4 min Read
October 8, 2009

Twitter: I think I get it. Now what do I tweet?

What do I tweet?

A little while ago, we got a question from a client about Twitter. They have the basics down pat: they know the lingo, and they understand the importance of conversation. But they were curious about what kind of content they should tweet, and how to strike the right balance between carrying on conversation and self-promotion. It’s a good question, and it got me thinking about the kind of content nonprofits might want to share on Twitter on a day-to-day basis, and how an organization can get the most out of microblogging.

(Disclaimer: this post assumes some familiarity with Twitter, so if you need an overview first, skip down to the links at the bottom for some Twitter 101.)

Reaching your goals online: a balancing act.

Hopefully, if your nonprofit is getting started on Twitter, you’ve identified some goals you’re hoping to reach: raising awareness of your issue, connecting with current constituents, gaining followers and encouraging them to take action or donate, etc. Whatever your goals may be, it’s likely that you’ll need to do at least some talking about your organization and the work you’re doing in order to achieve them. But wait–I thought Twitter was all about conversation and making authentic connections. How can my nonprofit talk about itself without being too self-promotional and driving followers away? I have two words for you: balance and value. Strive to create a helpful balance between information about your organization and content that has value for your audience. Ideally, you can deliver both at once.

Give your followers what they want.

It’s not easy to offer value, and it’s especially hard in 140 characters or fewer. But while your followers may have interest in hearing about your programs occasionally, they’ll likely be looking for a more compelling reason to keep an eye on your updates. What do you have to offer that they want or need? Below are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Link to relevant news stories or blog posts. Odds are, if your followers are interested in your organization, they feel strongly about your issue and would welcome information that you identify as interesting.
  • Ask thought-provoking questions, ideally ones that relate to your issue. Consider setting up a weekly yes-or-no poll question that you send out every Thursday, or leave it open-ended and invite followers to message you with their replies.
  • Retweet others. Used strategically, retweets can be a simple way to share useful/fun/relevant information and promote conversation at the same time.
  • Recommend other individuals or groups to follow. In combination with retweeting, this tells your followers that your updates are worth following, because you’re constantly giving them new reasons to check back.

Share; don’t self-promote.

Giving your followers what they want is great, but you still have tangible goals to keep in mind. Once you’ve figured out what you can offer value, how can you talk about your work without talking about your work? I’ve thrown out some ideas below–feel free to add others in the comments.

  • General updates about your programs and events: “Our workshop season starts today! Learn more or sign up”
  • Casual/conversational mentions of your work: “Just wrapped up a great event with our wonderful volunteers! See pictures on our Flickr stream”
  • Facts or stats that your audience might find interesting: “X% of Americans are affected by Y every year. Click here to learn more”
  • A simple call to action: “Click here to sign our petition”

Eeek. All of this sounds like a lot of work.

It sure can be. But if you’re hoping to cultivate an interactive, conversational, meaningful community on Twitter, there’s a lot of work involved. Someone at your organization will need to search for and identify content to share and retweet, or come up with questions or tidbits that might be interesting to your followers, and someone will have to make sure all that stuff is posted, questions or comments are answered, followers or retweeters are thanked…the list goes on. If this feels overwhelming, keep in mind that Twitter may not be quite right for your organization at this point. Perhaps building and cultivating the kind of community you want would take more time than you have, which means that now isn’t the right moment to dive in. Or perhaps you’re already doing everything that you have time for on Twitter, and it isn’t generating the kind of interest and buzz that you want, in which case, it’s not worthwhile. Be prepared to be flexible and change your approach once you see what works and what doesn’t. How does your organization strike the balance between conversation and self-promotion? Do you have suggestions for types of tweets a nonprofit organization might consider? Please share in the comments. If your organization is just getting started on Twitter, here are some links you might find useful.