I connect deeply with the mission of organizations like BALLE that promote the idea of building strong economies through local businesses.

That’s because to my mind there is no greater good than contributing to a great neighborhood shopping area or a vibrant, employed local community. To be sure, neighborhood businesses are learning they can easily extend their reach using social media like Facebook. But, still, to many smaller businesses, Twitter and its benefits remain a puzzle. To get some answers, I engaged Claire Diaz Ortiz, leader of social innovation at Twitter Inc. , in an email interview.

A confirmed do-gooder, Diaz Ortiz has earned 324,629 Twitter followers [and rising]. She writes about business, marketing, and being a force for good on her blog and is currently touring the world, promoting her book, Twitter for Good.

Q: ‘‘Be a Force for Good,’’ is the guiding principle of the service structure Twitter provides to non-profit organizations and causes. What advice can you offer to U.S. neighborhood businesses as they reframe themselves as forces for good?

Claire: Small businesses need to start thinking (if they aren’t already) about how they can help their customers. Ultimately, any enterprise (non-profit or for-profit) needs to cater to its constituents, and making sure that businesses are meeting customers where they are is essential. If you’re a small business, think of how you can provide support to your customers (via your products, or beyond them) in order to reframe the idea of how you seek to be a force for good in your community.

Q: How can the principles detailed in Twitter for Good (Target, Write, Engage, Explore, Track) help build a neighborhood one tweet at a time?

Claire: Twitter is a tool for businesses and organizations everywhere to better do their jobs of meeting the needs of their customers and supporters. The TWEET model shows anyone how to excel on Twitter to meet whatever goal your organization aims for. It’s about coming up with the specific goal for your Twitter activity (Target) and then implementing specific steps to reach (and Track) those aims.

Q: Can you give us a specific example of Twitter used to good effect in a US neighborhood?

Claire: Mark Horvath and his tireless effort helping the homeless populations throughout the US consistently prove some of the best examples of Twitter being used to uplift communities. Through new media and social media, @hardlynormal and @ invisiblepeople, Mark works to connect resources to those who need them most. He is a constant, on-the-ground voice and presence for not only meeting specific needs (this person needs this winter coat, for example) but for drawing attention to the important larger issue of homelessness, especially in times of recession.

Q: Many of our readers are smaller neighborhood businesses. It’s commonly said that small business is the bedrock of the U.S. Economy and strong neighborhood businesses are the bedrock of strong local communities. [I know this well from my local community development work here in Chicago’s under-served neighborhoods.] Given that, can you offer some thoughts for our readers about how they can learn to use Twitter to serve both their businesses and the greater good?

Claire: Again, running a small business is another way to help someone — well, really, to help a whole community. Small businesses provide support, services, or products that a community needs in a tangible, local way. Serving the community and making a profit are perfectly connected, and any small business (or large) operating ethically should feel confident that they are serving the “greater good” in their efforts when they try to meet the needs of their consumers.

Twitter is about relationships, and small businesses are built on the bedrock of (local) relationships. As such, social media and new media help local businesses to service their community more tangibly and consistently. If you’re a local business trying to figure out Twitter, think about the relationships you can be building, and it will make sense.

My conversation with Claire led to some thoughts on how to jump start TwitterThink and get it working for good!

You’re not just a café, you’re a gathering place where friends and family meet to catch up, relax and at times do business. Your clients come in to buy a cup of coffee or snack or maybe even lunch. What do you offer beyond the local doughnut chain to make your experience special and memorable and customized to them? That’s your Twitter stream.

You’re not only a grocer, but also a direct connection to good health and happy gatherings for the entire community. People come in your door thinking about recipes, quality of produce, brands and goodies! Most of all they think of the pleasures of feeding themselves and others as well as the time it takes. What information can you offer through your Twitter stream that touches this greater purpose?

You’re not only a dry cleaner, you also provide a fresh start to your client’s work day. You talk with your clients at the beginning and end of the day and they think of you every time they put on a fresh shirt or newly cleaned jacket. As a friend and service provider in their daily lives, what thoughts can you offer that connect them to a positive experience of your service?

You can catch Claire’s wisdom and that of others from Zynga, LinkedIn and Facebook for a fee at a special Social Media for Non-Profits event here in Chicago Sept. 27. Social Media for Nonprofits is a nationwide conference series with speakers from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Chicago’s very own Groupon, Zynga and Community Media Workshop.

Add it to the smorgasbord of free events being held here during Social Media Week Chicago, Sept. 19 – 23, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune and Zocalo Group. And then mix in some affordable 435 Digital classes.

Here’s to more social media smarts this fall!