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People often have dismissive opinions about Twitter BEFORE they have any real experience using it. You may be one of those people.

From the outside, Twitter seems like a lot of people talking about frivolous things like what they ate for lunch. Even if you find compelling content, it seems like it could become a huge distraction, draining precious time and attention out of your work day. And how meaningful can any exchange be when it’s limited to 140 characters?

All of this is, to some extent, true.

Yet, there’s more to Twitter than meets the eye.

Facebook, it is said, is where you go to talk to the people you know. Twitter is where you go to talk to the people you would like to know.

Twitter holds a special status among the technically literate, the so-called “twitterati” and it’s precisely this elite status that make Twitter a magnet for online influencers.

Google+ is vying to be the new Twitter − or is it the new Facebook? − but that’s another column.

If you’re in the business of giving advice and influencing people, then Twitter is where you want to be. Twitter is a tool for building credibility and thought leadership, for meeting and networking with people of like mind and learning from those with thoughtful differences of opinion.

In short, Twitter is where online influence is born.

But beware: Twitter is not just another “marketing channel”. You have to use it intelligently and strategically. Here’s what I mean:

  • Listen to your influencers. Follow the people and publications that you find credible – the ones that add real value to the discussion. Pay attention to what they share and what you find most interesting about that content.

  • Share the content that influences you. Retweeting is how you show favour on Twitter. It’s a compliment to retweet someone’s content, so focus on sharing the content of those people who you think are really contributing positively to the online discussion.

  • Curate more than you create. Creating your own content is important, but you don’t need to compose everything you share. Work on becoming a value-added filter for other people’s great content in the eyes of your followers.

  • Engage with the people who follow you. When someone replies to one of your tweets, respond in a timely fashion. When someone retweets you, be gracious and thank them. Use these brief touchpoints to deepen the connection.

  • Track your progress. Klout, PeerIndex and TwitterGrader are a new crop of tools for measuring your online influence. Pay attention, but don’t obsess on them. TwitterCounter and CrowdBooster both provide valuable insights into what works best in your Twitter activities. And there are several dozen other tools for measuring your success.

    Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on the way to growing your online influence.

    Jay Palter is a social media strategist and coach with two decades of experience in financial services, software development and marketing.
    Originally published on Advisor.ca