"If there’s one thing you have if you run a small business, it’s time. If there’s one thing you probably don’t have, it’s money."

I have to credit the above statement to Will Critchlow, it condenses what I'm about to discuss in a simplified way.

Essentially social media costs nothing but can be a fairly time consuming practice depending on how many platforms you choose to use. Social media is also the key way for a small business to develop awareness, raise its profile, gauge its market and interact with existing and future customers. 

As a small business you're in a great position to start exploiting social media for all its worth.

As the UK is celebrating its first Small Business Saturday on 7th December 2013, here I present the first in a series of posts that will take a look at each individual social media platform, and highlight how your small business can wring the best out of each one. 

Let's begin with Twitter.


Should you spend time and money on an outside source to come and do your social media for you? Heavens no. Who knows your business better than you or your immediate colleagues (probably your friends and family) who helped you set up your business in the first place?

If you’re planning a social media campaign, it’s your personal interaction with customers and clear passion for your products that will win over users.

In many ways this personalisation will be what consumers seek your business out for, and set you apart from the big brands. You may not be able to compete with them in terms of pricing, you can certainly trounce them when it comes to service. Twitter is the perfect platform for this.

I’ve talked about London based steak restaurant Hawksmoor before but I should point out again how good a job it does with Twitter. 

The business may not be so small anymore, but owner Will Beckett still runs Hawksmoor’s Twitter page which is essentially a customer service channel. Hawksmoor has just opened another restaurant called Foxlow. Its Twitter page is equally as personable, but ramps up the humour somewhat:

The Scottish based craft-beer company Brewdog also runs a brilliant Twitter page

As far as I can tell, Brewdog responds to every single mention and tweet that comes its way, always with friendliness and good humour.

This is an extraordinarily thorough and time consuming strategy, but its also the reason why its achieved 38,868 followers and is becoming a ubiquitous brand in all the trendiest pubs and bars.

You don’t have to pay for expensive tools to measure engagement, just listen to people and chat to them.

In a recent study, it was discovered that 72% of customers expect complaints to be answered within one hour on Twitter and 53% expect a response in an hour if it's just a standard query. Your business is in a prime position to satisfy that large percentage of users.

In terms of conversational style, here are some pointers: 

  • Sarcasm doesn’t work in print: it’s incredibly easy to be quoted out of context, so just don’t bother.
  • Punctuation: avoid multiple exclamation marks, text speak, abbreviations (where possible) and for goodness sake, read back through your tweet before pressing send. Chances are you spelt something incorrectly in a rush.
  • The conversational approach is best: you’ll encourage responses and represent yourself in the best, most approachable and friendly light. Which is of course an accurate reflection of your business, right?


Consider Twitter only discount offers. Online clothes retailer Bonobos offered an exclusive one-day only Twitter sale. They called it a ‘Twixclusive’ and teased it a few days in advance.

Bonobos encouraged followers to retweet the offer, and once the retweets had reached a certain target, only then did the sale go live. 

The rewards for Bonobos: 80 retweets in eight minutes, 100 first time buyers, 1,200% ROI and, this being a major benefit for a small business, it was 13 times more cost effective then any other marketing effort that Bonobos had previously tried.

When promoting a sale or discount, if you want to reach maximum engagement, be sure to do the following:

  • Tease the sale in advance to raise interest.
  • Respond to followers to keep the conversation going.
  • Don’t forget to carry on tweeting during the campaign to keep up the momentum.

Content strategy

Find relevant content to share with your community: engaging and replying to followers is a must, but also pro-actively sharing with them useful content is important too. 

Getting the balance right between using Twitter as a marketing/broadcast platform and an engagement platform isn’t that difficult. Basically don’t broadcast your own content too much, just engage with your community in an open manner, then the occasional marketing tweet, written in your identifiable tone of voice, will achieve a much better and positive response.

Mix it up. Go off topic. Share content that isn’t even your own. Entertain your community and you’ll retain their interest and loyalty.

If you’re tweeting a link to something with a particularly unwieldly URL, use a shortening service like bit.ly or Google’s own URL shortener. It means you won’t have to sacrifice valuable characters, and indeed ‘character’ from your tweet.

Promote your Twitter page on your website

Make sure there are clear links on your homepage to your Twitter account. Use share and follow buttons on individual pages or pieces of content. Your consumers will be checking their own Twitter feeds much more often than visiting your website after all.

Consider hosting your Twitter feed on your homepage, it provides regular updates on your activity and show that you’re constantly active online and open to enquiries, when your website may not appear so lively.

Promoted Tweets

"If you can Tweet, you can advertise on Twitter" stated Twitter product manager Ravi Narasimhan.

As of this November, Twitter’s own advertising network is now open to all, not just US businesses. It’s a pay-per-action (or in fact, pay-per-follow) advertising platform where marketers will only be charged when users retweet, reply, favourite or follow your account via your promoted tweet. 

Twitter also offers you targeting options by interest, gender, geography, device, and also offers its own analytics package to track your advert’s progress.

Is this for you?

Theoretically you won’t have to pay anything if your promoted tweet fails to achieve any engagement.

The bidding process is similar to other paid search networks so you can budget accordingly and never exceed your maximum bid.

Do promoted tweets work?

The Twitter for Business team sent out an email recently using a Hockey themed clothing company called Gongshow Gear as an example. It claimed an increase of 20% in website traffic following its promoted tweets.

