<< Continued from Part 1: Why I Love Twitter

Before you get started, it’s important that you decide  what brand to tweet —and commit to that brand for the long haul. In other words, will you be representing yourself? Your self storage company? Both? (Let me nag you more about branding in Part 4: What’s Your Story?)

It’s interesting to note that many companies choose to glue a human face onto their corporate tweets. They assign one person to actively monitor, participate in and engage others on Twitter throughout the day. Some of these corporate profiles even show “Who’s Tweeting” information via custom-designed art and avatar (that little image that shows up next to all of your messages).

For example, @mashable is an online magazine with many writers and a huge following; yet the company’s CEO is its sole face and voice on Twitter. Zappos, JetBlue, Best Buy, Southwest Air… Take a read of these companies’ tweets and you’ll see plenty of posts that begin, “I think…” “I like…” “I’ll see what I can do…”

With tweet power comes tweet responsibility

Assigning one Twitter “community manager” is both efficient and consumer-friendly. Read more about it in the July 2010 edition of Business Week: “Twitter, Twitter Little Star.” However, you can get into trouble if this person injects too much opinion.

No matter whom you put in charge of Twitter, remember that you’re a business, providing a service to a diverse community with attitudes that fall all over the map. Controversial opinions have no place in a professional self storage facility’s identity—unless your identity is intentionally linked to a given perspective (e.g. I imagine a place called Gun Safe Self Storage would probably be run by proud NRA members).

Tweeters can lose customers or jobs by veering into controversial territory. Take, for example, the CNN news anchor who was recently fired after tweeting praise for a Hezbollah leader. You might be surprised how far and fast a ticked-off person can carry a disagreeable tweet.

Register on Twitter, it’s super easy!

Twitter has the world’s easiest website registration process. Anyone who has ever used a computer can get through it in about three minutes.

After you click the bright orange button on the front page, the system only requires your name, username, password, and email address, plus a “captcha” question asking you to key-in a couple of weird words to prove you’re human. No credit card or personal information (like mailing address or phone) is required. Twitter is free.

If you want to set up multiple accounts on Twitter, you’ll have to have a unique email address for every account.

Name (this is you or your company)

Where Twitter asks for your name, enter good info so that your friends, customers, colleagues and business neighbors can find your account and “follow” you. Twitter has a search engine, so people can find you by both your username and real name.

Username (this is your Twitter “identity”)

Give your username a good think. It’s focal – just like the domain name for your website – and hints of what people can expect.

Try to communicate who you are so that people can find you and will have a bit of a clue whether to follow you. For example, @ninjaselfstore is more communicative and instantly implies more credibility than @johnrocks1246. If you can match your username to your domain name (e.g. www.ninjaselfstorage.com) that’s ideal.

Keep it short and memorable; you’ll have 15 characters max. If your username is “ninjaselfstore,” your direct Twitter address will be twitter.com/ninjaselfstore and your identity will look like this @ninjaselfstore, which appears next to all of your tweets.

Twitter will let you change your username any time you want to, but that might confuse your followers. So once you start to build up your network there, you won’t want to change.

You’re registered! So what’s next?

Twitter will send you a confirmation email; give it a click.

The website will attempt a friendly walkthrough suggesting three easy steps to get started: (1) Browse Interests, (2) Find Friends, (3) Search for Anyone. I’d just skip all of that for now; you can come back later and find plenty of people to follow (see Part 3: Building a Following).

You’ll be poured right into an empty “timeline” where, eventually, it will display a long list of tweets. However, before you answer Twitter’s famously simple question, “What’s Happening?” I recommend preparing your page…

Set up your account profile

See the plain navigation bar at the very top of the page? Click “Profile.”

First, upload a  picture .  Don’t skip this step!  If the default avatar (a pudgy little bird in a bright square) accompanies your tweets, it makes you look like you don’t take your time on Twitter seriously. People are less likely to follow loiterers. You might choose your logo, a bright picture of your facility, or a crisp picture of your company’s envoy tweeter. Try to avoid a picture with a busy background.

Next, key-in your  location . This can help localize your profile, which can be good for smaller self storage operations. If you have multiple self storage facilities, you could key-in your region, “Southwestern U.S.” or open multiple Twitter accounts with locally-attuned managers doing the tweeting.

Add your  website  address or your StorageFront page address, e.g. www.storagefront.com/ninjaselfstorage

Finally, fill in your  bio . Twitter only allows 160 characters (with spaces)—barely more than a tweet. So choose two or three key facts about you and your business, then turn them into a sentence. Here’s an example bio for Ninja Self Storage, “We’re Ninja Self Storage, a covert operation specializing in the arts of space savings, including espionage, infiltration, climate control.” Voila: 138 characters.

Additional settings

Go ahead and fiddle around in the  design  area; that’s the fun part. On the other hand, design matters much less to your overall Twitter success than your username and your methods of tweeting—which appear in others’ pages. People don’t typically visit individual pages nearly as often as they watch their own page rattle off others’ tweets.

You can create a custom background pretty easily if you want to promote more facilities or web connections there. For example, you might design a JPG image (<800 k) with these words in the upper left corner: “Here are other places to find us online! [StorageFront, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Web Site, SSA, State SSA].” On @storagefront, we show other ways to contact us.

For now, let’s go easy with a default background, because I’m bored writing setup steps and ready to move on to Part 3: Building a Following. Twitter offers 20 different themes to choose from and they’re all pretty good-looking. Click one. You look great, now let’s go!

Here we go: your first tweet

So, “What’s Happening?” Type something using 140 characters or less—including spaces. (See Part 5: How to Tweet for tips on writing good notes.)

If you embarrass yourself you can always delete your tweets. (Note: If your tweets feed into other social networks like LinkedIn, you cannot delete those.) If you’re particularly brilliant in a tweet, “star” it so you can find it later.

<< Part 1: Why I Love Twitter | Part 3: Building a Following >>