According to most sources, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and receive messages known as tweets. Unfortunately, even this description to the uninitiated can seem like a foreign language.

Social networking is commonly associated with people sharing common interests via the web with the most well know sites for enabling this being Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. And whereas blogging is a means of someone providing regular information or commentary via the web, a micro-blog means that the quantity of information provided is limited.

Twitter is therefore a site that enables people (as individuals or on behalf of organisations or businesses) to share information with other interested parties in short bursts of information.

As mentioned earlier, these short messages are known as tweets and can be a maximum of 140 characters.

When you create a Twitter account you can set up a profile describing you or your organisation which other people can view. You can then search for people or organisations that you would like to receive information from and then ‘follow’ them. You will then receive any twitters that they post. Equally, other people will be able to follow you on Twitter.

So what’s the point of all this?

In some cases Twitter can be a form of entertainment – for example, Stephen Fry currently has over three million followers, while it can also be a great source regular, up to date information from a trusted source.

How can Twitter work for a business?

A Twitter account can be a fantastic tool to promote your business to a worldwide audience. To maximise this opportunity you need to become a trusted source for your industry and if you can be entertaining too then so much the better.

Twitter can also be used to ask for assistance with something – imagine being able to ask hundreds or even thousands of people who share your interest about a particular issue! You can also look for opportunities – for example, The PC Support Group noticed that the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce was struggling to fill its next news letter and we had a local story ready to go so we sent it to them and hey presto, they had something to add to their newsletter and we received publicity.

For Twitter to ‘work’ for you, there are some ‘rules’ or etiquette to follow, the key is to develop a style of your own. Don’t expect quick results, building trust and relationships takes tenacity and time.

Here are 20 top tips for getting the most out of Twitter:

1. Add value – share interesting or useful info, blogs (others as well as your own) etc

2. Always respond to peoples @ messages

3. Avoid political, religious and other subjects which people may find offensive

4. Don’t expect Twitter to deliver revenue alone, it is only ONE element of the strategy

5. Follow people who are in your field or area of interest

6. Give – don’t take

7. Have an picture of you or your company logo

8. If someone RT re-Tweets a message – send them a thank you

9. In marketing messages use appropriate keywords

10. It’s not the number of followers but the number of Re-Tweets you get – if people re-tweet you know you have tweeted something people find interesting.

11. Make sure your BIO is up to date

12. Only directly promote your services less than once every 10-20 tweets

13. Rerunning tweets occasionally is a good idea

14. Set your wallpaper to promote your message

15. Treat followers with respect & courtesy & every now & then thank them

16. Tweet regularly – at least once a day. More if you have the time and material.

17. Tweet to show you are more than a marketing machine

18. Twitter is not an Instant Messenger service – keep private discussions short

19. Want more followers? Re-tweet the good stuff you find

20. Work on building a relationship-not pushing message to people Twitter has also spawned a huge array of application to help you make the most of the service.
Here are our picks of the top Twitter tools for businesses:

1. Tweetdeck

This time-saving application operates on your desktop. Through it, you can not only tweet, reply, direct message, and retweet, but create groups of followers, shorten URLs, send pictures, and execute customized searches. You do all this, and more, through Tweetdeck’s dashboard, which offers all the features in one place. See www.tweetdeck.com. It is now also available for the iPhone.

2. Twitterberry

Twitterberry is like a Tweetdeck for your Blackberry. You can tweet, reply, retweet, send direct messages, browse users, post compressed links, view Twitter trends, and more. Other mobile phones will have their own Twitter clients, which a simple Google search should help find.

3. Twitt(url)y

Twitt(url)y tracks and ranks URL shared on Twitter by popularity. A quick glance at a Twitt(url)y list will help you peg trends, popular products and reports, and gauge what’s on peoples’ minds. Retweetist and Tweetmeme provide similar services.

4. Twellow

Twellow calls itself the Twitter Yellow Pages. Unlike the traditional phone book, however, Twellow lets you search Twitter users by category or keyword, helping you find networking contacts, competitors, and other people to follow.

You can follow The PC Support Group at http://twitter.com/PCSupportGroup