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Business and Nonprofits Find Value in Twitter

Lori Halley 16 September 2008 12 comments

Twitter post screenshot

The original intention of sites such as Twitter may have been purely social, but like many Web 2.0 tools, it has evolved in the hands of its users.

This time last year, the Canadian Marketing Association saw Twitter as a new toy for the tech savvy Millennial, “an easy, non committal way to keep tabs and staying emotionally close to our friends with low effort, risk and intrusion.” Within a few months, however, that tune had changed to How Tweet It Is.

As a channel of communications that manages to be both public and personal at the same time, Twitter holds a natural appeal for any organization seeking to reach and engage an Internet audience.

Recent articles at BusinessWeek urge businesses to “lose their inhibitions over using the microblogging tool to get closer to customers,” and look at case studies where a Twitter account has helped to build a brand:

It’s not just audience size that draws brands. People who use the site are likely to hold sway over others. A single Twitter message—known informally as a tweet—sent in frustration over a product or a service’s performance can be read by hundreds or thousands of people. Similarly, positive interaction with a representative of the manufacturer or service provider can help change an influencer’s perspective for the better.

Wondering how to put microblogging to work for your organization — not simply as an amusement during coffee breaks, but on the job, with real results to show for the time investment? 

Take a tip from the corporations, entrepreneurs, associations, clubs and charities who use Twitter:

  • To announce new products, events, and other opportunities;
  • To promote and grow traffic to a website or blog;
  • To track customer/member comments and complaints about the organization;
  • To build community through direct and informal one-to-one contact with customers/members ;
  • To share information and resources with colleagues, ask questions, and brainstorm ideas;
  • To keep up with breaking news, both via traditional media agencies like the Associated Press and through individuals on the spot;

and the list goes on.

Beth Bates (at Good Works Grapevine, part of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange) has rounded up a list of industry-specific Twitter guides for everyone from artists and educators to realtors and recruiters. AcademHack offers suggestions for academics on Twitter, with a number of ideas that translate well to the world beyond the classroom. Clubs, associations, charities and other nonprofit organizations trying to figure out the best way to make use of the microblogging phenomenon, here are a few more resources:

  • Associations Using Twitter (Association Marketing Springboard) — a detailed and useful response to Bob France’s question: “Are any associations out there maintaining an official association Twitterstream? I’m considering setting one up and I’m looking for some successful practices…”;
  • Social Media for Real World Change — Leslie Poston looks at how people are using social media tools and their social-media networks to bring about real change in the real world;
  • How Can Nonprofits Use Twitter? — Part of the Net2ThinkTank series at Netsquared.org, this is Britt Bravo’s valuable collection of posts about Twitter in the nonprofit world — for which, appropriately, a number of comments came in via Twitter!

There’s a real value to be found in “tweeting,” it appears. So, then, why do we so often hear Twitter (and other social media) described as a “real time-waster” for many? The answer, I suspect, lies in finding the right balance between personal chit-chat and cynical self-promotion.

The “social” (chat) part of social media can help large organizations to connect in a more personal way with the people they serve, and to show a more personal face. And the “media” (broadcast) aspect gives smaller organizations and individuals the potential for an audience they might be unable to reach by more traditional means. 

What do you think?  If you’re using Twitter, or another of the social microblogging sites, what do you see working (or not) for your organization?

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 4:11 PM


  • Matt said:

    Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 11:03 AM

    This is great seeing NGO's adopt new technologies, especially Social Networks like twitter.  It give an easy, affordable (free) way for them to directly connect to members and people with similar ideals.

    Keep up the great articles.

  • Ashley Messick said:

    Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 12:19 PM

    A great way that I have found to begin using Twitter was the really utilize the "search" option. I typed in such things as "nonprofit technology" and "nonprofit social media" and was able to connect with people who have that as a phrase in their bio. This leads me to the point that individuals and nonprofits should make sure to utilize their "bio" section so that they will be sure to pull up in searches.

    Personally, Twitter has become a great way to share information. So many of the people I follow often Tweet links (in tiny url form) to interesting articles, blog posts, websites, etc.

    Lastly, I love the examples out there of nonprofits using their Twitter connection to begin campaigns such as the Tweetup campaign that the Blood Center of Central Texas recently held or Gary Vaynerchuk calling out Kevin Rose (among others) in the "Shave your head for charity" campaign, that was then re-tweeted and done live online.

    Great post about Twitter! Thanks so much!  

  • Fabian Pattberg said:

    Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 1:00 PM

    Great und brlliantly written article.

    I am a huge Twitter fan and found this article very useful.

    Keep up the good work. Also added you on Twitter.



  • Mitchell Allen said:

    Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 3:57 AM

    When any new software platform debuts, people take some time to learn it, before discovering ways to exploit it, excuse me, maximize its potential.

    Depending upon who is doing the writing, big business "gets it" in only a few rare cases. The chosen examples place heavy emphasis on the so-called conversation and avoidance of overt advertising.

