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How Not to Embarrass Your Company on Twitter: 4 Checkpoints

The New York Postrecently ran an article about the lamest Twitter accounts based in the Big Apple. Among the silliest were a feed run by a gerbil (yes, really), a clown, and a "sandwich club."

Twitter
Loic Venance | AFP | Getty Images
Twitter

But the most pathetic were the bad business-run accounts. @PodiatristNYC tweeted: "I posted a new blog post on congenital six toes." Um, okay? Commercial Upright Vacuum Cleaner Information ( @CommUpRightVac)asked, "What vacuum cleaner commercials from the early 90s do you do you remember?" Well, I seem to recall that one, with the vacuum in it…

The tweets are entertaining, in a laughing-at-them-not-with-them sort of way—but it's sobering to think about the time and resources wasted on dry, pointless tweets that aren't improving a company's customer base, and are most certainly taking their reputation down a notch.

It gets worse when you consider that many businesses are also using the social networking site to attract and recruit potential employees.

According to the 2010 Vault Social Media Survey 2010 Vault Social Media Survey, 65% of companies use Twitter to promote their organization's brand, 46% advertise job opportunities on it, and 34% communicate with potential candidates via the site.

Which all seem like better uses than announcing a congenital toe disorder blog, but even so: if potential employees aren't following a company's Twitter feed—or they're falling asleep while reading it—the "open position" tweets aren't going to cull any talent.

So what's a corporate Twitterer to do?

Weed out the nonsense and check your Tweets for these vitals:

1. Consistency

This goes hand in hand with branding. There has to be a steady voice and sense of purpose for a company account to establish authority and a sense of culture.

Decide what the point of your company being on Twitter is (if there is one) and reinforce that purpose with every tweet. Your fan base will grow along with a pool of enthusiastic job seekers.

Obvious Example: Starbucks ( @Starbucks). Just as with their coffee, you can expect consistent tweet quality—updates on new products, prompt question-answering, and you-heard-it-here-first promotion details.

Not So Obvious: Perez Hilton ( @PerezHilton). His followers want shameless, catty gossip, and he unfailingly delivers. Small wonder that his name has become as synonymous for dish as "Kleenex" is for facial tissues.

2. Value

What product are you delivering to your adoring Twitter followers? Customer service? Industry insight? Maybe just a sense of community? You must be offering something if you want to earn and keep followers—and attract quality prospective employees.

Obvious Example: Home Depot ( @HomeDepot). They answer questions and concerns quickly and professionally, boosting a reputation for fast, reliable service as they literally deliver it.

Not So Obvious: The Chicago Bulls ( @chicagobulls). With tweets like "Today's injury report: Gooden is questionable, Deng and Hinrich are probable and Ruffin is out," followers really feel like they're on the inside track—and that fosters a sense of community not easily found elsewhere.

3. Voice

Entertainment is a big part of Twitter. Without the fun, it's just a medium for 140-character press releases.

Try demonstrating a little personality while tweeting to build brand culture—you'll snatch up perfect-fit candidates in the process.

Obvious Example: Ford ( @Ford). When you're a follower of Ford's feed, you're really a follower of its social networking head, Scott Monty. The chatty, social, ultra-loyal Monty's enthusiasm for the brand is surprisingly contagious.

Not So Obvious: Popeyes Chicken ( @PopeyesChicken). It can't be easy churning out all those puns and poultry references, but Popeye's manages to do it—with amusing enough results to keep you on their followers list, and eagerly awaiting a "job openings" tweet.

4. Professionalism

Twitter is fun and informal, but personality should never overshadow a brand's values—or you'll risk alienating followers and trashing your company's rep.

Don't-Follow-This-Example Example: Optimum PR ( @OptimumPR). Opinionated, combative, and speckled with curse words. Need we say more?

Don't-Follow-This-Example-Even-Though-It-Worked Example: Kanye West ( @kanyewest). Pointless, egotistical, politically incorrect, and all over the place, Kanye's tweets are also wildly successful.

In fact, their brilliant juxtaposition with thoughtful New Yorker cartoons has become aninternet meme. But that doesn't mean you should follow suit.

A few final tips:

1. Don't spam your users. It's just not nice… and it's all to easy for them to hit the "unfollow" button.

2. Be patient. There's a push and pull to branding via social media. If you build it, they will come—just don't expect to force anyone.

3. Share the wealth. You've got to follow to lead—so be generous with following and promoting others. What goes around comes around.

4. Be strategic. Most pitfalls on Twitter can be avoided with a plan—get your team together and plan for frequency, tone, and value you can all agree on.

Read More:

10 Things You Need to Know About Social Media for Your Job Search

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com