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Social Media 101: Using Twitter for Your Nonprofit

Community & Social Media

By: Corbin Hartwick, Techboomers.com

This post is part of TechBoomer’s Social Media 101 blog series. Check out the intro, Facebook, and Pinterest blogs to learn more about social media and how it can benefit your nonprofit.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social media network that consists mainly of its users broadcasting short messages known as "tweets".  Though these messages are only allowed to be 140 characters (letters, numbers, or spaces) long, they can include things such as ideas, opinions, feelings, pictures, links to other websites, and even references to popular news topics or other users on Twitter.  People can also connect with other users on Twitter, and/or track the messages that other users send out.  For more information on how to use Twitter, check out these Twitter tutorials on Techboomers.com.

Why should I use Twitter for my nonprofit?

  1. It's simple and quick

    The beauty of Twitter lies in its simplicity, which many say has increased over time. It may take some time to understand how to use some of Twitter's shortcuts and conventions, but it doesn't have too many fancy features.  The fact that Twitter only allows you to write 140-character messages means that it's great for posting quick updates about your activities, or introductions to other helpful resources.

  2. Join a very active user community

    One of the biggest advantages cited about Twitter for businesses and nonprofits is that people are much more active on Twitter than other social media websites, even Facebook.  There are over 280 million active users on Twitter per month, and over 500 million tweets are posted per day.

  3. Brevity inspires curiosity

    Because messages on Twitter are so short, many of them include links to other websites, where users can find more information.  This is incredibly useful for both businesses and nonprofits, because it means that it is very easy to use Twitter to drive web traffic to your website and other social media channels.

6 tips on getting the most out of Twitter for your nonprofit

  1. Use Twitter for what it does best: providing quick information and guidance

    Social media users like it when you help them out and engage them.  This means that a significant portion of your tweets should be short tips on what you do as a nonprofit organization, and how your users can get involved in your activities.  If you can't fit what you want to say into 140 characters -- such as a more detailed explanation of what your mission is as a nonprofit -- don't be afraid to use Twitter to just link to content that you have elsewhere, such as on your website or on another social media website like Facebook.

  2. Use pictures when you can, and when it's appropriate

    Twitter's 140-character limit only allows for about 20 words or so, but as the old saying goes, a picture is worth 1000 words!  Pictures do take up characters in your tweet (because Twitter needs to link to wherever they are on the Internet), but they're a great way to add extra information to your tweet that can't be expressed by words alone. Check out this Social Media Image Sizes Guide to learn about the optimal image dimensions to use.

  3. Use "hashtags" to join conversations that are relevant to your activities

    "Hashtags" are words or phrases on Twitter that begin with a number sign (e.g. "#TechSoupCanada"), and are used to mark messages that are about similar topics.  Using a hashtag in a message is a great way to connect your supporters to additional information about what you do in a broader context, as well as bring potential supporters who are following a particular topic to you (e.g., a supporter can discover you by following a hashtag via TweetChat).  Hashtags can be a bit vague in terms of what they refer to, though, so before you use one, just make sure that you do a bit of research into its context, to make sure that the topic it denotes is relevant to what you do as a nonprofit.

  4. Don't be afraid to "re-tweet" important information or announcements

    It's much more acceptable to repeat certain information on Twitter than it is on other social media outlets (in fact, that's what the "re-tweet" button is for), so don't be afraid to do so. This makes sure that your message stays fresh and doesn't get buried under new messages, which may cause (potential) followers to miss it.  However, we will caution you to not do this all too often, and to make sure that you post some new and original content between re-tweets.  Remember that your supporters are following you for a reason: to learn more about you and your cause.

  5. Use "mentions" to engage followers directly

    If someone directs a tweet at your nonprofit (to ask you a question, for example), or does you a favour by re-tweeting (ie. RT) your messages in their own social circles, it's polite to direct a tweet back at them.  This can be done by using "mentions", which are people's Twitter user names preceded by the "at" sign (e.g. "@TechSoupCanada"), in a tweet.

    A basic "mention" (like the one in the previous example) will cause your tweet to only be seen by you, the person you're mentioning, and the followers that you have in common.  An advanced "mention", created by placing a period at the beginning of it (e.g. ".@TechSoupCanada"), causes the tweet that contains it to be able to be seen by all of your followers. 

    Use both types of "mentions" to select the appropriate audience for your tweets, and make sure to respond to tweets directed at you promptly -- within an hour is ideal, but never more than 24 hours.  You may want to have a dedicated volunteer or staff member to handle social media or use a social media management tool.

  6. Don't be afraid to link to other people's content (but give them credit)

    Another thing that is more acceptable (and great for content marketing) on Twitter than it is on other social media websites is to link to content from sources besides yourself, if it's relevant to your activities (such as news stories or content related to your work and cause ).  If you do share content from others , it's a good idea to "mention" your source (as described above).  This may make it more likely for your source to return the favour and spread your nonprofit's content (while giving you credit, of course).

This wraps up our intro to Twitter for nonprofits! Be sure to check back for more posts in our “Social Media 101” series or read our intro to learn how your nonprofit can use social media to get its message out there.


About the Author:
Corbin Hartwick is the lead educational content writer at Techboomers.com, which is a free educational website that teaches older adults and others with limited computer skills how to use the most popular and trusted websites on the Internet.

About TechBoomers:
Techboomers.com is a free educational website that teaches older adults and others with limited computer skills how to use popular and trusted websites on the internet.