Seven Tips to Harness the Power of Twitter for Your Cause
Twitter provides a way for content to spread organically between people, making an organization with a presence on the site more accessible to constituents, building trust and strengthening relationships with activists and donors.
So say Arielle Holland, consultant, and Marc Ruben, vice president, both with M+R Strategic Services, in the recently released whitepaper, Nonprofit Organizing in 140 Characters or Less. Holland and Ruben share some tips for nonprofits looking to harness the power of Twitter for their causes.
The authors note that Twitter differs from other social networks in that it's built for faster-paced conversations — only 140 characters max per message — and it's more public, as conversations get indexed by Google and other search engines.
For organizations wondering if Twitter is the right social-networking fit for them, Holland and Ruben share these seven nuggets of advice:
1. Beware of the bandwagon.
Don't join Twitter because everyone else is. Build your online presence strategically. Consider if Twitter is the right medium to reach your target audience, and what the goals of your Twitter program will be. Know what you want to get out of Twitter before you begin a social-marketing program there, so you'll know who you want to reach and how. Most of all, make sure your organization’s tweets offer value to followers.
2. Staff strategically.
Twitter requires an investment of time. The person maintaining your account should already have experience in Twitter. Make sure the account manager has at least 10 hours a week to devote to maintaining the account and engaging with supporters. The key with Twitter is to be able to react quickly, posting and responding to messages on the fly. If your organization decides to come up with an approval process for posts, make sure it's as streamlined as possible.
3. Build your base.
Do outreach. Start by following staff and interns with personal Twitter accounts. Follow other organizations that work on similar issues to yours. Follow major news outlets or high-profile bloggers and journalists who cover your cause.
Then reach out to your constituents. Some ways to do this recommended by Holland and Ruben are linking to your Twitter page from your Web site; posting a link or sending an announcement about your new Twitter account on other social-media sites your organization uses; featuring your Twitter account in an e-newsletter or adding a link to your Twitter page in your e-mail footers; reaching out to bloggers and tweeters you have relationships with, asking for their help in promoting your new SM presence; and adding a feed of your tweets to a place on your Web site or blog.
4. Return the follow.
“Followers” are people who are monitoring your tweets. Set up your organization’s account to receive e-mail notifications when someone new follows you, then follow them back immediately. "That shows that your organization is listening, not just talking," the authors said.
5. Keep the conversation moving.
If someone mentions your organization in a tweet, tweet them back in a way that pushes the conversation along and builds your relationship with them.
6. Tweet it forward.
Retweet what other Twitter users say or to share a link directly. Retweeting — abbreviated as RT — means copying verbatim what someone else has already tweeted. The authors stress that you should include the person's username in the retweet, as well. When you want to share a useful link or piece of information with your followers that you found through another source or Twitter user but want to repost it in your own way, use a hat tip (h/t) or "via."
7. #Tag it!
Words preceded by a pound sign are known as hashtags in Twitter and are the primary ways Twitter users organically organize the information they tweet. The authors describe it as "a virtual filing cabinet."
Most-used hashtags appear in the Twitter sidebar as “trending topics.”
"Many organizations launch hashtags for particular campaigns, events and issues, and there are a number of free tools available to help you follow the discussion about particular hashtags, to track responses, shorten URLs and manage your accounts," Holland and Ruben write.
They recommend organizations use hashtags to help grow their bases of followers by following Twitter users who send tweets with the hashtag.
Holland and Ruben go on to list eight tactics to help organizations engage supporters and spur change via Twitter. To read them, download the whitepaper in full.