    This particular balance, if indeed it is an accurate assessment of success with social media, seems to fit perfectly the non-profit, association and club profile.

    An organization is only as good as the participation of its members and, anything that makes such participation more spontaneous is worth a look.



  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 7:31 AM

    Matt, you're right - social networking is not only a powerful promotion tool but the fact that it's free puts that power in the hands of anyone who takes the time to figure out how to leverage it.

    Ashley, thanks for the reminder about the importance of the Bio now that Twitter's search feature is much improved. Maybe we should talk more about some of the ways to find like-minded people to connect with - the 3rd-party tools that have been developed to help with that.

    Another great example of social networking put to maximum effect is Tu Diabetes - http://tudiabetes.com/ - an online community that integrates every kind of social networking tool you can imagine. And see what they're doing with Twitter: http://twitter.com/tudiabetes - there's a lot to be learned here!

    Fabian, glad you found this post useful. :)

    Mitch, yes indeed! The number of those who don't "get it" far outweight the number of those who do: it's an old-school "advertising" mindset still at work, I suspect. Preaching at your audience is seldom as effective as engaging them in two-way conversation, and when an organization does it right... that's when a message goes viral and takes on a life of its own!

  • Beth Bates said:

    Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:18 AM

    Thanks for the plug. =) While mostly misunderstood, I believe that Twitter is a truly powerful tool for networking, promotion, content delivery and brainstorming. The more I poke around, the more I'm finding that its adaptable to almost any industry with a few tweaks to the message.

    I also think that accelerated rate in which traditional media (ex. CNN, WAMU, NPR, etc.) is embracing microblogging will bring a lot more folks around. Six months ago, a colleague actually told me that Twitter was "just for kids". And today, she was singing it praises to a room full of professionals. Twitter is a hard sell, until the it clicks and you suddenly "get it". Then its hard not to love.

    Thanks again.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 6:35 PM

    Well put, Beth - and that may very well be why we're seeing more "industry-specific" Twitter guides appear as people in various professions start to figure out "this social media thing." Fast changes in attitude toward Twitter these days, as you say - it's all a bit reminiscent of how the perception of blogging has evolved, but very much accelerated! Interesting times, interesting times...  

  • karl prosser said:

    Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 9:43 AM

    the chit chat part of it is what concerns me. for a professional organization, official tweets can be moderated beforehand, but tweets are *forever* and fully public. I can imagine that sooner or later the social tweets in the context of a companies accounts will become an embarrasment. People often treat tweets as a IM between friends, not realising that you have to be far more careful how you express things that are fully public than you do between friends who know you, know the context , and aren't at risk for taking what you say wrong.

  • Melanie Guin MNM said:

    Friday, 19 September 2008 at 7:49 AM

    I'm just beginning to use web 2.0 for my organization, and I have a sticky note on my monitor right now to check out twitter, so this is quite timely! :)


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 19 September 2008 at 6:11 PM

    Karl, you raise a valid concern for business and non-profits alike. Social media is a real-time conversation, at its most effective, and that carries a potential risk as well as potential benefit. I have no doubt that there's a great demand for social media training (or soon will be), just as organizations have long sent their key people to be groomed by experts in media training.  

    Here's the thing --

    "In any form of communication, there's a difference between an individual responding as an individual and an individual responding as a company's representative."

    (That's a line from a great post by Zena Weist that I just came across this evening -- Using Twitter in Your Social Media Outreach -- where she speaks specifically to corporate use of social networking on Twitter. Well worth reading!)

    An organization can appoint a trusted employee or volunteer as its "official voice" on Twitter, to control that small part of the message/brand/profile -- but will simply "publishing" a series of pre-approved announcements really gain it anything in terms of connecting with constituents?

  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 10:16 AM

    It seems like a dozen different social-media sites start up every day, so it can be a challenge to know

  • Maggie said:

    Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 11:00 AM

    We decided to try Twitter at my association a few months ago, and I definitely think it's been a success. We have used it very conservatively--strictly to broadcast headlines for items of interest on our website and not really as a social tool. Our thinking was that, without a set social media strategy in place we didn't want to err on the side of too informal, only to possibly end up deciding that isn't what works best for our membership. If anything, I'd say we're using it more as a PR/media relations tool than a social network for members at this point.

    And it's working. Not only have we cultivated a very respectable following of members, our followers also include PBS's director of education and online communications and a pretty decent number of health reporters, bloggers, public radio show hosts, among others. We haven't yet used Twitter as a tool to directly pitch journalists but we may in the future--at least they're following.

    When I include links, I always do it through tweetburner so I can see how many people are clicking on them, and it’s usually about a 10% click-through rate. Not bad at all, even if the scale is pretty small at this point (we have 114 followers).

    The best thing to come of it, though, was the other day when I received a tweetbeep and saw that one of our members, who is a follower, has taken it upon himself to become an ambassador for the association. He's tweeted about our upcoming convention, promoted our website and even referred people to our page on Facebook. May not sound like a big deal, but it’s confirmation that social media does actually work, and gives a concrete example of it working for our association.


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