Twitter is a great tool for serendipity. How can you increase your odds of bumping up against great ideas there that you can potentially use in your business?

The popular social media tool Twitter is an endless source of ideas and inspiration. Because so many people are making connections and sharing questions, conversations and links, the it’s not uncommon to encounter new, unexpected ideas and the serendipitous opportunities they offer.

So how can you increase your odds of bumping up against great ideas that you can potentially use in your business? Here are a few thoughts:

Follow a diverse group of people, both inside of your field or profession as well as an eclectic group of people from other walks of life who will challenge your thinking and inspire you. The key here, as in real-life creativity, is diversity. The more viewpoints, the better. Some people on Twitter are very literal – here’s where I am, here’s what I’m doing – while others are more cerebral and thought-provoking. Look for people to follow who are in the latter camp.

Look for interesting groups that people you respect have created in their Twitter accounts, and follow them. This will expose you to a broader group of people and their viewpoints and ideas. This is a fairly new feature of Twitter; the advantage of following a group is that you instantly add everyone who is in that group to your tweetstream – you don’t have to add each one individually.

Set up searches for terms that are important to you. I don’t have a sense of the percentage of Twitter users who have set up searches for specific terms in their Twitter readers, but my gut feeling is that it’s rather low. I suspect that most people use these programs with the default set of columns – usually all of the people you’re following, any direct messages you have received and any tweets that mentioned you.

To improve your odds of encountering valuable and relevant ideas, it’s essential that you set up searches on keywords and terms that matter to you. For example, I have permanent searches set up in TweetDeck and HootSuite for innovation, creativity, brainstorming, mindmap and mind map. The tweets in these columns can be from anyone, and that’s a good thing when it comes to serendipity. What they share is the keyword or phrase that you specified.

Participate in Twitter chats related to your area of interest. Usually, a group of people agree to set aside one hour to discuss a particular topic. For example, I know of one group of people who are focused on innovation who meet weekly at a specific day and time. The tweets that are part of their “conversation” are held together by a hashtag – in the case of this group, #innochat.

To follow these conversations, simply set up a search column in your Twitter reader with the group’s hashtag as the search term. There are no invitations for these confabs; anyone is welcome to just listen in or share their expertise. Often, the tweets are flying by so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. But the best Twitter chats are a hotbed of ideas and discussion. Effective moderators will always publish the “tweetstream” – a list of all of the twitter messages that were part of the group’s discussion – after the chat, so you can always view an archive of tweets.

Ask for feedback: If you are kicking around an idea in your head, one way to get quick, free advice on its viability is to ask others on Twitter for feedback. Obviously, if this is a highly proprietary idea, you won’t want to share it in this medium. But otherwise, it’s a great way to get fast, free feedback on your nascent ideas. How can this be serendipitous? Because someone will inevitably challenge your thinking and send you off in an exciting new direction.

Have fun: Follow at least a few Twitter users with the sole purpose of making you laugh. Humor often comes from unexpected twists, unusual situations and unique perspectives. Laughter tends to put you in a looser, more creative frame of mind. So be sure to follow a few people who will tickle your funny bone. Some of my favorites include @badbanana, @funnyoneliners and @shitmydadsays (as the name implies, this last one is not really safe for work, but it’s hilarious!).

How about you? How do you utilize Twitter for creative inspiration?