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Get Started Right with Your Nonprofit on Twitter

Lori Halley 22 October 2008 8 comments

It seems like a dozen different social media sites start up every day, so it can be a challenge to know where to put your online outreach efforts. Twitter is one real-time networking platform that’s clearly floated to the top of the social media pool, however, and it's a great place for any nonprofit to dive in — especially if you can get verified and show the world that your organization is legitimate. 

If you’ve been using Twitter for a while, you’re likely already aware of its value in spreading a message and making connections between people who have a shared interest — and of the many creative Twitter mashups and applications that exist to extend the functions of the website service.  We’ve also talked here before about the many ways in which businesses and nonprofit organizations find value in using the micro-blogging platform to extend their online reach.

If you’re new to Twitter, however, there’s one vitally important thing to remember.

The key to success — as with all social media — is to be authentic and human; to engage in real conversation rather than just “toot your own horn” to a passive audience.  Self-absorption just doesn’t pay off.

Twitter guide pageYou see, Twitter is a totally voluntary communications channel. If people don’t find you interesting or useful, they simply won’t “follow” you and won’t even see the messages that you “tweet.” You’ll be talking to an empty room.

So, how can you make sure that your nonprofit gets started right with Twitter?

Nonprofit consultant John Haydon has just released an excellent Twitter guide that speaks directly to the needs and interests of small nonprofits. As well as the basic mechanics of setting up an account, customizing your profile, and finding supporters of your cause (or potential supporters) with whom to connect, Twitter Jump Start - The Twitter Guide for Small Non-Profits covers topics of special interest to nonprofits who hope to use Twitter as part of their fundraising strategy.

The guide is a free download for subscribers to CorporateDollar.org, a useful resource in itself for any small nonprofit with a presence on the web.

But let’s just back up for a second. What if you’re dealing with an executive team that hasn’t fully embraced the value of social media? How can you make the case to your board members that posting 140-character messages on Twitter is a useful investment of staff or volunteer time?

Laura Fitton (Pistachio Consulting) has tackled the topic of Selling Social Media “Up” to Management. She’s speaking to business, here, but the advice applies equally to nonprofits. “Case studies are good, ” she says. “So is mainstream media coverage. That’s validation they trust. But if you really want to dangle a carrot…” you can use Twitter itself to demonstrate the value:

For example: Twitter search your company’s brand, products, keywords and product class, and show them in real time precisely what your customers want and how they are interacting around your products and the entire product class.

And I’d add this suggestion — show them who else from your world is active on Twitter.  After all, it’s human nature to be inclined to follow where some well-respected peer has already laid a trail.  Have a look at the topic-sorted TwitterPacks list of uses as a starting point, or JustTweetIt’s Nonprofits Directory of Twitter users in the nonprofit sector.

And, before you share your posts to Twitter, make sure the Twitter card is lined up properly. A Twitter card is the image preview that shows when sharing any link in Twitter.

What tips or resources would you share with a small nonprofit organization that wants to get started using Twitter?

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 5:17 PM


  • Erin McMahon said:

    Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 3:21 PM

    Thanks for the link to CorporateDollar.org's guide- I hadn't seen that. I would also suggest that nonprofits interested in venturing onto twitter look at WeAreMedia's toolbox entry on Micro Media: http://www.wearemedia.org/Tool+Box+Micro+Media . Lots of great resources there too! ;)

    - Erin

  • Beth Kanter said:

    Wednesday, 29 October 2008 at 7:49 PM

    Ah, I was just going to suggest that you include this post in the WeAreMEdia Wiki

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 30 October 2008 at 5:11 AM

    Erin and Beth, thanks for mentioning the We Are Media Project (http://www.wearemedia.org/): a terrific resource for anyone in the nonprofit sector looking to get started with social media, to refine their skills in that area, or simply to connect with others on the same track.

  • HippoTraining said:

    Friday, 31 October 2008 at 11:54 AM

    Is Wild Apricot using Twitter yet?

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 31 October 2008 at 7:18 PM

    Well, there's at least a couple of Apricots there anyway - and this one is following you! ;)

  • HSSchulte said:

    Tuesday, 03 February 2009 at 5:26 PM

    Thanks for the info!

  • Julie  said:

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 12:32 PM

    Here is another link about non-profits and web 2.0. I found it helpful as well: http://nonprofits.change.org/

    Might be something to check out

  • Kim Rogers said:

    Friday, 03 April 2009 at 9:11 AM

    Just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your Twitter information for Non-profits.

    I am currently teaching a grant writing course for the Center for Leadership & Development here in Cumberland County NJ, and one of the things I'm teaching is the necessity for non-profits to incorporate social media strategies into their fundraising/grant writing efforts.

    I'm grateful for your article and will not only pass it along to my class, but will put a link to your site on my web page, and suggest my class visit your site regularly.

    Thanks again!

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