In 2006 it was MySpace, last year it was Facebook, and it seems this year Twitter is what everyone buzzing about.

While people are flocking to the site (Twitter claims that its user-base has increased sixfold in the last year), many marketers still aren't sure how to leverage Twitter as a tool to grow their business. This article will walk you through strategies that you can use on Twitter to reach your customers and grow your business.

First, before you develop your Twitter business strategy, you should become familiar with three Twitter search tools:

  1. Twitter Search: Formerly known as Summize, this tool was recently acquired by Twitter and integrated as its search platform. This is like your standard search engine, but it searches only Twitter. So you can search for your business, your employees, and industry-specific terms.
  2. TwitterLocal: You specify a location, and TwitterLocal will show you the tweets from people who have included in their profile that they are in that location. For example, you can get results from all Twitter users who say they live in New York City. TwitterLocal will also create a feed that you can subscribe to so that you can get updates as new tweets come in.
  3. Twellow: Twellow is a search engine that lets you search for people based on several dozen categories. For example, you can search for people in Social Media, Accounting, Environmentalist, and many other categories. It's a good way to find people who might be interested in a certain subject or industry.

Now, here are four ways you can use Twitter to grow your business.

1. Twitter as a customer service tool

Frank Eliason has become a bit of a social-media superhero this year; he has leveraged his ComcastCares account on Twitter to provide live, real-time customer service for Comcast customers.

Frank and his team monitor Twitter to find people who mention that they are having a problem with their Comcast service or who ask a Comcast-related question; the ComcastCares team swoops in to reply and either help solve their problem or put them in touch with someone who can address their concerns.

This has two big benefits for Comcast. First, it helps solve more problems as they happen for Comcast customers. But a big ancillary benefit is that it improves Comcast's image as the rest of us see how proactive it is about addressing problems and concerns from its customers. That greatly improves Comcast's image and reputation, especially among that early adopters and influentials who use Twitter.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier