A while back I wrote a piece on Blogging tools you'll actually use to run and grow your blog. I received a lot of great feedback on that series of posts and I wanted to provide a similar short list for running and growing your Twitter community.

Instead of a frighteningly comprehensive list of every Twitter tool under the sun, below are just the 6 that I think are particularly useful and effective for starting to really engage people on Twitter.

The first 3 are kind of standard/basics so skip 'em if you're a Twitter veteran. The second three are tools you may not have heard of and should check out because they'll enable you to do things that you can leverage for additional exposure, traffic, and customers.

The Basics

Link Shorteners - the vast majority of posts I see on Twitter are not the "what I ate for breakfast" posts, but people sending links to content - articles, videos, pictures etc. This is a great way to help people understand your area(s) of interest and expertise as well as help them find great content online. The basic purpose of a link shortener is to help you get around Twitter's limit for the length of each of your posts (or tweets).

You have only 140 characters to work with so sites like Bit.ly, tr.im and TinyURL will take your long, long URLs:

and turn them into nice 15-20 character ones à la:
http://bit.ly/dudwkJ (go ahead, click it!).

Many of the tools you'll use to post messages on Twitter (see Shortlist of Twitter Apps for Your Desktop and Pick the Right Twitter Tool: Mobile Apps), come with built in URL shorteners.

In addition to the practical necessity of shorter links, most of these shortening tools also provide great tracking! You can see how many people clicked on your links, which links were most popular, when people clicked etc. to inform you about which topics are most popular with your Twitter audience.

TweetMeme - the ubiquitous grey and green "retweet" box (which you see in the top right area of this post), allows readers to click on the image and easily send or "retweet" your post to their own followers on Twitter. It's a great way to encourage your community to spread the word about what you're doing or share your words of advice/wisdom.

In addition TweetMeme actually tracks your links as they hop around through the Twitterverse and displays the total number of times your link was retweeted. Not only does this help you to understand the popularity of given topics, it brilliantly enables the raging competitor in each of us to benchmark the success of our post against others and even ourselves. Very handy!

TwitPic - one of the many tools that enbale you to take photos with your phone and post them onto Twitter. Other products that do roughly the same thing: TwitGoo, yfrog and img.ly. Often tools like these are also integreated into the Twitter mobile app you're using. You usually also get some statistics so you can track response to your photos. Images can be very engaging. You'll have to decide if you want to use a special tool like this or simply link people to a Flickr account, Facebook page or a page on your Web site that displays your photos.

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Stretch a Little...

There are lots of neat little apps out there that will enable you to get creative using Twitter to build a strong and engaged community. Once you're ready to amp up your Twitter strategy here are three apps to help you get started (note this amp-ing up could be now, or it could be never. Don't feel obliged. Fancy-schmancy Twitter strategies are not for everyone but this will help you get your head around the kinds of things you can do.):

TweetSwell – suggested to me by my friend, their PR guy @TheDaveClarke who helped me compile the apps for this article, TweetSwell enables you to create Twitter-based polls – with each response also doubling as a tweet to help the poll go viral. TweetSwell also works to maintain your brand identity by making sure your poll pages keep your customized Twitter layout. Similar tools are http://twtpoll.com and http://twtsurvey.com.


TwtVite - allows you to use Twitter to congregate in person - sort of similar to Eventbrite. Watch the little animation video to get a sense of how it works.

For an example with live-action characters, I've found this fantastic "case study" for you of a bar owner in Milwaukee who used TwtVite to help him host the biggest Tweetup in the history of the Midwest! To get the juicy details of how he did it, visit the page and scroll down to see his answer to the question "How did you get the word out before the event?"

TwtQpon - creates online coupons which can be posted to various social networks, including Twitter. While there are tools like Groupon, Living Social that also handle online couponing, TwtQpon is designed to work specifically within social networks.

Anyone out there used TwtQpon who can talk about it? I'm eager to hear business owners' experiences with it as I think online couponing is an amazing opportunity for small businesses to very clearly and directly drive a lot of new and repeat business.

Leave me a comment and tell everyone about what you've done. Be sure to include a "signature" in your comment that includes your name, company name and a link to your company Web site so we can learn more about you!

If you have had particular success with "local" marketing using tools like Twitter, Groupon, Yelp, Facebook, online coupons, or last minute deals and can back it up with real data, let me know. I will be featuring a variety of companies as examples right here in "The Internet Strategist" on Inc.
You can submit your social/local experiences here.

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