Most businesses think of Twitter as a promotional tool, a way to announce new products or to divert traffic to a website/blog. But it can also be used to reach new customers, and thus generate sales leads.

The most important first step is to know what you want your tweets to accomplish. If you know your objective and your target audience, Twitter can be as effective for a small company as a large one.

Give your company a human face

Having a handle for your company or brand is almost mandatory. But if someone is talking about your company, replying from your personal handle can be a pleasant surprise for customers. People don’t expect to hear from the head/owner of the company.

Also, spamming followers with promotional material should be avoided. There is a delicate balance between making human contact and sharing details that may not interest them.

Find customers when they are looking for your product or service

People are talking about you on Twitter, but how will you know? Tracking your brand or company name and a few other keywords (if required) can enable you to engage with new and existing customers. There are many third party tools like Tweetdeck that can help you with this, or you can also use Twitter’s internal search engine — Advanced Search.

Searching Twitter can be an effective way for a company to find new customers. It is recommended to put a bit of thought into the keywords you search for and keep track of. Research the keywords most used in your market or industry. Using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner is also a good idea to find keywords.

Manage your reputation on Twitter

Ensuring good customer service and dealing with disgruntled customers quickly goes a long way. The more delay in solving a problem, the more likely the person is to tell his or her friends. The "live" nature of Twitter enables you to catch a problem as soon as it happens and do something about it.

Time your tweets

When it comes to optimizing your tweets and their timing to increase your engagement levels, here are a few key insights, from Buffer:

  • Twitter engagement for brands is 17 percent higher on weekends
  • Tweets with image links get twice the engagement rate of those without
  • Tweets with less than 100 characters get 17 percent more engagement
  • Tweets with hashtags get twice as much engagement
  • Tweets that include links are 86 percent more likely to be retweeted

To summarize, a few points to keep in mind would be:

  • Create compelling and valuable content
  • Post regularly and frequently
  • Determine what to say and be in charge of saying it
  • Remember that people don't want to be sold
  • One of the best ways to reach new customers with social media is to have your existing customers do it for you

Twitter has changed the nature of customer communication. The whole nature of social media channels like Twitter is that it is public and others see what you do. If you interact effectively with your existing customers, potential customers will see that and will be more likely to look for your product or services.