10) Our business requires nondisclosures, and we can't talk about anything we do for our customers. What should we tweet about?
Lots of companies in regulated industries face this problem, yet it hasn't stopped Wells Fargo from blogging. You need to find topics that will not run afoul of regulators, but that's usually not too difficult.
For example, a bank could support a blog or customer community about saving for college or running a small business. A health care provider could focus on tips for staying healthy, or health advice for people over 60. A financial services firm might talk about the basics of accounting for small-business owners or explain news about the tax code.
Always be sure to run your plan by your lawyers but, if you focus on being helpful in a general sense to a particular community you want to reach, you can stay out of trouble.
Paul Gillin is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB.