As a business owner, by now you already know that using social media such as Twitter can give your website or brand a boost in search engine rankings. Indeed, according to some internet marketing experts, participating in social media is not optional but mandatory if you’re serious about establishing your brand authority in the field. As a matter of fact, according to Mediabistro one third of people on Twitter follow at least one brandSo you’ve dutifully signed up for a Twitter account. Now you are wondering what kinds of things you should post (or “tweet”). If you’ve also signed up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Google+, you face the same question on those sites, but with Twitter the question is more pressing since the optimum frequency for posting on Twitter is much higher than for other social media — studies suggest that tweeting at least five times per day gives best results, with modestly increasing gains as you increase the number up to about 20 times per day. With that in mind here is a very interesting article by Simply Measured that gives you more food for thought on how much and when to tweet.But the big question I always get is…wait for it…what do you Tweet? Are you supposed to tweet a continuous stream of reminders about your company and its great products and services? Do you post repeated links to key pages on your website? Can that really be what Twitter is all about?Why TweetIn answering the question of what to tweet, go back to basics for a moment and reflect on your reason for being on Twitter. Some business owners and marketers assume that the main point of being on Twitter is to bring people to your website by tweeting out links to it. However, that by itself is generally not an effective strategy, and it’s certainly not the best way to leverage your presence on Twitter.Instead, one of your primary purposes for being on social media is to demonstrate to Google and other search engines that you have authority or influence in your field and that people are interested in what you have to say. On Twitter, that means they choose to follow you, or they show their approval of a tweet by clicking, retweeting, or marking it a favorite. So, the goal is to be interesting!That’s a great start, but it’s too broad. You want to be interesting, yes, but interesting to a particular group of people: your target audience. That means your potential customers, right? Absolutely, but don’t stop there.Whom to Talk ToKeeping in mind that Twitter is a two-way communication medium; consider not only people you want to deliver a message to but also people who might have something of value to say to you. Thus, your target audience can include not only your potential customers but also colleagues in your profession, peers in your industry, suppliers of materials you need for your business, experts in subjects related to your field, and even your company’s competitors.As an example, suppose your company produces and sells a line of educational posters used in classrooms. Your target audience definitely includes teachers and school administrators, but also consider students, companies that produce other classroom products, companies that produce educational posters and materials for other contexts such as the workplace or home schools, small printing companies, suppliers of raw materials you need, researchers and educators who provide the kind of subject matter you use in creating your posters, and businesses that offer classroom posters very similar to yours.This is a richly diverse audience, but they all find common ground at the niche where your company is positioned. Become aware of what you can pass along that would be of value to these people and businesses. When what you have to say attracts people from each of these groups to follow you, it establishes your reputation across the reach of your domain.What to Talk AboutNow that you have a clear picture of whom you’d like to communicate with, you have a better idea of the types of topics you might tweet about. Keeping your target audience in mind, think about what they need to know that you can provide or share. What sorts of news and information would you hope someone would be thoughtful enough to pass along to you? Be the kind of information resource that you yourself would find valuable.In that light, suppose you were publishing a weekly newsletter to this audience; what kinds of topics would you include? Relevant stories from the news are always popular, but ask yourself what else you can offer to provide depth, background, or color. Consider any angle that relates to your area of business: articles that give a historical perspective, opinion pieces that challenge common assumptions, observations by noteworthy personalities, the research or technology behind a product, how-to guides, humor, customer comments. All of these will contribute to rounding out your appeal by building a multi-faceted presence.You have probably noticed that many of these candidate topics might not mention your company or its products at all. Of course you will want to weave in a tweet about your brand on occasion, but you don’t want to talk incessantly about your company on Twitter any more than you would in a casual face-to-face conversation at a networking event you’re attending.Not every theme will interest everyone in your audience, and that’s fine. Just be sure to vary your content so that there’s something for everyone on a regular basis.Perhaps equally important is what not to talk about. In general, avoid overly intimate or detailed revelations about your personal life; generic topics that have zero relation to your business area; unprofessional digs at coworkers, clients, or competitors; desperate appeals for more followers; and affiliate links. There can be exceptions to these guidelines, but if you stay focused on your mission to provide value to your target audience and to present it in an interesting and professional way, you won’t go wrong.How to Tweet ItNow comes the nitty-gritty of how to use those 140 characters in sharing your links and ideas. A tweet can take a variety of forms, and different modes attract different people, so it’s good to mix it up. Use an assortment from the following eight categories:Link. This is the most obvious type of tweet, where you point to a web page that’s of interest to your followers or at least to some subset of them. The link can be to a news story, a blog post, an article, a product description, or a new page on your own website; again, variety is the key. You also need to introduce the link somehow; the quick and easy way is simply to copy the title of the article or page and use that. If the title is appealing and meaningful for your audience, you can get by with that approach, but ideally you’ll want to personalize it. You can pose a question that the article answers, quote a compelling line from the item, cite an intriguing fact or shocking statistic, or give your personal reaction in a few words. Remember that your overall objective is to be interesting, so frame the link in a way that entertains as well as informs.Picture or Video. When you glance at your Twitter feed, what do you notice first? Often, it’s a video or graphic that will grab your attention. Use that to your advantage, and include a relevant video or image in some of your tweets. Images can be photos, infographics, diagrams, or even comics. Audio-only media are another possibility.Fact. Report a surprising statistic, a humorous tidbit, or a little-known bit of trivia. This is a perfect option when you run across an article that contains a few fascinating details but is not suitable for linking to for one reason or another.Quote. Everyone loves a great quote. Funny or insightful quotes that fit with your niche liven up your Twitter feed. Quotes can be recent or historical, familiar or obscure, by famous names or unknown writers, from books or poems or songs or movies or interviews.Personal Observation. Put forth your own views every now and then. Comment on a current news item in your business area, or respond to a question or discussion by sharing your perspective. Show that you’re a real person, someone who thinks and feels and laughs, and not an auto-tweeting robot. At the same time, it’s wise to steer clear of sarcastic or insulting remarks, which are easily misinterpreted and can reflect poorly on you and your company.Question. Questions can be of two types (not counting rhetorical questions, which actually belong to the personal observation category). In one type, you are looking for a specific piece of information; in the other, you are aiming to gather subjective opinions from a variety of individuals. When there’s something you need to find out, you can direct your question to appropriate individuals by tagging it with their Twitter @usernames, a technique which is especially helpful if you haven’t yet accumulated a large number of followers.Answer. Your followers and those whom you follow will be asking questions too; if you have something to contribute, reply with an answer. Of course, you should always reply to queries that are tagged with your Twitter @username. You may also spot questions that you are especially well suited to answer among tweets from the general population of users; help out with high-quality answers, and it could earn you more followers.Retweet. When you see a tweet that your followers would appreciate, pass it along by retweeting it. If you’d like to personalize it by adding a few words of commentary, you can use the “RT” format and preface it with your thoughts.With any of the above styles of tweet, there are two add-ons you can use:* A hashtag, which is a word prefixed with the symbol #. This is to identify the tweet as part of an ongoing conversation or to label it with a keyword to help searchers find it. Don’t use hashtags in every tweet, and avoid using more than two or three in one tweet.* A mention, which is an @username anywhere other than at the very start of the tweet (which would make it a reply instead). You can add a mention in order to credit that user for being the source of a link or quote or idea, or you can use it to draw their attention to your tweet, as a way of bringing them in on a discussion that they might like to contribute to, for instance.Use a robust blend of the above eight types of tweets and two add-ons, and you’ll have a pleasing variety in your Twitter feed, something for everyone in your target audience.As you become more familiar with the Twitterers in your niche, you’ll find a few whose style and content you especially appreciate and admire. Observe their practices, and see if there are some you can adapt as part of your own distinctive style.Providing Consistent Value for Your Target AudienceSumming up the conclusions that resulted from the questions asked above: To derive the most benefit from Twitter for your business or brand, understand your purpose for being on Twitter, identify your target audience groups, and provide them with valuable content, offering it to them in an array of appealing styles. When your tweets are consistently valuable and irresistibly interesting, people in your target audience will respond positively, and Google will recognize and reward your genuine authority and influence.Now, go forth and tweet!