10 ways nonprofits should use Twitter

Tweeting is a great way for nonprofits to spread their message, yet not many know how to leverage it. Here are 10 techniques for getting the most out of the platform.

For community organizers, Twitter makes a lot of sense.

Organizing is about building relationships and mobilizing people around a cause. Twitter does exactly that.

I have noticed that many organizations don’t understand that Twitter is a social network of one-on-one peer relationships.

Organizations, although they enter with brand recognition, don’t always become dynamic members of the community. Rather, they just show up and push their own information out.

In a real world community, you wouldn’t stand in the town square and shout your message—so why behave that way in a digital one? Just being on Twitter is not enough. Rather, as in real-world organizing, you need to meet people where they are.

I created the following list of rules for my own organization to help the decision makers better understand how to be more than a town crier, as well as to make Twitter work better for us and our cause.

10 Twitter rules for nonprofits:

1. Follow back

Twitter is social. Communities run on reciprocity, so follow back the real people who follow you.

Having roughly the same amount of followers as people you are following is not harmful to your brand. It shows that you don’t think you are too important to have relationships with the people you want to influence.

You can follow others, and then go to Twitter Karma a few weeks later to see whether they followed you back. Drop them if they don’t, and if they are not influencers. If they are, you may want to work harder on getting them to follow back.

2. Develop relationships

We often ask, “What’s in it for us?” We seldom focus on the motivation of the person whom we want to retweet our messages. When others retweet a message, we can grow our network, increase brand identification, and inspire action for our cause.

To make Twitter work for your organization, you need free agents. Free agents are people who don’t work for you, but can mobilize others. An organization needs to cultivate relationships with these influencers through interaction. By retweeting their content when it is appropriate, you validate them as important and increase their influence. Look for major influencers using key words associated with your cause. People follow their interests.

Like anything else, you need to earn respect in the Twitter community; it’s not a given. One key truth of Twitter to keep in mind is that information and action flow through links between peers.

3. Interaction

Asking questions and answering someone else’s creates a conversation. Interaction helps build relationships and digital intimacy. Hosting regular chats as part of your strategy can help create more buzz around your topic of interest, and it’s a great way for your organization to crowd-source and make your work more relevant.

Tweetups are another great way to energize your network of free agents.

4. Acknowledge

Thank people when they retweet you. Put together a list each day of the people you interacted with, and give them a communal shout-out. People like to see who else is connected with a topic, and they may follow each other. This is good for you, because it will strengthen network ties in your area.

Follow Friday (#FF) is a great opportunity to cultivate relationships, both inside and outside your network. Follow Friday acknowledges your hard-working free agents; you can use it to show influencers whom you are courting that you know they are tweeting and that you’re paying attention.

5. Trending topics

Check them out occasionally. If one fits with your topic, it might open your message to a wider and different audience.

6. Be authentic

If your organization merely tweets your own content and nothing more a couple of times a day, Twitter is probably not working for you. People want to know that a real person who authentically cares about your cause exists behind the curtain.

Don’t assign Twitter to someone in your organization who doesn’t have an interest in using it effectively. The community can sense a lack of interest.

If you’re having an office celebration or an interesting event, share it with a TwitPic. If you are reading interesting news articles around your issue, be the hub of information and share. Don’t be afraid to put out the occasional silly tweet that will make your followers laugh, or an inspiring quote that will make people think.

7. Partnerships are important

Just as you develop relationships with influencers, do the same with other organizations. Find out if there are other organizations working around your cause. When these organizations have appropriate content, retweet it. You will soon figure out which organizations will work with you and retweet your content to their networks. This can introduce you to a new audience that cares about your issues.

Don’t forget to partner with other departments and employees in your organization who are pushing out your content. You want them to be enthusiastic free agents as well.

8. Strategize

Twitter is a big-time investment. Social media isn’t worth the time and money without a road map to guide you. So build a team that will:

  • Brainstorm the appropriate goals for your organization, and decide on those you can realistically accomplish
  • Decide on your target audience (there may be more than one)
  • Use hashtag searches to identify people who are tweeting around your organization’s buzz words
  • Map your network to find out where you need stronger network ties, and decide how to improve them
  • Decide how many and what types of tweets you want to get out daily to accomplish your goals (organization content, industry news, interactions, humor, pics, etc.)
  • Decide how you are going to attract influencers and set goals for recruits
  • Decide how you measure return on investment (ROI). Ensure that you have scheduled time to reevaluate, make changes, and incorporate what you hear

9. Length of tweets

Try to keep your content to fewer than 140 characters. A potential retweet may not happen if the free agent has to shorten your tweet for you. Substitution is OK in Twitter (using “2” for “to”).

Hashtag all buzz words. You want to make sure that those who follow certain terms see your content.

Occasionally, when you have content that you really want to get around, say “Pls RT.” Ask for retweets very sparingly though; it can quickly become a “cry wolf” symbol to your followers when you attach it to everything.

10. Experiment

Don’t just depend on the big ROI patterns. Pay attention to what is getting the most action. Hootsuite enables you to view daily tweets and the amount of clicks each tweet has. Try tweeting the same content in different ways, and see what gets the most attention. Pay attention to what is working in the community. What is grabbing your attention? Keep a file of good ideas that you may want to use in the future.

Robin Stephenson is a field organizer for Bread for the World out of Portland, Ore. You can find her on Twitter as @RobinPNW.

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