When you’re not running a top-of-the-ticket campaign, it can be extremely difficult to make your campaign visible to voters. As a down-ticket candidate, you probably have a small staff and your resources aren’t exactly abundant. If this is your political reality, you want all the benefits social media gave to candidates like Barack Obama and Scott Brown, but you need them at one-hundredth of the cost. At the top of the list of key (& free) tools is Twitter.

Here’s a quick checklist to help undercard candidates score a TKO:

• Know Why You Are On Twitter
Being a successful candidate is about getting your message out to your targeted audience. As Twitter aficionado Wesley Donohue points out, Twitter is a fantastic tool to help increase a candidate’s name ID online, because, as an open network application with no filters, its Internet reach is nearly limitless. Reporters and bloggers frequent Twitter, so if your opponent sucker punches you or your campaign has hit a bump in the road, Twitter can be an excellent rapid response device.

• Brand Your Campaign Wisely In The Twitter-sphere
More often than not, campaigns fail to integrate the various social media channels of their digital strategy. With this in mind, pick a Twitter handle that corresponds to your campaign’s website domain and Facebook page, this way it will make it easier for folks to find you online. On your Twitter page, include a link to your campaign website (the goal is to drive tweeps to your campaign, not away from it), a brief bio, a solid candidate picture and a descent background. You don’t want to appear too slick, but if you are sloppy online, folks will notice.

• Think Before You Tweet
Over the duration of a campaign, there are many heated moments and things can get a little crazy. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that you (and your campaign staff) are clearheaded every time a tweet is sent. Twitter can provide a campaign with an abundance of benefits, but all of those good works can be undone with one wrong tweet. Just remember, the U.S. Library of Congress catalogs every public tweet. If you blow it on Twitter, there will be a permanent record of it.

• Tweet Regularly
If you want people to follow you, it is important to Tweet with regularity. If you don’t folks will lose interest. While it is difficult to quantify how many times in a day or a week a campaign should Tweet, let’s just say the more often you Tweet the better. But don’t go overboard and become a 24/7 Tweet machine that sends out batches of Tweets every other minute. If you do, people may view you as an online annoyance.

• Avoid Drivel, But Be Personable
To be perfectly honest, few people care about what you had for lunch or that you are wearing one blue sock and one black sock. As personified by former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, pointless blather doesn’t really sell on Twitter. At the same time, the best candidates on Twitter will not be rewarded by touting only talking points and campaign issues -- it is important to be authentic. Folks long to know the real you, so discuss your family, your most loyal supporters, your district’s needs or your favorite sports team. Being authentic is good, but constantly spouting nonsense is not.

• Respond To Your Twitter Followers
Twitter is not all about you. When it comes to your Twitter followers, heed the advice of country songwriter Toby Keith, who once said, “[E]very once in awhile I wanna talk about me.” If a follower says something complementary about your campaign on Twitter, re-tweet them, reply to them or direct message them to thank them. People like to know that that their work on your behalf is being appreciated. But don’t stop there. Pose questions, solicit feedback and listen – if you make your presence on Twitter a two-way conversation, you will be rewarded.

• Incorporate Hash Tags and Links
Roughly 50 million tweets are sent each day, making it difficult to keep track of who is saying what, and whether or not what they are saying is actually legitimate. Given this conundrum, use relevant hashtags to categorize your tweets for folks. For example, if you are tweeting about the future of the Republican Party, incorporate #GOP into your tweet. Hashtags allow Twitter users to find information on topics relevant to their interests. There is the temptation on the part of new Twitter users to create hashtags. Try to refrain from this, unless their creation “adds value for your [campaign] and your followers.”

On Twitter as in life, people like to know that what you are saying is true. Substance matters, other Twitter users will better receive those who incorporate links to articles, blogs and pictures in their tweets.

• Monitor Your Twitter Account
Are you being effective on Twitter? If you rely only on the tools provided at Twitter.com, this can be difficult to ascertain. It is important to know if people are re-tweeting you, if folks are clicking on your links or what your opponent is saying about you. For these reasons, we suggest using an application such as TweetDeck or Hootsuite to monitor your activity (and your opponents’). While both applications are available for the iPhone, if you are a BlackBerry user and you want to tweet on the run, Ubertwitter can be handy.

At first Twitter can be a difficult animal to manage. But after a while communicating in 140 characters or less will become second nature. Keep this advice in mind, and your campaign presence on Twitter will be more effective. And maybe your stump speech will be better too.

Steve Pearson is President of CivicNEXT, which provides practical networking, communications and fundraising solutions for political campaigns and organizations. Ford O’Connell is President of ProjectVirginia, winner of the 2010 Reed Award for Best Use of Twitter and whose blog reports on “Where Politics Meets Social Media.”