Recently, Twitter has made a few headlines with the quiet launch of its new and shiny Nearby timeline. This allows eligible mobile users to look for and read tweets posted by other twitter users in their immediate vicinity, regardless of whether they are following them. The feature has been made available to a few users who have opted-in to allow their location information to be shared on Twitter. Nearby will appear alongside the Home Tab as its own tag within Twitter’s mobile apps. The tool features a map with the location of the user indicated, which is surrounded by pins for the locations of other Nearby users present in that vicinity who have recently tweeted. Users can click on any of the pins to view and engage with the other user and their content, no-matter how relatively close or far-away that user is.

Twitter has so far declined in making any comments about the new Nearby app – stating instead that they are always testing out new features – and marketers and analysts have already begun discussing the potential opportunities for local businesses/advertisers if the app were to become a staple of the average user’s daily Twitter intake.

However, despite recognizing the potential opportunities that the Nearby app can give to local businesses, the feature is still in its beta stage and has not been released to all users on Twitter just yet. Users must also opt-in to share their location, which means the current user pool is somewhat limited at the moment. Though, there are simple steps that local businesses can pursue now to take full advantage of this tool and remain in the best position they can for if (and when) the feature becomes permanent.

1. Share Your Location

To access Nearby, you will have to opt-in to share your location. Of course, we could begin a conversation about privacy and all the rest, but this shouldn’t be a problem for local businesses. In-fact, its a massive advantage for a business to list their location on such a large social platform. Normally, location services for Twitter are “off” by default. For iPhone users, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, and ensure that Location Services is turned on. Within the same screen, you can also grant permission for your Twitter app to access your location.

In order for your business’ tweets to appear within Nearby, you’ll need to ensure that your location is shared each time you compose a tweet from your mobile device. The tweet itself will include location information such as your latitude and longitude, or in some cases something more general like your town or city.

You’ll also need to make sure that you’re actually tweeting from your business’ physical location so that your location appears accurately on the map. You’ll want to turn off location services if/when you’re tweeting about your business but not actually present there (such as when you’re working from home).

2. The Local Conversation

You should spend the next few days previewing Nearby to form a better understanding of how it works and to observe the people and discussions taking place in your area. You can toggle through the tweet pins that appear nearby you to get a lay of the land.

You are likely to come across many tweets that will have no relevance to your business at all – but that’s to be expected. Alternatively, try getting a read of:

  • Nearby Influencers. Those Twitter users with large and engaged followings who help to drive the conversation near your business location and may have interest in your business’ offerings.
  • Key Locations Of Conversation. Nearby restaurants or store locations that generate the most user tweets, local sights that get the most photos, etc.
  • Key Topics Of Conversation. What common topic threads, if any, are being discussed among users (e.g., traffic or road repairs, complaints about the closing of a favorite local store, etc.)? Also take note of topics of conversation being discussed by other local businesses in your area.

Now that you’ve spent some time monitoring the local conversation, write down and brainstorm ideas about how you can engage with this audience.

3. Engage With The Local Conversation

It can be a daunting task to proactively engage with Twitter users you’ve never spoken to and who may not have heard you before. You must discover opportunities to subtly enter into conversations with people in your area – it’s a balancing act that requires careful thought. Every situation will be different — and, obviously the type of business you run will come into play — here are some thoughts on how you might leverage the knowledge you learn about local Twitter conversations to build your reputation and reach:

• Follow influential users  in your area that you think may be interested in your products and services. If you think they may be open to it, tweet the influencers directly welcoming them to engage with you.

• If a local user is looking for a certain local product or service and you come across their tweet, reach out to them and share your expertise. You can do this even if the question isn’t related to your business.

• Tweet from popular locations in your area so other Nearby users are more likely to see your tweets.

• Along those same lines, if you’re attending a major event in your area like a football match or a concert, you can bring your business into the conversation. Use the most popular hashtag for that event and tweet messages which show your business’ human side also subtly reference what your business offers.

• Enter popular conversations taking place tied to local issues. If someone tweets a complaint about the traffic, reply with something like: “@johndoe, We feel your pain! Have a coffee on us at your local … shop”

4. Make Your Tweets Resonate With Local Consumers

Nearby will provide the opportunity for your business’ tweets to bee seen by all local users, whether or not they’re following you.  You should take full advantage of this to promote specials, discounts and other offerings with a wider community that may not have come across you otherwise. That’s why this new feature is great, and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Keep in mind that some, if not many, of those seeing your tweets in Nearby will have no previous exposure to your business. This is why you should adopt a dual approach to your tweeting when moving forward: you should cater to those who already follow you and know your business but may not be close by, as well as introducing your business to those with no prior knowledge but are close by and are able to engage with your business.