Twitter has become one of the most successful ways for non-profit organizations to connect with and empower their followers. I was surprised to learn about this because as I have mentioned before, I haven’t really spent much time using social media on a personal level. After ready success stories about many non-profit organizations, it seems that using Twitter is one of the most efficient social media tools to mobilize a large group of individuals and organizations to express their opinions, discuss their experiences, share knowledge and build connections.
A recent article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) titled “Are Public Health Organizations Tweeting to the Choir? Understanding Local Health Department Twitter Fellowship” does a fine job of explaining how US health departments have been using social media in an effort to inform and educate the public about health. Considering that communication with constituents about health risks is a requirement, non-profit public health organizations have realized how using a social media tool such as Twitter could help to meet this requirement. Not only does Twitter allow an organization to reach a large group of people in real-time at a very low cost, but it helps to increase connectivity with and between other organizations.
So you ask how popular Twitter is in the non-profit world? Here are the stats to give you an idea…
As you can see, Twitter ranks as the third most widely used social media tool by top charities and non-profits. So if you already have set up a YouTube and Facebook account for your organization, great job! You’re on the right track. Twitter would be the next step in your social media process map. YouTube is considered the “go-to” for videos and slideshows about your organization and Facebook is considered the champion at making your presence known to hundreds of millions of people which then enables your fans not only to support your organization but each other.
So where does Twitter fit in? This social media tool has a very unique niche. It is very different from the other two most popular social media tools because it allows you to “microblog”. In a society in which we feel over-stimulated with the constant influx of information, Twitter helps to alleviate the burden by providing a platform in which organizations can deliver tidbits of interesting, relevant and important information or better yet, by delivering information one bite at a time. Whereas Facebook may create more of an environment for socializing, Twitter is meant to deliver short bursts of information in blurbs that are only 140 characters or less. It’s important to try to connect with others which can be done by retweeting or mentioning their Tweets. If you’re not familiar with these terms, not to worry. Twitter has some great resources online that you can check out to help you get up-to-speed.
So here’s a few tips to get you started:
1. Enjoy the experimentation phase – don’t give up too soon!
This is a common mistake that many non-profits have made in the past. It’s important to take the time to get used to Twitter and learn how to use it, finding your Twitter voice and learning how to engage with your online community (by tweeting about others’ content, following other organizations in a 1:1 ratio, tweeting at the appropriate frequency etc). Heather Manfield’s book “A How-to Guide for Nonprofits – Social Media for Social Good” is an excellent resource that outlines 11 best practices for using Twitter.
2. Educate your organization about Twitter
Twitter has provided an excellent online resource to help you learn about how to build a cross-functional team so there are a number of skilled employees who can keep adding relevant content to your Twitter account. This helps to distribute the burden of the upkeep associated with delivering relevant information using an attention-grabbing format in a timely manner.
3. Learn from the champions
The top 3 non-profit organizations that have the largest number of followers on Twitter are the following:
Check out the Twitter profiles from these non-profits (and others) as they serve as guiding examples in the pursuit of Twitter success for your own organization. The full list of the 50 top nonprofits on Twitter based on total Twitter followers can be found here.
Findings of the study mentioned above include a success story from the Chicago Department of Public Health in which Twitter (@ChiPublicHealth) was used to interact with local individuals. Dr. Julie Morita communicated directly with followers via Twitter chat to answer questions about the flu using the hashtag #FluChicago when news coverage of the flu was increasing.
Here’s a picture of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanual participating in the #FluChicago 2013 Twitter chat about flu prevention with @ChiPublicHealth during flu season.
Another success story comes from the local health department at River Health (@BearRiverHealth) in Utah in which a health practitioner, Jill Parker, commented that “not only does [using Twitter] allow us an opportunity to share information, it allows us to communicate in a new way with the communities that we serve together as a state. For example, when we launch an immunization campaign we now have the ability to share the same message seamlessly across our entire state through Twitter and Facebook. We share one another’s posts, comment on status, and generally connect”. The active use of Twitter resulted in this Utah community (population of 163,836 in 2010 in the jurisdiction of Bear River) to reach more than 3200 followers. This is equivalent to more than 5 times the average number of followers for a local health department.
Hopefully this gives you the courage to give Twitter a try! From the looks of it, this could change the way your organization is represented by the media because you have more control of what information is being delivered to the general public. Furthermore, using Twitter presents an opportunity to practice how to succinctly deliver important information; you need to think in terms of sentences (not essays). Microblogging is a great way to deliver information #1Bite-at-a-time!