The first few times someone asked me to follow them on Twitter, I thought it a funny expression. In fact, it reminded me of a scene in a Marx brothers movie, Night at the Opera.

Truth be told, I’m not a serious fan of the M-bros, and you won’t find me dressing as Harpo Marx to go to a Halloween party. But, picture this: Con artist Groucho is fast talking gibberish to the sophisticated and confused Margaret Dumont, his foil, who sits across from him in a restaurant. At one point, Groucho stops and asks, “Do you follow me?” Ms Dumont replies in a prolonged and very nasal, “Yesssssssssss.” Groucho snaps back: “Well, you better stop following me, or I’ll have you arrested.”

On the other hand, being followed on Twitter is a good thing, – – and it can often be pleasantly arresting.  Businesses can and should take advantage of this relatively cheap marketing tool. It’s not that difficult to master. In fact, its whole concept is based on simplicity.

First, the basics: Twitter asks: “What are you doing?” Your answer must be no more than 140 characters in length. Your response is sent as a “tweet” to those who have signed up to receive your messages. Best of all, the message is sent via mobile texting, instant message, or the Web. Simply put, those words immediately travel far and fast.

Why would a business want to use it? I should rephrase the question and replace “want” with “must” for Twitter is fast becoming the quickest, most inexpensive and indispensable way to keep connected to your customers, not to mention protect your brand.

It’s estimated that up to as many as 3 million users are following or tweeting on Twitter. Customers can express their feelings about your company, products or service—and when they do, you need to be there to correct misperceptions or fix potential issues before any negative news goes viral. Your average Twitter user is social media savvy and most likely influences many others. Let’s face it, real-time communication doesn’t get any more real or unfiltered.

In another scene from a Marx brothers movie, one of the brothers mispronounced “viaduct” as “why a duck?” Forget the duck and protect your business with a tweety bird. Do you follow me?

by Sara Callahan