According to a study by Compete, Twitter users who were exposed to a retailer tweet who then visited that retailer’s website had a much higher intent to buy, over just regular search traffic or regular Twitter traffic.

That may seem obvious, as users clicking-through on an advert are of course interested in the product itself, but it shows that the right targeting can have a positive impact on your conversion rates.

Other useful tips:

Don’t forget to tweet at the weekend: sure, traffic is low, but that also means there’s less competition for follower’s attention. The big brands don’t bother tweeting at the weekend, that’s why you should.

Twitter handles: don’t forget to include the twitter handle of fellow colleagues, businesses or other important business figures when you mention them in tweets, this way they will receive your missive and give them a chance to interact with you or at least raise awareness of your business.

Be visual: more and more we’re realising the power of visuals when it comes to capturing attention (we’ll take a look at Pinterest for small businesses in a later post), so use the new image functionality of Twitter to your advantage. At the moment Twitter is using a letterbox style teaser for all images on its platform, so make sure you’re aware of this when uploading images. Here’s 10 brands using preview images creatively on Twitter.

Page layout: take a look at the design of your Twitter page. Don’t spend a lot of time on it, as users rarely actually see it, but do make sure you have a good, clear profile picture that represents your company’s logo. Also use a similarly iconic picture for your header, and for your background try these 20 wallpaper tips. This may seem blatantly obvious, but do make sure you have plenty of clear links to your website in the Twitter description or on the background image itself.

Hashtags: essentially Twitter’s bread and butter, but also its most irritatingly overused feature. Be careful with it. Don’t jump on every single trending hashtag as you’ll appear desperate, also don’t multiple hashtag in a single tweet. It’s annoying. Instead remain relevant, smart and funny with your hashtags, and only use them if there’s point in it. It’s impossible to pick or start a hashtag trend, so don’t even bother as it will only do your company more harm than good. Here’s nine simple tips for creating Twitter hashtags.

In conclusion…

Of course, one day if all goes well, you’ll end up becoming a big brand too. Then you won’t have any time at all. But you will have money. 

How do you maintain the same values you had when you were just a start-up? Just remember the lessons you learnt from those days hunched over a computer, fielding complaints and desperately trying to pare down a witty one-liner into 140 characters and remember it’s those users and that interaction that got you here in the first place.

In fact, try and pare down that witty one-liner to less than 140 character. It makes it easier to retweet.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things… 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 21 November, 2013 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (7)

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Jon Ewing

"If there’s one thing you have if you run a small business, it’s time. If there’s one thing you probably don’t have, it’s money."

I couldn't disagree more. It's the other way around. Running a small business means you don't have the burden of huge payroll costs and vast premises to be maintained. And small businesses can survive on very low profit margins because their costs are fixed and predictable, whereas corporates can get knocked sideways when a penny gets added to the price of a litre of petrol because they might be burning up a billion litres a year.

But one thing you don't have when you run a small business is time. If you're running a small business, in all likelihood you work late and you're no stranger to working weekends and quite possibly you can't remember the last time you had a holiday.

over 4 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

Great article but just to add to @Jon's comment I think using the right tools is absolutely essential as it makes you infinitely more productive and able to turn even a few minutes spent each day on Twitter in to meaningful ROI.

over 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Morning all,

Some great advice and examples here.

But i'm with Jon - as a small business owner myself, time is not a luxury i enjoy, rather the rapid passing of it as the miriad of fun things i want to do to promote my business escape me.

SOcial media is critical to who i am and what i do but even as an ecommerce consultant who knows what can and should be done, i struggle to do it as well as i could if time was on my side. A small business owner is the owner, manager, bus dev person, admin assistant, web manager, customer service agent, marketer etc.

I do agree that taking ownership of your own social media presence is important, leaving it to external support alone isn't sensible as you need to drive how you present yourself. However, for some small businesses, a specialist social media person can help them put a sensible plan in place and take advantage of the platform features they don't have time to get to grips with.


over 4 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@James - that's a great and balanced viewpoint, cheers.

@Jon - the statement wasn't meant to sound quite so controversial, I just wanted to push the point that personalisation is key to social media, and that any amount of time, no matter how small, spent engaging with users on an honest, one-to-one level, has a huge amount of value, heck even if it's just a couple of tweets a day. But of course every small business is different, and time is more limited for some than others.

And as @Justin says, there are plenty of tools out there that can make things more efficient and speedier.

Thanks for your input.

over 4 years ago



Well this small business doesn't have loads of money to throw around and unfortunately we don't have much time either!

over 4 years ago


Rachel Buck, Marketing Coordinator at Foolproof Ltd.

Great article. I would also add that social - especially Twitter - relies on being disciplined with yourself. It's very easy to spend hours trawling Twitter feeds looking for stories to share, or broadcasting yourself. Limit yourself to an achievable amount of time to spend and stick with it.

over 4 years ago


Joe Boon, Marketing Executive at Zeta

Great insights here as always from the Econsultancy team!

Too many businesses approach social media because they view it as a necessity without really stopping to consider the thought and strategy that needs to be put in to make it worthwhile.

Completely agree with Rachel - it is easy to lose hours trying to find the perfect story to share with your audience or tweet to favourite. Limit yourself to a time budget. Half an hour a day to maintain your account or a couple of hours throughout the week to schedule tweets.

We also created our own Small Business Guide to Twitter that compliments alot of what has been said here. Take a look guys and let me know what you think:


about 4 years ago

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