When you hear people chatting casually about being "followed" are you ready to alert the authorities about a possible stalker? Upon hearing the word "hashtag" do you immediately think it's a hip new dance move? If so, you may just need a wee bit of Twitter education.

So, Twitter, what's it all about? Well to start, the social network is one of the only places we're actively encouraged to "follow" other people. But these people may not just be individuals you like the look off from their biogs (or pictures) they could be businesses that you're interested in, news stations, your favourite football team and of course, celebrities. In fact, following complete strangers on Twitter is seen as the norm, and having an online chat with someone you haven't met in person is even better.

In business, this social tool can prove invaluable. Whether you want to connect more personally with your customers, keep an eye on your competitors or generate leads, Twitter is an ideal social media platform because it is so versatile. Never mind the restrictions on character counts in a post (limited to 140 characters, so no long rants), you can develop hashtags (#) for campaigns, use the advanced search tools to see if anyone is talking about your brand, and best of all you can talk to people. That's right, actually engage in a conversation with someone you otherwise may not have had the chance to meet, now that is #priceless.

So, what is a hashtag? A hashtag is a way of marking and monitoring keywords or topics in a tweet. For instance, if you're watching ITV's X Factor and want to know what everyone else is saying about it, you can use #XFactor to see their opinions and connect with everyone who is watching and tweeting about it.

To create a hashtag you simply insert the # symbol before the word or phrase you want to monitor and/or trend, but remember you can't include any spaces or other symbols, and then simply click on the hashtag to see if anyone else is talking about the same topic. Why do this? To then connect with likeminded people, the chances are if they're already talking about a similar topic they will like what you have to say – so tweet them.

For businesses developing their brand, hashtags are an amazing tool to implement when creating a campaign. Don't believe us? Just keep an eye out for adverts from big brands; we guarantee the majority now include # to encourage people to get involved on Twitter.

There are a few things to consider though. As a business using Twitter you're probably going to be judged on your Twitter etiquette, one thing in particular is your follower to following ratio. Having a lot of followers on Twitter is important as it means you're popular, interesting and people want to know more about you, however , if you've followed twenty-thousand accounts on Twitter, it looks obvious you're just trying to get some attention and gain the same amount of followers back (which rarely happens), and makes you look like an attention seeker. Not great.

Don't get us wrong, we're not saying you shouldn't follow anybody on Twitter. It's just all about balance. You should only follow accounts you think are relevant, after all, Twitter is a social network so you should use it for just that, networking. Follow accounts you find interesting or relevant to your business and don't be afraid to reply to tweets you find particularly interesting. Seen something you want to share with your own followers? Don't be shy, give it a retweet.

Another thing that's frowned up in the Twittersphere is the way in which you interact with your followers. For instance, do you just tweet general business updates aimed at all followers? Or, do you engage in captivating conversations with individuals or other businesses after tweeting an engaging update? The idea is to balance the two.

Here at ramarketing we love to have a good old chinwag with our followers, and we also like to share updates for the world to see (yes we like a hashtag) and it doesn't matter whether it's a picture of what we've been eating in the office that day or a great marketing article that's grabbed our attention, we like to balance casual conversation with intriguing updates, and so should you.

So, the next time you get a positive response to a tweet you've sent out why not tweet back and ask what they liked about it? Bingo, it's conversation time.

So, there you have it, a few basic Twitter rules. New to Twitter? Don't worry, your follower to following ratio should improve if you have lots of lovely content for your followers to see.

Article by Holli Brown of ramarketing and PR.

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