You can learn a lot from the Obama and Romney campaigns about how to use Twitter, says Shane Steele, Twitter's director of sales and marketing. Both campaigns are innovative; they tweet about events in real time, for instance, and show behind-the-scenes photos to followers.

"Because the political campaigns have to deal with a rapid response environment, there are some great lessons for brands to think about as they plan their own campaigns," said Steele. "There are more tweets every two days now than total tweets leading up to the 2008 election." 

Speaking in front of packed crowd of social media enthusiasts at the Pivot Conference in New York last night, Steele outlined techniques from the presidential campaigns you can apply to your small business:

1. Listen and respond in real time.

Actively monitor and comment on trending tweets to stay ahead of the conversation. "You see this unfolding in moments such as during the first debate," Steele explained. "The Obama team was refuting Romney's statements in real time."

Also, Steele pointed out, after Romney announced he would cut PBS's funding and mentioned "Big Bird" during the first debate, "Big Bird" began trending on Twitter. Early on, the TV network bought a "sponsored tweet" that turned up high on the list when people clicked on "Big Bird."  

2. Build and engage your community.

Find out what people expect and want from your brand. As an example, Steele said the Romney campaign posts behind-the-scenes campaign trail photos.

3. Show personality.

Have fun on Twitter. During Clint Eastwood's "Invisible Obama" speech next to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, the Obama digital media team tweeted a photo captioned: "This seat's taken." Witty and amusing tweets can show that you don't take yourself--or your company--too seriously.

4. Connect through common interests.

You can connect with a broader audience through common interests. For example, Steele said a third-party conservative group tweeted about ABC's Dancing With the Stars during the show.

5. Move people to action.

Steele says, like the political campaigns, you can use Twitter to trigger transactions. She described a study, albeit a disputed one, of how Twitter drives political donations.

One start-up that has effectively moved its Twitter followers to action is men's fashion e-commerce company Bonobos, which unlocks 24-hour sales after Twitter users retweet it a certain number times. "They had a 1,200% ROI," said Steele.