[This post by Elyse Klova originally appeared on Philanthropy Front and Center-Atlanta.]
In the spirit of our third Resolution to Make 2011 Awesome, "Get the word out," I wanted to make a guide to getting started with Twitter for those nonprofits that would like to add Twitter to their social media strategy but aren't sure where to jump in. I don't intend this post to be a be-all-end-all strategy guide, but rather to provide an opening for you to do your own learning and exploring. I'm also going to assume that you at least know what Twitter is and have a vague idea about how it works.
Making Twitter work for you, as with other kinds of social media, definitely takes practice. The best way I can think to define Twitter is that it's like a giant conversation, with its own language and its own conventions, and in which everyone is talking at the same time. With only 140 characters to work with in one tweet, catchy taglines and teaser phrases help a lot. In all honesty, the best way to ease yourself into Twitter is simply to observe for a while: see how people talk to each other, what kinds of content gets posted, and who is providing information that is relevant to your organization. To observe, it helps to know what you're looking at, and so I'd like to use two of our recent tweets to give you:
Anatomy of a Tweet!
Here's our first example for dissection. We shared this tweet to highlight a great article that we found on The Chronicle of Philanthropy:
Great article from @p2173 on @Philanthropy: Philanthropy's Buzzwords of the Past Decade http://ow.ly/3ydBP #nonprofit #philanthropy
Here's the breakdown of this tweet's features:
- Where you see the @ symbol, the tweet is referring to another Twitter user. Using the convention @NAME, you're effectively tagging that person or organization to let them know that you've mentioned them. In this case, we've tagged the users p2173 and Philanthropy, who are Lucy Bernholz of the blog Philanthropy 2173 and The Chronicle of Higher Philanthropy, respectively.
- The link is shortened for Twitter. There are a number of different URL shortening tools (like Bit.ly, for example) that can really help you conserve characters.
- Hashtags are terms denoted with a #sign, in this case #nonprofit and #philanthropy. By giving the tweet these hashtags, we are (1) signifying that this tweet has something to do with nonprofits and philanthropy and (2) helping it get picked up by people who are looking for nonprofit or philanthropy news and information. Hashtags are essential to helping you and other twitter users pick out relevant topics from within the larger conversation.
Here is our second example:
Def. worth the excitement: RT @askmanny: AN INSANELY USEFUL Calendar of 2011 #nonprofit conferences!! http://t.co/zgbcfMK via @socialbrite
- This is a good example of how the 140 characters rule: the word "definitely" got abbreviated to make room for the rest of the message. This message is 138 characters and there's no way to fit it.
- Here we see the hashtag is part of the tweet's content rather than at the end. This is a good way to conserve characters when possible.
- "Via @socialbrite" at the end of the tweet means that the Twitter user askmanny got the link or information from the user socialbrite and wanted to give credit where credit is due. In this case, Socialbrite is the provider of the resource.
The best way to get used to Twitter's "language" is just to hang around on Twitter reading tweets. Rather than reading random tweets, however, I'd recommend you follow some popular nonprofit hashtags by entering them into Twitter's search and following the resulting conversation, which updates in real time. By far the most common hashtag in the nonprofit community is (unsurprisingly) #nonprofit. Some other popular hashtags to check out are #philanthropy and #fundraising, and if you need more, you can check out this list of 40 hashtags for social good at Socialbrite. Another good hashtag to find out is the commonly used hashtag for your town, city, or metro area if one exists. This location hashtag can be useful later when you want to let your community know about local news and events going on at your organization. Atlanta's hashtag is (also unsurprisingly) #atlanta. For Washington, DC, use #DC. Sites like Tagalus and Trendsmap can help you learn what particular hashtags denote and what topics are trending in your area.
Once you feel confortable enough with Twitter to start tweeting yourself, some good basic rules:
- Include at least one hashtag! As I said before, this helps flag your content as relevant to a certain topic, and without it, it's almost impossible to get your tweet noticed, especially when you're starting out.
- Don't forget to shorten your links. Not doing so looks amateurish and takes up too much valuable space.
- Twitter is a social medium, so be social! Retweet content you think is worthwhile and follow individuals and organizations that give you relevant information. On the other side of the equation, be polite and thank people when they follow you and when they retweet your content; this is a great way to make friends and find other Twitter users who can help you get your content noticed.
- Pay attention to how many followers you have and how many people you are following, and make sure the numbers aren't too far from each other. You don't want to only have a few followers and be following a hundred people. Building your networks is an organic process and takes time.
- Going along with Resolution number 5, EXPERIMENT! See what kinds of content get attention and what don't. Tracking this kind of information can really help you tune your tweets for maximum effect, and there are a ton of tools like Hootsuite to help you do so.
That just about covers the basics, but if you have some tips or tricks or questions that you'd like to share, leave a comment! Nonprofit marketing and development guru Pamela Grow, of Pamela's Grantwriting Blog and www.pamelagrow.com, offers her own guide as well, which is definitely worth checking out for an additional list of resources. Twitter is a seriously cool tool, and I'd love to see more organizations start using it to get the word out about their good work.
-- Elyse Klova, Program Associate, Foundation Center-Atlanta