Twitter for Non-Profits 

January 8, 2009 

The first step is to set up a Twitter account and username. (You hopefully already know you do this at Twitter.com) Your username should reflect your organization and you should include all of the requested information within the "Settings" fields. Make sure you include an email address that is monitored; you will receive email notifications of new followers and any direct messages (private messages) you receive at this address.

Make sure you include the link back to your Website and the copy in the “One Line Bio” field that explains who you are and the purpose of your Twitter account; this can also be your organizational one line bio. Here is a critical reason why you should ensure your bio info and picture are unique: When you follow someone, they will see you in their list of “Followers”; all they will see is your username, real name, and picture. If they hover their mouse over your username, they will be able to take a quick look at your one line bio and this usually prompts them on whether they will follow you back or not. If you don’t share information about who you are, people will be less likely to want to follow you back, or even follow you at all.

If you choose, include your real name and upload a portrait vs. a logo. There are some studies supporting the notion that people prefer to make a personal connection as compared to following a corporate presence. Also, customize your profile. Don’t leave the default Twitter visual settings—picture, design, colors, etc.—in place.

Managing Twitter

Whoever is managing your Twitter account should be willing to “tweet” several times a week at the very least on topics related to your organization and area of focus. Ideally, you should contribute useful content, links of interest, upcoming program or event information, etc., as often as possible. The more content you contribute, the more likely you are to gain visitors who may be searching for words included in your tweets or simply watching the public timeline. You will also appear more “active” to a prospective follower, which will encourage not only more followers but “retweets”. Remember, Twitter is quickly becoming a search resource, so the more content you have out there and the more your content is “retweeted”, the more likely you are to grow your audience.

The person managing the Twitter account should also be available to answer questions and should browse Twitter’s search engine (http://search.twitter.com) for any mention of your non-profit or other related topics. It is important to keep the account active so potential followers will feel that they will get interesting posts and answers to their questions. We recommend you check your Twitter account for posts directly to you in the form of public tweets or private messages. You will also be able to see in the @username listing if anyone has mentioned your twitter account in a message to another Twitter user. If you see anyone mentioning you, make sure you follow the contributor or reply to a question they may be asking.

Twitter protocol is rather vague, but here are some good rules to follow: If someone follows you, follow them back; however, when you review your followers, we recommend you take a close look at each follower's bio (by hovering your mouse over their username in your “Followers” list on the Twitter.com Website). Make sure they aren’t a spammer or completely unrelated to your organization. Follow anyone that seems to be a legitimate person or organization. You can always opt to "Unfollow" them anytime in the future or block them if they become a pest.

Twitter Tools and Applications

There are many useful Twitter desktop and mobile applications which make the service even more powerful than it is in the twitter.com browser experience. Consider using TweetDeck for your desktop application. If you are using a BlackBerry or iPhone, try out different apps until you find one you like. TweetDeck lets you spread out all of your messages and replies and sort those you follow into categories, which makes staying up on the posts much easier.

TweetLater.com lets you set tweets up to be automatically sent out over the coming hours and days. It's a very useful Website if you are going to be traveling or want to enter a batch of tweets but not have them all go out at the same time—something we don’t recommend doing, as you will annoy your followers by taking up the entire browsing space with all of your posts.

I am a big fan of Twittelator Pro on my iPhone, but have heard great reviews of other iPhone Twitter apps, as well. Each has its pros and cons; try a few of the free versions out and see which one suits you best.

Another tip and perk to using an application like TweetDeck is the built-in URL shortening functionality. This will automatically shorten long links to be more Twitter-friendly and take up less space. Additionally, Twitter apps usually include tools for embedding pictures in your posts. Most studies show that tweets most likely to be clicked on, generate followers or get retweeted include links or pictures. The Website Bit.ly (http://bit.ly/) also allows you to create shorter URLs, as well as track your click through rates.

Twitter for Marketing and Promotion

Here are some great ways to consider using Twitter to promote your marketing and communication initiatives—and grow overall awareness of your non-profit.

Generate traffic. Twitter can be used to get traffic to your Websites or the sites of partner organizations. If you ask your Twitter friends to tweet about it ("retweet"), the message will spread faster and further as other active users pick it up.

Remember, don’t be afraid to join the conversation. If you see someone asking a question or asking for advice, jump in! Also, if you want your message to be spread, ask users to retweet it for you. Usually, if you end your post with “Pls RT” (RT meaning "retweet") and keep your original post short enough to make the RT easy, you will get your post spread to more readers.

Tip: Since each tweet is limited to 140 characters, if your original post is 135 characters and you ask people to retweet it for you, their newly-created message will automatically be too long. retweets append the post with “RT@yourusername” included to give credit back to the original poster. So, keep it short and sweet!

Help generate interest in fund raising. If you are running any kind of contest, give away, etc., Twitter can be a great way to spread the word.

Hire People/Find Volunteers. Need a new employee, freelancer, intern or volunteers? Send out a message asking for recommendations or resumes or send out a link to your site with more information on the open positions. This is a very quick and easy way to find good potential matches for your staffing or volunteer needs.

Get Feedback. Need an impromptu focus group? Send out a message asking for advice and you’ll receive replies from other users. This is especially effective if you offer an incentive, like a free T-shirt to the tenth person who replies, etc..

Networking. Twitter can be used as a great platform for you to interact with other like-minded people and organizations. It can be used to establish relationships which you may call upon in the future for a variety of needs.

Real-Time Event Updates. Organizations can use Twitter as a means to inform event participants and announce latest event happenings/changes. Use hashtags (#) as ways to universally tag and group tweets in one place.

Tip: Hashtags can be anything you want to make them so, if you are hosting an event called "Give Our Non-Profit Money", you can add "#gonpm" to every tweet and your followers or fellow tweeters will be encouraged to do the same for any related tweeting. Then, clicking on that hashtag within any tweet will take the user to a listing of all of the tweets including that hashtag. It's a quick easy way to group tweets so other readers can follow along with the thread or event postings.

Find people who need you. Twitter can be used as a means to find potential resource recipients online. Do a search for keywords related to your non-profit on Twitter Search and then follow those users.

Twitter Resource Links

Morning News article on Twitter Etiquette: http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/the_thoughtful_user_guide/writing_my_twitter_etiquette_article_14_ways_to_use_twitter_politely.php

Another great site for Twitter information on getting started: http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/03/the-ultimate-guide-for-everything-twitter/

Cold Kiwi posted “The Top 15 Reasons to Use Twitter” and they cover many of the benefits Twitter provides: http://larrison.blogspot.com/2008/01/top-15-reasons-to-use-twitter.html

http://cutedogtheory.wikispaces.com/

http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/2009/01/05/social-media-target-strategies-for-a-better-2009/

http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/social-media-marketing-strategy/

http://www.twitip.com/whats-in-it-for-your-followers-how-to-be-a-useful-on-twitter/

http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/01/creating-your-organizations-social-media-strategy-map.html

Have some other useful tips for non-profits or are you a non-profit using social media in new and successful ways? Let us know by adding a comment to this post!

You can follow me here. See you on Twitter!