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Not sure how to get started with Twitter, what to focus on, how to find the time to keep up with tweeting, or how to effectively tap into this social media tool? Follow these seven principles to get started on the right path.

C1.     Create a Strategy – Before jumping on the bandwagon, define what it is you’re hoping to achieve by being on Twitter. Addressing this important step will start you down the right track. For instance, when I started tweeting, I decided to only tweet about information and topics of interest to B2B marketers (my target audience). By being clear about this, I’m able to focus my daily efforts. Plus, my followers know just what they can expect from me. If I had approached Twitter without a strategy, I may have started tweeting about a mishmash of topics that failed to appeal enough to incent people to follow my tweets.

2.     Commit Your Time – Like anything you expect to see results from, Twitter takes nurturing. It’s no good to just show up once in a while. You need to tend to your Twitter account by delivering a steady stream of tweets and engaging with those who follow you and those you follow.

3.     Center on Valuable Content –Adopt the mind-set of delivering information that others will find valuable. That means you shouldn’t send out tweets ad nauseum about your new product features, the new VP you just brought on board, and opening a new office. It also means you will likely need to point to content produced by other folks a good deal of the time – and that’s okay.

4.     Curate Others’ Content – Some people get overwhelmed about the thought of opening a Twitter account, wondering “what will I tweet?” As I mentioned in #3, remember that you can point to content created by other folks. (And you can use tools such as Curata to easily find this content.) Not only does this make it easier to find something to tweet about on a regular basis, it turns you into a valuable resource.

5.     Call Upon Tools – Take advantage of the variety of tools designed to help find folks to follow, shorten URLs and manage your tweet streams, including wefollow, bitly, TweetDeck, HootSuite, andCoTweet. There are numerous tools available to you – and many of them are free.

6.     Consistently Use Hashtags – To help others find the content you’re sharing, be sure to includehashtags in your tweets. That way, if folks conduct a search on a certain topic or are following a certain topic stream in their Twitter client, your tweets will show up.

7.     Cultivate Relationships – One of the most welcomed by-products of being on Twitter is making connections that likely wouldn’t happen otherwise. Don’t let these opportunities go to waste! Spend the time finding out about the people in your Twittersphere and reach out to start a conversation. Likewise, be sure to respond when others call you out. And look for chances to move the conversation into the real world, such as by meeting at a local coffee shop or conference you plan to attend.