If there’s one word that is on the lips of every internet marketer or internet guru, CEO or SEO, intern or established internet veteran; it’s Twitter.

The hottest property on the internet right now, it has provoked immense debate over the site’s likely effectiveness in the long term versus its obvious impact in the short term. Furthermore, comparisons with the mighty Facebook and even Google put the fairly new and rising star of internet media and darling of the rich and famous, firmly in the spotlight.

But what does twitter offer the sports industry and your company? Is it worth investing in as part of your marketing mix? How effective can it be? What are the risks?

Well, firstly and quite importantly, Twitter is free. OK, so we all expect to be able to use such tools for free as if it were our common right, but the fact is that this is no different and so removes one of the most significant obstacles we may face when deploying or even testing new technology to our companies every day processes.

Contrary to some reports, it’s also damn easy to use. All you need is a mobile phone or internet connection, the interface is clean and simple, and because the API is open to developers, there are loads of different 3rd party applications you can use to make your Twitter experience even more effective. I’ve tested a few, but my firm favourite currently being used at Fidgetstick/ is TweetDeck, which is available both on the iPhone and for your Desktop.

TweetDeck allows you to view and use multiple Twitter accounts in one easy to navigate interface (it also has Facebook integration too!). You download a piece of software to your desktop, sign in and BAM! You’re off and running. You can choose to view all updates, # tags, @ replies, RT retweets (I’ll explain more about these in the next blog post).

In all, I have 4 twitter accounts (having “streamlined” my profile pool down from 7), the main ones being Fidgetstick/ - for site updates, general communication, promoting the culture and appeal of the network; Fidgetstick/ Shopkeeper – for news relating to new products, exclusive offers, discounts, promotions and shop competitions and R3trosteve – my personal updates, interesting social media, my personal activities and views; along with a kind of separate private account. Imagine having to sign in and out every time I wanted to post a tweet on a different account!

Owning and operating multiple accounts is not uncommon, as it is all about being relevant and targeted to your audience. If you have different areas of your life and business and different agendas within those, then having multiple split personalities is much better than dumping everything into one profile and asking your followers to sift through the wreckage to find what they want or need. It is one sure fire way to LOSE followers. And that is the key to Twitter success.

So, for example, we differentiate between our main Fidgetstick/ profile to that of the Shopkeeper. The main reason being that the essence of the Fidgetstick/ community is that the shop is a value added resource for our members and that by being a member, you benefit from exclusive deals and offers you wouldn’t get elsewhere. We do not exist as a member network purely to move stock.

We categorically and emphatically believe that our shop should not lead the discussion, as this leads to a conflict of interest and confusion in our new and prospective members. Confusion = uncertainty and uncertainty = less action and less action = less members. And so we try not to mix the communication and therefore avoid such confusion.

By doing this we can concentrate equally on of each of these areas, without compromising the others message or value. Some people only follow Fidgetstick/, some only follow the Shopkeeper and some follow both, and that is fine. That’s as it is intended because you have to appreciate that you cannot satisfy everyone if you are truly focussed on your core message.

So what does this mean for your business? Let’s say you are a small, niche brand who has limited budget for marketing and looking to increase brand awareness, communicate your company culture and key messages to as wide an audience as possible. Have you considered Twitter as a medium? Well, perhaps you should, and here’s how you could do it…

1. Create a “Corporate Profile” – this will be professional, on brand, on message and relevant to the “business” side of your corporate personality. You tweet about company updates, new products and ranges, staff updates, marketing messages. A couple of things to point out here; 1) I’m not saying you should use this profile to sell stuff. Spammy hard sell “check out these products” and “buy this” just won’t cut it in the online marketing world. 2) It need not be boring. Your corporate communication should still impart the personality of the company, and so the tweets should be interesting, relevant, informative and of value to your followers. After all, they have selected to follow you because, at some point, they found that you met a need that they had at that point in time. The problem is, that it is very easy for you to be “unfollowed” if you fail to continue to meet that need. Try posting links to articles about your new eco-range of products and how the cradle to grave process impacts the environment, try generating consumer buzz by posting links to competitions for people design their own garments, or invites to talks, seminars or local events. Be creative. Be interesting. Be informative.
2. Create a “Personal Profile” – this will be an evolution of the corporate brand, a transformation into what the brand means to you as an individual. You may gasp in horror at the thought of this, but it is an effective way to communicate things that are a little more “off-the-wall” and perhaps not relevant to your company, but as they maybe relevant and personal to you, they have a different kind of value. Your company’s culture and values will be highly influenced by your own views, beliefs and interests – so don’t shy away from them. Just find the right time and the right place to make the most of them.
3. Encourage your staff to do this too. Effective management would recognise that they’re likely to have a personal profile anyway, so your efforts in trying to control this are futile. Your staff live the brand and their feedback and input can be of immense value to your business and your customers. Obviously, disillusioned and morale bashed staff are a risk, but no more of a risk than them being disillusioned and of low morale in the first instance. Do not think, not for one second, that if you do not plan and deploy this kind of strategy, that it won’t just happen anyway – such is the accessibility of these online communication tools.
4. Interaction between all of these.
• If you as a “business” engage in discussions with you as a “leader”, others will want to listen, learn and take part. What does this mean?
• If you as a “business” engage with your “staff”, you will be able to listen, learn and take part. What does this mean?
• If you engage with your staff as a leader, you will be able to effectively influence and improve the business. What does this mean?
The fact that this takes place in such an open forum may seem scary, but done correctly (with the correct guidelines for protocols issued to staff) it will naturally attract outside interest and participation from potential new customers.

So in all, there are a lot of reasons to invest – not financially, but in terms of time and resource, in the phenomenon that is Twitter. Done correctly, the open market of millions of users is not to be sneezed at. And that’s not all. Because of the level of access you have to the Twitter engine, the time you invest in Tweeting can be improved exponentially, when you take advantage of the many ways possible to lift your feed and place it within other sites all around the web, including social network homepages, your own website, your blog – in fact anywhere that will allow you to embed an html code snippet. The possibilities are limitless, and it’s only going to get better, as Twitter work out ways to use the information being tweeted and they refine the search mechanisms behind the hype enthused interface.

So I guess you should give it a try. But only if you're willing to work at it.