While many small businesses have started using Twitter in their marketing, finding the time to do it right can be a struggle. According to recent research by R2integrated, the number-one barrier to entry into social media for businesses is lack of time and resources.

Here are seven Twitter tricks from the pros that allow you to spend less time on the mechanics and more time engaging…

1. Follow Other People’s Lists

Using Twitter lists is a great way to keep up with what’s happening in your industry and connect with relevant people in an efficient way. And because chances are someone in your industry already went to the trouble of developing a great list of people to follow, there’s no need to recreate the wheel.

You can use a site like Listorious to search for other people’s lists by topic. For example, a boutique clothing merchant could use Listorious to search “fashion” to find lists of fashionable tweeters. Once you’ve identified a comprehensive list, follow the list and also set up a column or running search in your social media tool dedicated to that list’s feed so you don’t miss any tweets. When you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, go back and follow the top people from the list so you can start to build direct connections.

2. Cut Clutter With Microlists

When you’re following more than a few hundred people, your main Twitter feed starts to become more like noise than a conversation, and you’re likely to miss what key influencers are tweeting about… especially if you only have time to check in once or twice a day.

A great way to cut through the clutter is to create your own microlists of key people to follow. For example, I have a list of media, analysts and influencers who are important to my clients running in the center column of my social media dashboard so I can easily stay on top of what they’re tweeting. You can go back through your existing followees and put them into lists, and as you follow new people, simply put them into lists as appropriate. Follow these lists in separate columns to facilitate quick scanning. I’d recommend keeping these lists to no more than 50 people to keep the stream manageable.

3. Automate Routine Processes

While Twitter is a great way to make direct and authentic connections with your customers, there are still many activities that can be automated. For example, some tools, such as SocialOomph, let you send an automated direct message thanking new followers. lets you update your status on Twitter, as well as Facebook, LinkedIn and dozens of other sites, all at the same time from one place.

Another way to fit tweeting into your schedule is to develop tweets in bulk and schedule them to go out later. Many tools are now available that offer this functionality, such as HootsuiteTweetdeck and Twaitter. Because most people only check Twitter off and on throughout the day, you can schedule the same or similar tweets to go out over the course of a few days without most people seeing the same thing twice.

4. Follow Keywords and Hashtags

Here’s another time-saving tip: follow keywords and hashtags to easily find relevant content to share. For example, activist blogger @unsuckdcmetro follows the hashtag #wmata (Washington Metro Area Transit Authority) to track real-time tweets about the DC Metro. This allows him to uncover breaking news for his blogand to keep up a steady flow of tweets for his readers without having to spend time searching for content.

I recommend setting up a running search or column in your social media tool on particular terms and hashtags so you can quickly scan for interesting content to retweet and for people to engage with. Some tools will also let you set up alerts to monitor particular keywords and will even periodically e-mail you a digest of the tweets that contain those keywords.

5. Mine Existing Content

If you’ve got a company blog, you’ve likely got a ton of great content that’s only been tweeted out once with a simple headline. Social media consultant David Spark recommends going back through your blog and pulling out good quotes as tweets with a link back to the article, and then scheduling all those tweets over time. You can do the same thing with your news and customer case studies as well. And while you’re at it, why not assign this project to a sharp team member who’s eager to participate in the company’s social media and marketing efforts? You’ll have one less task on your plate.

6. Share Responsibility

Ad hoc projects aren’t the only jobs you can offload. If your business has more than just a few employees, chances are there are several trustworthy people who could actually be tweeting on behalf of the company. Simply come up with a few simple ground rules for tweeting, review the protocol with your team and let them have a go. Supervise the tweets for a week or two to make sure they’re on the right track.

Citrix Online’s @GoToMeeting is a great example of how to do this right. It has multiple people tweeting and includes their initials with each tweet. The Twitter page also features the names and photos of these tweeters. This approach not only distributes responsibility and makes the Twitter conversation more lively, but also gives the company a more human face and personality.

7. Plan Less, Experiment More

Don’t spend ages planning — just start trying new things. Spark suggests that instead of having a one-hour meeting to plan your social media strategy, cancel the meeting and require team members to spend that hour writing a blog post. And instead of having another meeting, spend the next free hour reading the other blog posts, leaving comments and promoting it to your social networks.