Small-business owners often can gain an edge on larger competitors with cost-efficient and creative marketing strategies. Call it guerrilla marketing -- achieving conventional goals with unconventional methods.

The free social-media site Twitter has become one of the most popular weapons in the guerrilla marketing arsenal.

If you're thinking of trying out Twitter, like any good guerrilla, you'll want to first scope out your target -- your customers -- as well as the opposition -- your competitors.

Here are five tools that can help you gather intelligence from the field to make the most of your Twitter marketing efforts.

  1. Search.twitter.com
    Imagine a Google-like search engine devoted solely to Twitter. You enter your search terms and, voilà! You see every public conversation happening on Twitter that contains that phrase.

    With close to 200 million users on Twitter, you have a massive pool of up-to-the-minute conversations happening globally. Twitter Search provides access to real human beings' thoughts, and with the advanced search functions, you can get very specific. Once you find people who are talking about your area of interest, you can engage them in real time on a personal level.
     
  2. Twitter Grader
    Twitter Grader ranks the top people on Twitter by geographic location. It uses an algorithm that looks at a person's number of followers and how many people he or she follows, and also takes into consideration the number of conversations and retweets he or she is having. Using this data, Twitter Grader ranks people from 0 to 100 percent. It's not foolproof, but this tool is one of the best ways for you to identify the most influential people in a city or region who are on Twitter.
     
  3. Backtype.com
    A lot of the conversation by your target market may take place in blog comments, Twitter and even sites like Amazon.com. These are valuable conversations, and backytpe.com indexes this dialogue. This is a real time, conversational search engine that indexes millions of conversations from blogs, social networks and media, allowing you to keep up with the most current buzz on a topic.
     
  4. Backtweets.com
    This service tells you who on Twitter is linking to a website with their tweets. When using Twitter Search to monitor your brand or your competitor's brand, you will miss the links that use URL shorteners. Most people use URL shorteners when linking to a blog or site in a tweet. Backtweets.com crawls through all of the shortened tweets to see what the true sites are that are being linked to. This is important for two reasons:
    • It gives you a much more accurate picture of the volume, nature and sentiment of the conversations about any website.
    • It helps you identify members or potential members of your community that are supporting you and your marketing efforts.
       
  5. Twellow.com
    Twellow is a large and detailed Twitter business directory. Within North America, parts of Europe and Australia, you can drill down to individual cities and regions to find the Twitter users in those areas. You can also search by keyword and geography, pinpointing people with specific words in their bio and a city, state, province or region.

    Twellow is an efficient way to find new and interesting people to follow, and it's fully integrated into Twitter. That means you don't have to leave Twellow to follow people, you just click on the follow button beside their name.

    The site also has a follower and following management tool. It tells you who is following you and indicates whether or not you are following them. It does the same thing for the list of people that you follow. This can be a good tool to help you pare down and focus your list.

This article has been excerpted from Guerrilla Social Media Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson and Shane Gibson, published by Entrepreneur Press. Levinson is the author of the "Guerrilla Marketing" series of books. Gibson, a speaker and author, specializes in social media marketing and sales performance.