When Twitter first started gaining steam, many probably scoffed at the idea of exchanging brief, 140-character messages, or "tweets," with others. But with 6 million (and counting) users, the social media application is beginning to prove its marketing value.

Twitter is essentially an instant messenger made public -- the 140-character messages, or "tweets," can be seen by everyone, and the conversations are always free-flowing. While consumers use the service to blab about how badly they want a pizza or to arrange weekend plans, they also use it to discuss your business, brand, or product -- and they'll continue to do so, whether you participate or not.

But don't just start firing off marketing missives to the Twitter community. If you actually want to leverage Twitter as a marketing tool, you'll need a plan, and you'll need to stick with it for the long haul. Here's what you need to keep in mind before you start to tweet.

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