If you own a business, don’t make the mistake of assuming you can simply create a Twitter handle and let the hashtags fly. If you want to build a respectable presence in Twitterland, you’ll need to learn a few things first.

Twitter is your friend only if you want it to be

One bad, off-colored tweet can send your business into a public relations tailspin from which recovery is never guaranteed.

Twitter is a tool, and a powerful one at that, but like all powerful tools, you should learn how to use it before actually using it.

Your business relationship with Twitter can go one of two ways. You will either love it or hate it. It’s that simple. Those that love it know how to use it to their advantage. Those that hate it have likely felt the backlash that comes with failing to respect its power.

If you want Twitter to be your friend, you need to nurture that relationship.  Read articles about the best Twitter practices and start following companies that already have successful Twitter campaigns in place. Doing so will not only help make you and Twitter best buddies, it will also lead to increased sales, enhanced visibility and escalated customer interaction.

Put the keyboard down

Have you ever heard the saying “Too much of a good thing is bad?” Twitter kind of works like that. Don’t bombard your followers with a tweet every 20 minutes. As much as we love to share our every inner thought on the Internet, over tweeting will quickly desensitize your audience.

Twitter may be fun to use and also mildly addicting, but it makes logical sense to space your tweets out. A good rule of thumb is to tweet only when you have something important to say. Trust me, not everything you think is important actually is. Your company’s Twitter followers want substance, so rather than tweeting every business-related thought that pops in your head, consider what’s important to your followers and tweet that instead.

Don’t be afraid of plugins

The land of Twitter has many friends, and some of them are worth meeting. For example, Vine is an iOS/Android application that lets you create and share six-second looping videos. Many businesses are starting to experiment with Vine by using it to showcase new products, lift the company veil and even run contests. Get creative with Vine and watch user engagement skyrocket.

Another application worth taking a look at is HootSuite. This is a fantastic program that allows you to organize and schedule tweets, gauge message effectiveness and generate detailed analytic reports.  HootSuite has really become an essential tool for every business engaged in social media marketing, and we consider it a must-have extension for companies using Twitter.

There are literally hundreds of apps designed to enhance your Twitter experience. Our suggestion is to do some homework, play around with a few plugins and choose the ones that will help your business grow.

Keep your posts fresh and push the envelope

Telling people that it’s raining outside your office is a good example of a stale, boring tweet. At the end of the day, you need to make people care about what you have to say otherwise no one will interact with you on Twitter.

When trying to come up with an effective way to reach your customers, ask yourself, “What would interest me if I were to follow this brand?"

In the world of eCommerce, for example, Twitter is an extremely effective tool when it comes to making announcements that relate to flash sales, in-store discounts, free shipping, etc… Online shoppers tend to love these types of tweets so long as you don’t overdo it.

If you want to separate yourself as a Twitter trendsetter, you’ll need to push the envelope a bit.  Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, do some research and come up with creative methods to get your message across in a fresh, new way. Business owners everywhere are vying for your customers' attention, so if you want to create a small army of loyal brand enthusiasts, devise a way to outshine the competition.

Use Twitter to truly connect

The purpose of Twitter is to connect with people, and one of your primary responsibilities as a business owner is to do just that.

Tweeting for tweets-sake is never a good idea, and that’s why we recommend establishing a game plan. For example, schedule tweets ahead of time and structure content to deliver valuable, fun and interesting company information. Steer clear of boring and irrelevant Tweets.

Twitter doesn’t have to be all business all the time. You can do cool things like give followers behind-the-scenes access to your company by posting videos and pictures of your employees. You can also keep things light by running interactive competitions that promote sales and solicit user engagement.

How you use Twitter is entirely up to you, but failing to genuinely connect with followers will only hurt you in the long run.

To follow or not to follow, that is the question

Just because someone follows your company’s Twitter feed doesn’t mean you need to follow them back. This is a common misconception in Twitterland, and following everyone who follows your business will harm it in two ways.

First, having an abundance of followers will clog your feed. So rather than reading tweets that are valuable to your company, you will get bombarded with status updates from "Kelly” who really likes cute kittens (Awesome). Second, following too many people can hurt your business credibility.  If you choose to follow Justin Bieber and his gaggle of Tweenland cronies, how can you expect people to take your business seriously?

Having followers on Twitter is great, following everyone and their sister; not so much. Be exclusive and only follow companies/people that are relevant to your business. If you want to stay up-to-date on all things Kardashian, create a personal Twitter handle and have a blast.