BY Chris Abraham

Before you decide on a whim to register, activate, populate, respond, and promote your business or brand via Twitter, take a second to think this through. My first question is: why have you waited until now? My second is: why now? And finally: are you prepared to commit to actively tweeting in good times and in bad, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part? Is that your solemn vow?

Let me make this even clearer: this isn’t a marriage, this is partly like being a parent and partially like being a patient. As a parent to your bouncing-baby Twitter profile, you need to be attentive, creative, engaging, consistent, generous, a brilliant teacher and also a patient listener. As a patient, you’re had organ replacement surgery and you need to remember to take your medicine every day, without fail, for the rest of your life, or your pink new healthy liver will reject you; even more, you’re going to need to change your lifestyle, too. Why?

Well, now that you’re a parent to all of your followers and also a patient yourself, you’re going to need to start being a role model: consistent every day because one off-day in the limelight of your growing online brand celebrity can become much worse than a simple black eye. And since this child — these children — never sleep (like all babies seem never to sleep), this job cannot be limited to 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday — this is global, this is GMT +10 (Australia) all the way to GMT -10 (the Hawaiian Islands).

So, not only will you need to queue-up interesting self-promotional content and links to your posts, your press releases, or to mentions of yourself in the news, but you’ll need to spend another 80% of your time actually following the people you follow, responding to @replies, retweeting interesting content from other people, participating in conversations and utilizing relevant hashtags — and you’ll get extra points for following trends, sharing interesting content that doesn’t directly relate to your own company, products, people or services as well as for following industry-specific keywords in order to become part in other people’s relevant Twitter conversations. Even more, pursuing interesting people to follow, growing your community over time into something of a proper online community — a virtual family.

And I haven’t even started in on online monitoring, brand and reputation management, and using social as part or an Online Reputation Management (ORM) and organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, either — that’s something else entirely and fully worth budget, resources, and more hours in the day, week, month — including nights and weekends.

Plus, there’s more: you can activate these people to become real friends, to participate in real tweet-ups and get-togethers. You can cross-promote these natural allies and compatriots or other funnels, such as email lists, blogs, Facebook Pages, Tumblrs, Pinterest, and Google+ — each of which will take just about as much time and energy as Twitter does if you don’t cheat and cut too many corners — though there are ways to make things much more efficient. To a point.