Chances are, if you're not an early adopter type, you may not have heard of Twitter, the online community that is a kind of instant-messaging social network. Users send updates of up to 140 character (about 2 sentences) out to their followers--people who choose to receive their messages--and read the messages of those they follow. Starting with Twitter is both easy and hard--anyone can send out messages, but if no one is 'following' your updates, it's like going to the mall and talking randomly in the food court. (I put a few tips and resources on how to use twitter below).

Why learn about yet another new communications technology before you've mastered all the others? Ask Laura Fitton, aka "Pistachio" on Twitter. A small business owner since 2002, Fitton is a presentation and speaking coach and consultant. In 2007, after a move to the Boston area, she lost several clients and had no network in town. A couple of awkward chamber of commerce meetings and $2,000 spent on a targeted direct marketing campaign delivered nothing. The only place where she was connecting with new business contacts regularly was online.

Fitton got a client from answering a LinkedIn Answers question, and realized the power of online tools to serve as her marketing strategy. She began blogging as a way to talk about her business. (Fitton recounts her start in social media here.) At one point she had heard of Twitter, and was negative about it. But on May 17th, 2007, Laura joined Twitter and started following people she found interesting. Some followed her back, and recommended her to others.

As her Twitter followers increased, Laura used it as both a social and business channel. She sent out useful links to content she was interested in, pointed people to blogs and other Twitters with good ideas. Her marketing strategy was being human, letting people know her interests and capabilities. She's also following a basic principle of Social Media: Be useful to customers.

Her advice on how to turn that Blogging and Twittering into business? "If you're a business where expertise matters, consider blogging just to get your ideas out there. Having a site will give you a place to send potential clients, who can see your work, your ideas, and how you think." It allows potential clients to know her style, which makes for a quicker turn-around from proposal to work. "They already know what they're getting, and it is full speed ahead."

How do you find your own "village," as Fitton calls it, on Twitter? With so many people, it may be hard to figure out whom to follow. Use tweetscan.com or summize.com to search for topics you're interested in, then follow the people who are Twittering on those topics.

Now, with over 4,300 followers, Fitton says she's got projects and clients in areas beyond her standard consulting, as well as two book deal proposals and an offer to be the first U.S. employee of a firm looking to expand to the U.S. All from answering Twitter's one question, "What are you doing now?"

Here are a handful of Twitter resources I feel comfortable recommending:

1) Twitter in Plain English (a clever and fun two-minute video)

2) How to use Twitter (another blogger's solid step-by-step)

3) 10 Ways to use Twitter (yet another blogger, with creative Twitter ideas)

4) Searching Twitter via Summize.com

5) Five sites for finding people to follow on Twitter:
www.twubble.net
www.twannabe.com
www.chrisfinke.com/twitslikeme/
www.twitterlocal.net
twitter.alltop.com

6) Last but not least, follow me (Howard Greenstein) on Twitter!