September 20, 2017
 
Think Twice before Joining the Nonprofit Twitterati

By Dorie Clark

Dorie Clark
Haunted by the notion of having started a blog or joined Facebook late in the game, more and more nonprofits are establishing Twitter accounts, which let them send updates of up to 140 characters to masses of people.

Instead of blindly trying to keep up with the Twitterati, however, they should first determine whether this communication tool makes sense for them.

The pull to sign up, facilitated by easy online registration, is strong and at least one nonprofit executive—literally on the phone with a reporter writing a story about nonprofit Twitter usage—immediately signed up online because he didn’t want to seem “behind the times” and admit he wasn’t registered.

Twitter has proven itself useful under certain circumstances. During major news events real-time updates are often riveting and informative. Some journalists have use Twitter to broadcast their questions or interview needs, speeding up (and opening up) the news gathering process.

Nonprofits focused on advocacy can use the service to mobilize their constituents immediately—“Email your legislator!”—or publicize events. You can see examples of nonprofits that are using Twitter at twitter.com/nonprofitorgs.

Twitter—like blogs and news articles—is a critical source to monitor trends in your industry and buzz about your organization. In terms of posting your own Twitter updates, however, most adults with jobs are barely keeping up with their email and voicemail, much less “tweets.”

Nonprofits considering opening an account should first ask themselves:
  1. Do supporters want to hear from you at least once a day? Your members may want the play-by-play of Beacon Hill budget votes, Congressional confirmation hearings, or the like. But if your information isn’t time-sensitive or that interesting (“We hired a new bookkeeper!”), then save it for your website or an e-newsletter.

  2. Do your supporters actually use Twitter? If your members are tech-savvy advocates, then keeping your street cred intact may necessitate using Twitter. But if they lack access to the Internet or “smart phones,” or many of your supporters aren’t comfortable online, you may be better off waiting to see if this is a fad or a long-term trend.

  3. Who will tweet? Setting up your account and gaining followers is great, but only if you’ve designated someone to handle the updates. Make sure you identify a responsible staffer at the outset. (You could outsource tweeting to a trusted volunteer, but tread carefully—blasting out an inappropriate message to thousands of supporters could cause problems.)

  4. What will you say? Tweeting is a commitment. Just as any viable blog should be updated at least two to three times per week, your organization should plan to use Twitter daily. Do you have enough content? Think back to the last week. If you had a Twitter account, what would you have posted? Now look at next week’s calendar. Are there enough opportunities to warrant daily communications?
If you have a good answer to each question, by all means set up a Twitter account, especially if your supporters are dying to hear from you and you’ve got important things to tell them. But if any of the above questions give you pause, think hard about jumping on the bandwagon right now.

No one wants to be left behind when an important trend is unfolding. But the real secret to building a successful, long-term relationship with your supporters is communicating with them in the ways that best meet their needs.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant. Email to dorie@dorieclark.com or call 617-942-1598.

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