Whenever I talk to businesses about social networking the first reaction I get is often a raised eyebrow and a comment asking me why anyone would want to read messages about what people are eating for lunch. Hopefully by the end of this article you will see how you can use social networking sites like Twitter to benefit your jewellery business.To be honest I understand the confusion. Social networking, especially the ever popular Twitter, has turned us into obsessive cataloguers, recorders and diarists. According to Silicon Alley Insider, during April 2009 there were 1.3 million active Twitter users broadcasting approximately 3 million "tweets" per day - that's a lot of 140 character messages!Looking at my own tweets (@benjamindyer) I admit, many of them are completely pointless, I see something I like or dislike and I tweet about it. However, looking at the bigger picture, this conscious stream of information from its 1.3 million active users turns Twitter into an incredibly powerful tool, especially for business.Fantastic examples of companies leveraging this information include Dell, Ford and the US cable company Comcast. These companies are actively engaging with their customers and can see and respond to what people really think about their products, brands or services.So Twitter is a mine of information and you're keen to start getting involved, but it's important to remember this information is personal. Twitter users have consciously decided to broadcast their information and as such any business using the service must respect its users.The good and the badExamples of companies getting it wrong are littered all over the internet. My personal favourite faux pas comes from the UK furniture company Habitat who arrived on Twitter last month and decided to spam the current 'trending topics' to get noticed. Trending Topics is a section within Twitter containing Tweets on the current popular theme. To indicate its relevance the standard procedure is to include a hash tag, as below.@benjamindyer: Looking forward to the cricket #AshesHabitat's Tweets however included a hashtag that had absolutely no relevance to the trending topic. This caused an uproar as suddenly discussions over the problems in Iran, Michael Jackson's death and the film Transformers 2 were being spammed with Habitat offers as in the example below.@HabitatUK: #Mousavi Join the database for free to win a £1000 gift card.Habitat's spectacular failure with Twitter was compounded by its reaction, to try to cover it up by deleting all previous Tweets and by sacking the poor Intern. Habitat did officially apologise, albeit a number of days later, but it was too late, the Twitter community has sprung into action. Popular user @DarenBBC started a worlwide hunt for the recently unemployed Intern with numerous job offers and rewards. The search is providing so popular on Twitter that in the cruelest twist of irony it has spawned its own hashtag, #HabitatIntern. At the time of writing the fabled Intern is yet to be found, the mob suspect a cover up!The #HabitatIntern debacle has just hilighted to many the need for better policing of Twitter. Spam is becoming a major problem with automated ad bots poisoning the stream. As the popularity of a topic is totally a numbers game the trending topics list is always going to be a viable target for nefarious tweets. I fully expect Twitter to introduce a level of filtering or moderation in the not too distant future.However for every horror story there is an equally good example of successful use of social networking as Comcast shows. For longer than I can remember the brand Comcast has been synonymous with poor customer service. In the highly competitive US cable industry consumer choice is huge and Comcast was heamorhaging customers. However Comcast in 2009 is a completely different animal, so how did it turn itself around?One way has been to embrace social networking. Comcast has a presence on all major networks (Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.). This presence allows it to pay attention to its customers. A quick search for examples returned hundreds of results of satisfied customers. In fact I had to really search for a dissatisfied one, whereas this time two years ago this would have been inconceivable.One great example comes from Comcast customer @cc_chapman:"Last night I made a snide remark about the lackluster quality of my HD picture on Comcast during the Celtics game. Comcast saw that and tweeted me back minutes later. This morning I got a call from their service center. This afternoon someone came out. Now my HDTV rocks! THAT my friends is customer service and how it should work all the time."Listening to customersListening to customers is an essential part of your business, but it's a very scary prospect. Five years ago consumers had a fairly limited and one-sided channels for feeding back to a business: phone, email or letter. Social networking has turned this on its head and suddenly your customers can talk and interact with your other customers, discussing anything and everything about your business. You have to ask yourself, do you want to be part of that conversation?However Twitter and Facebook are so much more than an additional customer service channel. Listening to your customers is essential, but listening to your competitors' customers is research! One such example is Intuit, the maker of accounting software QuickBooks. Intuit monitors Twitter for mentions of its competitors' products and often contacts the Tweeter to offer its own product or service. Now this is a fairly aggressive and it may not work for your jewellery business but its another example of using this mine of information.Further tips for starting out with Twitter:Find your customersBefore you go hell for leather into Twitter (or Friend Feed or Facebook) do some research. Social networking can be a time sink and to do it right takes effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Find out which network your customers use.Involve the whole business and be human!No one likes listening to a corporate tirade of why your product or service is the best in the world. In fact, just listing your world class achievement is a fast route to being ignored. Instead show off the human side of your business, mix up business and social tweets and let other members of your team have accounts too.Tweet and Re-TweetEngage with others by rebroadcasting your followers' tweets. This is called Re-Tweeting or RT for short. Not only are you doing your followers a great service by recommending other people's content to your followers, but it helps build an eco-system around your areas of interest. People will come to you by engaging with others.It's not all about follower numbersDon't be disheartened if you only have a small number of followers. Unless you're a huge multi-national, or offer a product or service with wide appeal it's very likely you won't have a lot of followers. Use this to your advantage: you can be lean and reactive and get to know the people that are following you.Don't take it personallyPeople often reveal their true emotions online and it's very likely you're going to find some less than happy customers. Don't take criticism personally, and use it to improve your business. Whatever you do always maintain the higher moral ground. Arguing and criticising others online isn't an attractive proposition for future customers!Tell everyoneIf you're going to have a presence on any social network you need to tell people! Consider adding a Twitter link to your site and your @ username to email signatures, business cards or marketing content - make it easy for people to find you. Also consider including your 'chatter' on your website. Frequently changing content demonstrates you are active and it’s also great for helping your search engine ranking.Use a desktop toolTo manage your Twitter traffic, investigate free tools such as TweetDeck, Seesmic or Twhirl. These utilities keep the high number of tweets manageable and have features enabling you to set up predefined searches and alerts (e.g. for your company name).Twitter is hugely powerful, it has the potential to revolutionise the way you interact with your customers, so give it a go!