Posted by: Don Linnen | 23 July 2008

Twitter Your Nonprofit ?

Do you “tweet?” That’s the language of Twitter.

Twitter is the relatively new micro blogging service offered by our friends at twitter.com. These guys let you send very short (up to 140 characters) updates (tweets) to anyone that signs up to get them. Those people are called “followers.” You can also restrict delivery just to your circle of buddies…or coworkers.

Followers can receive these updates on a variety of web sites or via email, instant messaging, text messages to your cell phone, etc. It all starts with a simple question: “what are you doing?”

Think of it as simple social networking on a small scale. Then again that small scale has nearly a million users right now. Some are just teenagers standing in line for a movie sending updates to friends. Others are much more sophisticated and frankly, more interesting. (Don’t tell the teenagers.)

Whole Foods Market, Comcast, and Dell are using Twitter at an enterprise level. If you’re having trouble with your Comcast service, blast a tweet of your frustrations to the world (the default delivery option). Customer support at Comcast monitors Twitter 24×7 for “damage control.” See more on this at TBR (The Bivings Report).

Whole Foods is giving Twitter a serious try. They use it as a means of marketing and customer support. It’s another way to enhance relationships with its customers. Hmmmm ….. seems like I’ve mentioned the importance of relationships somewhere else on my blog.

Universities, government agencies, news organizations, and significantly, the Obama campaign are all starting to use Twitter to keep people informed. Can your nonprofit make this work? Sure you can. But do you want to?

Think of two things. Who will be tweeting for your cause? Who will be the followers (the ones interested in your updates)?

If you Twitter just for internal purposes – to schedule or announce visitors for a tour, prepare for the arrival of volunteers, make a late change to an internal function – your followers will just be your staff. But if you plan to Twitter to the board, volunteers, or donors, you really need to have your act together.

Your “tweeter” needs to be informed, interesting, and able to find the balance of being consistent with new tweets without flooding the followers with drivel. Depending upon your cause, you may also have to be sensitive to certain privacy needs.

Your followers need to not be afraid of new technology. That probably means they’ll be under 30, but not necessarily, and they may be some of your best candidates for volunteers and new donors.

Will it work at the nonprofit level? Why not? It’s a free service, and chances are you want to improve your communications and you’re looking for more volunteers and more donors. It’s worth a try.

A caveat. Twitter is not especially fast. Look for competitors to get into this game soon.

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