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Launched in 2006, Twitter has evolved into a global service with more than 200 million active users. Individuals from across the world and businesses of all types – from corporate giants to one-person shops – have taken to Twitter to post their 140-character thoughts on every topic under the sun. According to the marketing agency Hubspot, Twitter is the second most used social media network by small businesses.

So how do you actually use Twitter? There is no one correct answer – your experience will truly be based on what you aim to accomplish. Below are three ways painting contractors are using Twitter to network, learn and grow their businesses. Do you have others? Share them @SWPaintPros.

1. Connect with your customers

Twitter offers a powerful context to connect directly with present and future customers in real time.

“Twitter has been a new and interesting means of marketing for my business,” says Greg Williams, who uses the handle @ProPaintService for his company, Professional Painting Service in Senatobia, Miss. “It has allowed us to reach out to our customers to help establish and maintain a healthy business relationship moving forward.”

It also helps promote the company to the friends and family of clients for which they have done work for in the past.

“Via Twitter, friends and family of customers get to see you interact with said customers, and when you receive praise and thanks from your customers, it says a lot about how they feel about the professionalism of your business,” Williams says. “It has been highly helpful to us to establish a larger customer base while maintaining and building the relationships we have previously established among our clients.”

2. Connect with your peers

Besides its benefits for marketing, promotion and building customer relationships, Twitter can also be used to make connections with other contractors.

“My Twitter use has evolved to becoming a source of industry information and networking with contractors and manufacturers,” says Chris Haught of RC Painting, an early Twitter adopter who also runs the Blogging Painters website.

Blogs and social media networks like Twitter are useful for discovering and sharing new ideas, best practices and what’s working (and not working) for other painting contractors in their day-to-day business.

3. Connect with industry leaders

Twitter is also a great way to keep current with what’s happening in the coatings industry and offers the opportunity to communicate directly with industry leaders.

For instance, you can join our Sherwin-Williams Paint Pro Conversation at @SWPaintPros.

“We'll be sharing insights, sales promotions and more,” says Shelley Gelser, Social Media Manager at Sherwin-Williams. “We’ll also be running special promotions and contests for followers.”

A recent contest, for example, encouraged contractors to upload photos of their best paint jobs for a chance to win an iPad Mini. To view the best paint pro work from the contest, use the hashtag #BestInSherwin.

Gelser also encourages the practice of retweeting to share something interesting from someone you follow to your own set of followers. You can even add a comment to the original tweet if you like.

Twitter is searchable too. Just type the subject you’re interested in into the search box at the top of your Twitter page. Or you can use the convenient hashtags, represented by the number sign #. Just click on a hashtag to see all the tweets that mention the subject, even from people you don't follow.

Getting Started: The Time is Now

Whether you use it to connect with customers, industry leaders or other contractors, the time is ripe for painting contractors to take to Twitter.

To get started, you’ll need to sign up for an account at twitter.com.

For branding purposes, it’s a good idea to set up your first account using your company name as your Twitter handle. You can always add more accounts in the future, once you start learning what works best for your business on this social platform. Your personal Twitter style and strategy will evolve as you spend time and gain experience on the platform. Good luck and happy tweeting!

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