Does all the hype about social media give you a headache? Do you want to run swiftly in the other direction? Are you scared to admit you don't understand it all? Then this is for you. The whole scene can be overwhelming, so I'll discuss only one application, Twitter, which can be a small investment of your time but a nice addition to marketing your business. Think of Twitter as a way to get instant public messages out to your audience. Occasionally you'll reply to a message or answer a question.

Had I been asked to name the application, I would not have called it Twitter. It sounds so…non-essential. We may be stuck with the cutesy name, but we can post ("tweet") worthwhile information. Twitter users can opt to "follow" us; we're not forcing anything upon them.

Twitter accepts posts up to 140 characters. If interested in more, readers pursue links you provide. You'll get good at writing succinctly. (The preceding three sentences contain exactly 139 letters and spaces.)

To start, create your own Twitter account. I searched Twitter for local businesses and easily found the ones listed at the end of this paragraph. You'll see that the Twitter user name usually resembles the business name and has no spaces. I also show the number of followers. The random list: Best Western Lincoln Inn, AstoriaORHotel, 130; The Commodore Hotel, the_comm0dore, 632; Astoria Scuba, Astoriascuba, 348; McMenamins Breweries, CaptainNeon, 667; and SeaPort Air, SeaPortAir, 1971.

Veronica Russell, Managing Editor of Coast Explorer Magazine, says her business tweets frequently to 1) keep followers informed about upcoming coastal events, such as the Savor Cannon Beach event they organized, 2) share details about discounts and sales at their customers' businesses, 3) share big announcements like the ODOT tunnel decision, 4) point to stories in publications that might be of interest to coastal residents and visitors, and 5) share up-to-the-minute coastal tidbits such as whale sightings. You might want to follow them at CoastExplorer. You'll be joining 407 other followers.

To minimize my initial time investment, I decided to post one computer tip per week on my computer_trng account. I learn plenty as I accumulate the tips, and I also post them on my Web site. I sent an e-mail to friends and customers inviting them to follow me on Twitter, and I created a link on my Web site. From a slow start of 6 followers, I now have 40—and most of them I do not know.

Occasionally I post information about my business. The info on the top right of any Twitter home page includes name, location, Web site, and bio. Thus, followers can learn more about my business by following the link to my Web site.

Don't want the burden of logging into Twitter? Download free software called TwInBox (short for Twitter InBox) to tie Twitter into your Outlook e-mail. While in e-mail you can post and read messages. So handy! If anyone replies to you directly, you can answer back. Twitter users appreciate a personal, conversational touch.

Twitter's search engine allows you to find companies, brand names, topics, and personal names in Twitter posts. Are there any positive or negative comments about your business?

Building a solid audience on Twitter takes time and good, thoughtful messages. That's why it's important to start now. The more followers you have, the faster you'll get new ones. I encourage you to put one big toe into the vast lake called social media. Start as a follower and read what other businesses are posting. Soon you'll be posting too. There's little risk and much to gain.

Jane Francis of Personal Computer Training trains on-site on the North Coast and remotely throughout the US. For more information call (503) 470-0885 or email

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