You've just sent your latest tweet out into the giant black hole known as the Twitter stream.

Now what?

Are you confident that the time you devote to marketing on Twitter actually pays off? And if it is paying off, how exactly?

I've met more than a few frustrated small-business owners who want to take advantage of all the great benefits social media marketing offers, but they just don't know whether their time investment will get them anywhere.

Here's the deal: If you want to see results—and I mean real, tangible, increase-your-bottom-line results—you have to have a plan of action. You need to know which activities to concentrate on so that your next tweet won't get caught up in the current and wash away.

Here are four actions that will help you get more out of your Twitter marketing.

1. Get your website on board
The thing about marketing with social media is that you won't make sales. I know: What's the point, then? But before you throw you social media marketing plans in the trash, hear me out.

Twitter can land you more clients or customers, and it can help you make more money. Just not directly. If you want results from Twitter, you need to have a crucial piece of marketing in place and in top condition: your website.

Twitter is where you're going to meet new prospects, offer helpful advice, interact, and make a positive impact. But it's not where transactions are going to take place. After you've built a relationship on social media, you need to help those prospects make the transition onto your own turf: That's where followers turn into buyers.

Your website will reinforce the brand your followers got to know on Twitter, and it will expand on that foundation by exposing people to your products or services. Your website is where you can make offers and close sales, so it's vital that you've spent time creating compelling copy and a seamless visitor experience.

Bottom line: To make money from your Twitter marketing efforts, you must have a solid website to send followers to and make offers on.

2. Share your own thoughts

The fundamental point of marketing on social media is to build up your brand and allow more people to come into contact with it. But how exactly do you "build up your brand"?

I'll tell you one way you absolutely do not: by only repeating what others are saying.

Sharing other people's tips, ideas, and content now and then is a good thing. But the problem comes when you start hiding behind someone else's voice—constantly sharing and retweeting other people's messages.

You can't build your brand if you don't share your thoughts.

So go ahead and share that blog post you really liked and retweet someone else's comment that resonated with you, but then jump in with something unique—something only you would say. Share your ideas, share your tips, share your content. Those are the things that represent your brand, and without them you won't be creating anything memorable.

Bottom line: If you don't share your own thoughts and content, you won't be creating a brand presence that will cause your followers to know, like, and trust your business.

3. Stop playing the numbers game

If your primary goal on Twitter (or on any social network) is to get as many followers as possible, than you're missing out on one of the most valuable features of social media marketing: relationships.

Despite the ever-popular goal of reaching absolutely as many people as possible on the social Web, the size of your following will never be as beneficial as its quality.

Numbers won't make your business a success, and they won't make you money. People—the right people—will.

Don't get me wrong: Having a large group of people following you on Twitter is a great and profitable thing—but only if they are the right people.

So stop looking at numbers and start looking at the actual people following you. Learn a little about them. Send them a tweet letting them know you like their website or their latest blog post. Build relationships and connections with people who are a good match for your business.

If you put more importance on building quality relationships with the right people (such as prospects who match your ideal customer profile, thought leaders whom you admire, or valuable business connections), you will start to see better results.

Bottom line: Numbers are important, but only if those numbers represent people who are a good match for your business or if they have a genuine interest in what you have to say.

4. Take the lead

It takes initiative to stand out on any crowded platform. If you're eager to get people's attention—and then turn that attention into business transactions—you need to take a leadership role.

Don't wait for the conversation to come to you. Find something relevant to talk about and bring the conversation to the people you want to connect with. You have to reach out. You have to be the first to suggest an idea or pose a question.

Here are my favorite ways to take the lead on Twitter:

  • Ask each new follower a personalized question (if you're getting a large number of new followers every day, settle for reaching out to the people you most want to connect with).
  • Actively participate in or host a Twitter chat on a topic that is relevant to your business.
  • Create content (blog posts, infographics, YouTube videos) and share them with your followers.
  • Add your thoughts or opinion when retweeting.
  • Ask your followers for recommendations, and then follow up to start a conversation.

Bottom line: don't wait for people to "discover" you on social media; reach out and make the first move.

Now focus your efforts

The key to avoiding the social media time-suck is having a plan and knowing where to focus your actions.

Small tweaks in your day-to-day social media activities can lead to obvious and profitable improvements in your results. But don't put it off: If you feel you're wasting time and missing out on the value that Twitter can have for your business or marketing, take action right away.

What to do: Get out a pad of paper and write down your social media marketing plan. List 3-6 activities (you can use the suggestions in this article) that you will tackle to start improving the results you're seeing on Twitter.

If you can't do it today, make an appointment with yourself for later in the week.

If you have any tips for getting more out of Twitter marketing, share them with us in the comments section, below.

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Are You Wasting Your Time on Twitter? Four Ways to Make It Count

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image of Sonja Jobson

Sonja Jobson is the founder of Fresh Coast Creative, specializing in lead-generating websites for small businesses.

LinkedIn: Sonja Jobson

Twitter: @SonjaJobson