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Twitter has had a very interesting year. The social media company changed CEOs, going back to its roots and naming co-creator Jack Dorsey to the executive role. It also made some new acquisitions, went through layoffs, supported influential movements (such as #BlackLivesMatter and #RefugeesWelcome), and rolled out some new features.
While there was a lot happening this year, these new features are important to address. Many of them are targeted toward making the platform even more accessible for new users, an area where Twitter is struggling. But a few of these new features and enhancements are quite useful for nonprofits, public libraries, and other social good organizations. Let's take a look at the gifts Twitter gave us this year.
Perhaps the biggest and most potentially game-changing feature introduced this year was Moments, formerly known as Project Lightning. As the name suggests, Moments surfaces the most talked-about stories of the day (mine so far today are schools closing in Los Angeles, the Amalfi Coast, and a Trump rally). You can view Moments by clicking the lightning bolt icon at the top of your Twitter timeline.
Nonprofit consultant Lauren Girardin compiled a board on Pinterest of social good campaigns that have appeared on Twitter Moments. From her examples, you can clearly see the advantage for nonprofits to participate in social campaigns and use relevant hashtags.
For example, #NationalComingOutDay was featured on Twitter Moments, and tweets from the nonprofit The Trevor Project were highlighted. In her Pinterest comments, Girardin points out that nonprofits should use editorial calendars so that they can participate in national campaigns, such as National Coming Out Day.
Polls are another exciting addition to Twitter. When you're in the Twitter app, it appears as an option below where you write your tweets. Don't expect to create a Pew-quality survey here; you're limited to four options and your question has to be 116 characters or less. Your poll stays live for 24 hours. I created this very simple poll for @TechSoupforLibraries:
While these simple little polls are in no way scientific, they are a fun way to engage with your community. But the limitations of the polls can be quite frustrating. For example, I wanted to add options for "All of the Above" and "None of the Above," but the option limit prevented me from doing so — and my followers noticed.
Nicole Fox, social marketing coordinator at an animal welfare organization, said that she doesn't like that you can't attach media to polls. This is a shame, because Twitter has expanded its multimedia capabilities …
… with better support for videos and images! This year, Twitter added the ability to shoot, edit, and post video directly through the app. Previously, the only way to upload video directly to Twitter was using Vine, Twitter's six-second video app.
You can also now upload video from the desktop client, so you don't always need to be on mobile to share your content. You're capped at 30 seconds for video, however, which is a downside for Edward Herbert, digital advocate at Human Rights Watch. "I think they will probably increase the length [of videos] in future and then we will consider using it more seriously."
Twitter also revamped its image-sharing feature, now allowing full-sized images in timelines as opposed to cropping the photos that you share as it has done before. According to the social media dashboard Buffer, tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets.
These small changes support Twitter's overall shift to becoming more visual and less text-based, sort of like some other competing social networks out there.
Twitter also acquired Periscope this year, the livestreaming app that's become popular with celebrities, news outlets, and yes, even nonprofits! Ale Bezdekian wrote about Periscope earlier this year for TechSoup and how nonprofits might use it to enhance digital storytelling efforts. And our colleagues at Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup, used Periscope this year to livestream their Social Good Apps Breakfast. While not a feature of Twitter exactly, Periscope falls under Twitter's umbrella of useful tools for nonprofits.
According to Business Insider, Twitter's monthly active user base reached 307 million in the third quarter, adding only 3 million users since Q2. This was an 8 percent year-over-year (YoY) increase, which is down from 12 percent YoY last quarter. According to CEO Dorsey, Twitter plans to "focus on product execution, simplification, and communicating value, as well as a concerted traditional and digital marketing effort to add new users." But will that be enough?
In my personal use for TechSoup for Libraries, I still find Twitter helpful for connecting with libraries and library supporters. I think the best thing Twitter has going for it is the hashtag. It's so easy to start virtual conversations at conferences or during webinars when you've got a hashtag to tack on. Facebook and Instagram both support hashtags, but the experience and ease of use is nothing like Twitter's.
I've heard from some nonprofits that Twitter has the celebrity advantage. Many celebrities have far more followers on Twitter than they do on Facebook. Celebrity endorsements, retweets, or even "likes" can do wonders for exposure and boost a nonprofit's Twitter presence.
Herbert from Human Rights Watch said that Twitter is also good for connecting with journalists. All HRW staff are encourage to have personal Twitter accounts and the platform helps put a human face on the organization, therefore making it easy for journalists to connect with the right staff members.
Twitter is in an interesting stage right now. Its audience is evolving, so it must grow with them. We are no longer content with just 140-character text messages. I look forward to see this continuing growth in 2016.
Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.