How a small business can use Twitter

She compiles a monthly report based on feedback she receives from social media channels on trends and themes. "If people are looking for a specific style of beer, and we can tell there's a market for it, it's worth us trying that," she says.

The firm also uses Google Analytics to track sales from its online shop that result from tweets, although it's harder to do this for the bars.

Overall, she advises anyone using Twitter to ensure that everything they tweet is "relevant, entertaining and informative – those are things that will make it viral content, worth sharing".

Patrick Neale is co-owner of a smaller business: Jaffe and Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. He reckons he spends "not enough, five or ten minutes a day" on the shop's account.

It is in his own name: "For a small business, your personality is part of the business," he says. "It gives a warm feeling."

Neale uses his account partly to stay in touch with authors and publicists. It is much easier than writing an email, and can make a writer more amenable to attending an event.

"Not a lot of energy has been expended," he says.

Picture tweets

Neale, also president of the Booksellers' Association, says some booksellers use Twitter to drum up customers by offering a discount to the next five people who walk in if things are quiet. He prefers to use the account to build the shop's brand, such as by tweeting pictures of events.

"Even if people don't come to the events, they love to know we're doing them," he says. "It shows we're a vibrant and energetic place."

He adds that, even if someone uses an account mainly to talk to business contacts, it's important to remember that customers are always able to read tweets. He recalls being reprimanded over a slightly risqué tweet about a parody of adult fiction using the hashtag #50ShedsofGrey.

The shop occasionally gets customer service queries through Twitter, although mostly about events and the shop's café rather than books. The account's background design includes all its contact details, as well as the various goods and services it offers, in the form of Penguin book spines – another way of spreading its message.

Neale says he has concerns over social media – "I have a fundamental concern that it is eating into the amount of time people are reading books" – but thinks a small business can use Twitter without spending too much time.

"It's allowed me to completely ignore Facebook," he says.