TechSoup continued its Social Media Mondays in May with a discussion on Twitter to expand on the resources offered in its Nonprofit Social Media 101 wiki. The second installment of the weekly TweetChat series offered some useful advice on nonprofit Twitter use, a tool that can be difficult to understand for many nonprofit leaders.

The chat kicked off with the question, "What makes a great tweet?" Many participants agreed that tweets, while short, can be powerful and can elicit action. Action can be thought of as creating conversation. One participant said,  "A good tweet is something that elicits action offline, for example, a laugh or a conversation. Granted, that's hard to measure." A tweet is also great when it provides useful information or inspires a reader to want to learn more. While it is difficult to quantify a great tweet, retweets can serve as an indicator of impact.

Tweet from GeorgetownCSIC

The TechSoup Digital Storytelling Event offered an interesting example of a great tweet in that the campaign kicked off with a question posed on Twitter that gave followers an opportunity to share information and resources, opening up an engaging conversation on the topic of using video for nonprofits and libraries.

When the discussion turned to what words make tweets great it was revealed that a key ingredient to successful tweets wasn't so much language but good Twitter etiquette. Politely asking followers to retweet, join, or click on a link not only gets your tweets noticed but can go a long way towards spurring follow-up action. Following others back, thanking them, retweeting their content, and adding them to your Twitter lists are also actions that contribute to the success of your tweets. 

It is also worth noting what your Twitter community responds to such as hashtags, using the complete spelling of certain terms versus abbreviations, calls to action, solutions, and more. On the subject of retweets, it is advisable to strive for brevity as it allows others to retweet in full or add a comment with a retweet. Finally, good Twitter etiquette from nonprofit organizations demands that tweets sound like they are coming from a real person, striking a balance between professional and personal.

Tweet from jfouts

Once an organization understands the process of tweeting, the work becomes building community. The first, and often easiest, step is identifying who are the influencers on the subject of your cause and/or in the nonprofit field, in your local community and beyond. Genuinely connecting with an influencer, by directing questions or responses to them in addition to retweeting their content, can help raise your organizations profile on Twitter. While it is obvious that organizations should follow influencers, what about examining who is following you? Organizations should make a point of monitoring who is in the habit of retweeting their content, what is being said about them on Twitter and by whom, to get a better sense of who to follow so as to grow their Twitter community. 

Tweet from amoration

Growing a robust and engaged community is vital for organizations if they are considering using Twitter for fundraising. Success stories such as the "Digital Death" campaign that raised over $1 million for AIDS research and the Colorado Gives Day campaign that raised over $8 million for nonprofits, a portion of which came through Twitter, are great examples of the fundraising potential that can be generated through Twitter.

A more recent and timely example is EpicChange's Mother's Day fundraising campaign. Twitter is often thought of as the social media tool of choice for nonprofits hoping to garner votes for grant contests such as the Chase Giving and Pepsi Refresh Challenges. 

Tweet from suzboop

However, using Twitter solely to remind your followers to "vote for me" at the exclusion of providing other useful information or meaningful interaction can result in losing those very same followers. One chat participant suggested that nonprofits consider holding a Twitter party, which allows followers to interact with an organization and one another, for last minute fundraising votes and/or contributions. Ultimately, successful fundraising is dependent upon having a relationship with your Twiter community because as one chat participant observed, "People give to people."

Twitter is an ongoing conversation but the reality is that there are not enough hours in a day, and sometimes not enough staff, to keep track of everything that is happening in this channel. Fortunately, there are a number of tools to help organizations monitor what is happening and manage their use of Twitter. Tools such as HootSuite, CoTweet, or TweetDeck can help organizations divide up Twitter outreach among staff, schedule tweets, and monitor keywords. Twitter management clients also have internal functionality designed to shorten links just like, a well-known URL shortener, a vital tool since character space is at a premium.

Tweet from CommUlinks

For leadership and boards who are interested in evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of Twitter use, gauging the effectiveness of tweets and/or overall Twitter influence can be aided with tools such as TweetReach, TwitterCounter, Socialping, Row Feeder, Klout, and Social Mention. One interesting tool for collecting tweets that revolve around a particular topic or for TweetChat wrap-up is Storify, which also has the added benefit of highlighting chat participants who have contributed meaningful dialogue. 

The preceding should give organizations a good general idea of how to use Twitter but, as one chat participant suggested, one of the best ways to learn Twitter is to jump in right. Notice what others are saying on Twitter; be aware of trends and current events, and be mindful of separating fact from fiction. It is worthwhile to consider how your organization and its work fits into those conversations or what you can contribute to the dialogue based on your area(s) of expertise.

Twitter should not be considered for complete self promotional tool and failing to stay relevant to what is happening can result in supporters deciding to unfollow you. Just as with face-to-face conversations, genuine interest in the people and world around you makes for great dialogue and will hopefully result in greater goodwill for your organization. If you're not sure where to start, a simple Twitter search or tools such as Tweet Scan are useful for examining conversations pertaining to topics of interest. Over time your efforts should pay off in building a community of strong supporters and aiding your fundraising efforts.

Tweet from TechSoup

The Social Media how-to continues with next week's tweet chat on using video for nonprofits. Until then, consider visiting the Nonprofit Social Media 101 wiki or the following if you'd like to learn more about Twitter:

Susan Chavez
Online Community & Social Media Team, TechSoup Global