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The Big Twitter Question

Data from Comscore Nonprofit marketers should evaluate Twitter once again. The network suffered a bad year in 2010 which saw it lose a lot of ground, and become relegated to a second tier network behind Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn in user visits.

At the same time, the recent announcement by Apple that it was integrating Twitter into its next generation operating system for iPhones and iPads has reinvigorated the microblogging network's prospects. Further, regardless of the relative weak actions that Twitter produces, Google's use of Tweets in its pagerank algorithm makes it an interesting play from an organic search engine optimization standpoint.

Let's be clear. Twitter does work for some nonprofits. What is a nonprofit to do with all of these mixed signals? In my recently released book Welcome to the Fifth Estate, the second half of the book deals with building a strategy and sustaining it over the long term. In chapters five and seven there are some lessons learned on technology choices, and what to do. Here are applicable pointers for those wondering whether to adopt Twitter in their online strategy. It gets back to community. Simply, put if your stakeholders -- donors, volunteers, industry influencers, etc. -- are on Twitter and actively use it, then by all means go for it. But make sure to vet this closely. It is about your community. If you have a good communications program already, this may be worth a survey them to determine preferred forms of social media.

In the chapter on sustainability (seven), it was clear that organizations who experienced long term success -- Wiser Earth, the Humane Society of the United States, LinkedIn, Dell and Care2 -- were very in tune with their communities technology and content needs. This community mindfulness and a parallel attention to organizational mission were the underlying drivers to their long term success. The parallel track of mission should be an underlying driver for all communications, social or not. How will this action help the organization achieve its mission? What are the tangible results we expect to see? If this is not clear then please reevaluate the strategy.

If your audience is mobile, do think about Twitter. Mobility is an increasingly critical factor. Twitter users tend to live in urban areas, with a strong minority representation, middle class income, and with smartphone owners. iPhone integration will likely strengthen this trend. Now let's say you want to have conversations within the nonprofit sector. Like most groups of content publishers, almost the entire nonprofit blogging community is on Twitter publishing their efforts. From Frank Berry at Netwits, NTEN's Amy Sample Ward and my colleague Beth Kanter to author Kivi Leroux Miller, Socialbrite's JD Lasica and Network for Good's Katya Andresen, they are on Twitter. This is a great way to interact with them. However, be careful. Inside baseball popularity may not be relevant to your stakeholders. For example, if your stakeholders are organic rural farmers, then getting featured on John Haydon's blog or Twitter stream -- while certainly noticeable within the sector -- won't really impact your stakeholders.

Participating on Facebook has a much higher likelihood of success. Another reason to not invest in Twitter: Everyone is doing it. Twitter has been very popular within the sector. That doesn't mean everyone is getting results. Again, let your community be the ultimate barometer. What do you think about Twitter?


Geoff Livinginston is the co-founder of the communications agency Zoetica and the author of Welcome to the Fifth Estate.

Reader Comments (3)

As an owner of a small blog site and a digital manager for a large international charity I'd say Twitter has been valuable for both projects.

We were not seeing many results with Twitter until we appointed a full time social networks administrator who almost doubled our follower base in just 6 months (after we'd had it up and running for over a year) - a lot of this growth was down to actually starting to interact with people - as opposed to just slapping up short URLs back to our website - which is all we had been doing up until then.

I think they can work for charities but as the case above illustrates you have to be active on the networks and go the extra mile to get the love back from supporters. Things we have tried out are asking the followers questions - what do they think about things etc - and try to get a conversation going.

I think it's true also that the 'social signals' it sends back to your main site are valuable and the main social spaces should probably be covered off at a minimum if you can find the resource - I'm talking Twitter - non-profit on Facebook and non-profit YouTube channel. I think to venture into more becomes unmanageable - at least for our small two-person digital team!

What I'm interested to see is how Twitter is affected once they release sponsored messages into the feeds - this could be a massive turn off for the community. See: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-06/24/promoted-tweets-in-your-timeline

I guess with all things web - the 'free' stuff always gets monetized sooner or later. And if it is 'free' - there is a valuable product involved - which is basically the user - or 'you' and the demographic data you contribute through the simple use of the things.

Thanks for the interesting article here - I'm curious to see what will pan out with all this.
June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Elliot
I think the key point here is that having a twitter account and tweeting links alone will not do a not-for-profit much good. From an SEO point of view Social Signals are still a grey area and I feel Social Signals alone will not make a large impact on your ranking.
Having that said, Social Relationships will. By developing relationships and contributing to the social community you will build more than links from twitter. Your goal should be building awareness, dialog and relationships with your target user group. These relationships can lead to more valuable link building such as being featured in someone’s blog or asked to guest post.
Twitter counts but I feel it should be used as a means to build stronger relationship that in the long run will bring in better returns.
June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
As president and cofounder of Kids Are Heroes I have been working with both Facebook and Twitter for the past 2.5 years now. I place most of our efforts on Twitter as I have seen so many results come from it. We just passed the 35K follower mark, but that is not the key statistic. The number of connections we have gained over the years in addition to the support we now have has catapulted us to a level we would have taken years to achieve otherwise. Through our Giving Walls, our connections on Twitter have donated generously. Despite the small size of our charity our followers have donated $460. just in the past week alone. This has taken a lot of work to get to this level, but I can't say enough about how the proper use of Twitter and Facebook can be priceless to non-profits.
July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabe O'Neill

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