Twitter Redesign Courts Businesses, Catches Up With Facebook, Google+

Twitter's changes to the online and mobile versions of the microblogging site include a simplified design to make it easier to connect with others.

Social networking company Twitter announced a slew of changes to the online and mobile versions of the microblogging site Dec. 8, including a simplified design to make it easier to connect with others.

The company also updated the TweetDeck desktop application to be consistent with the new version. As more businesses-large enterprises, as well as small and midsize firms-delve into the world of social media to help market their products and sell their services, the Twitter redesign can help companies reach their potential audience more quickly, as the site now offers greater simplicity, thanks to four menu tabs, which are the same across mobile and desktop devices.

Twitter is not the only social media company looking for ways to offer more functionality for business users. Both Facebook and Google+, Google's recently released social networking site, offer companies different ways to brand and advertise themselves online, while connecting to like-minded social networking users.

On the homepage tab, photos, videos and conversations are embedded directly in tweets, allowing businesses to offer visual details of products and special offers and to spread viral marketing campaigns. The new Connect section is where businesses can get in on the conversation by seeing who has followed or mentioned the company, or who retweeted or favorited one of the tweets, giving businesses insight into potentially untapped customers or enabling them to respond to compliments (or criticisms).

The Discover tab lets users tap into a stream of information that can be customized just for a business based on current location, what you follow and what's happening in the world. As Twitter use increases, Discover gets even better at serving up more content that applies directly to the company's market and interests through tracking people, organizations or brands. The Discover tab also lets users search for contacts by name and import contacts from an email account.

The updated profile section, the Me tab, puts businesses' interests front and center. Direct messages allow users to send personal messages to followers and receive personal messages from those being followed, which can help with personal customer service issues or product questions. Customers can also see a gallery of product images or marketing videos the company has recently shared.

Finally, Twitter has updated the Tweet tab to help send business messages out into the world, and link to videos and news stories and more directly in tweets. Users can tag their locations to send out information from trade shows or different store locations to promote certain products or sales events, and businesses can associate their tweets with trends and ideas by adding the hashtag symbol (#) before a relevant phrase-for example, #appdevelopment. This way, when anyone searches for that trend or phrase, the tweet-and the sender's business-is more likely to appear in the results.

Small businesses are becoming more comfortable with social media marketing and are using it more when engaging with customers, while also allocating more time to social media marketing to engage their targets, according to a November report from marketing specialist Constant Contact. A full 81 percent reported using social media to market their businesses, up from 73 percent in the spring of 2011.

Twitter is quickly gaining ground as usage surged in the last six months, from 60 percent in spring 2011 to 76 percent in November. Effectiveness scores also improved across certain key social media marketing channels in just six months, with 60 percent of those using Twitter finding it effective for marketing their business, up from 47 percent in spring 2011.