What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social network and microblogging platform that was launched in 2006 and is used daily by millions (554 million to be exact) of users. You can access Twitter via the web or mobile to send 140 character updates of information called “tweets.” Twitter allows you to both follow peoples updates and for them to follow yours. Users can share things like photos, videos, article links, and more. When you share something, people are able to “respond” to you (by mentioning your Twitter username) which creates real-time conversation threads on your Twitter feed. People are also able to “retweet” your content, which basically means that they are taking your tweet and publishing it under their account while still giving credit to you. This allows them to share your content with their followers. Are you beginning to understand why Twitter might be important for your non-profit?

Although Twitter is commonly used for personal use, it’s also a great way to keep up to date with current events, or important announcements, and for companies to interact with their clients.

Why I (and you should) use Twitter

First and foremost, it’s addicting. It’s the quickest way to find out what’s going on in your world. Yes, it’s useful to find out about where my friends are (foursquare integration) or to see what my best friend decided to eat for lunch (Instagram integration).

Second, it’s quick and effective. Yesterday (October 22nd) Ellen Degeneres, a popular television host, tweeted at 1pm that she would be on Boston University’s campus at 5pm giving out tickets to the World Series. Because I was following the Ellen Show on Twitter (and various other news accounts) I knew about it before anyone else. I knew about it before there were news articles written about it. That’s how quick Twitter is.

Third, it’s a great tool for research. I can search anything in the Twitter search bar and find it in seconds. If I want to know about the Red Sox game, I can type in “Red Sox Game” and see live tweets that mention the Red Sox. If I want to know about something that’s going on in Australia, I can search “Tony Abbott” and see what people are talking about.


How You Should Use It

First and foremost, if you’re serious about Twitter you should be using some sort of social media management tool to stay on top of your accounts. I personally use Hootsuite, but there are several articles that offer effective alternatives. I know a few popular ones are “Buffer” and “CoTweet.”  I use Hootsuite because of the ability to track things. I won’t go into explicit detail on how to use Hootsuite (but this Mashable article does), but I’m a big fan of being able to track specifics on Twitter. It helps me to reach out to customers that I might have not seen if I was only using Twitter on the web. For example, yesterday I set up a list on Hootsuite that tracks tweets that include the words “volunteer abroad” and a question mark. I’m now able to see whenever anyone tweets a question about volunteering abroad. This is particularly relevant to my work with United Planet.

Second, make sure you’re Tweeting properly. According to trusted studies, you should be tweeting between 4 – 5 times a day. You can schedule your tweets using Hootsuite and spread them out evenly as to not flood peoples feeds. Make sure to tweet content (versus your Facebook status updates) and to leave room for people to comment. Seriously. That’s really important! I know it’s tempting to try and use up all 160 of your characters but if you want people to share your content you need to leave them enough space to write something before your tweet. Keep it to 140 characters. Here are some other tips:

  1. Share powerful statistics and link back to a relevant blog post.
  2. Share heart warming quotes with a relevant hashtag.
  3. Always tweet well-formated, grammatically correct, tweets.
  4. Stay up to date with Breaking News (hint: trending hashtags) and post relevant content.
  5. On the topic of hashtags, don’t over use your hashtags. Tweets with no more than two hashtags are ideal. Here’s an article on how to use them.

Third, develop relationships. You should aim to create some sort of engagement with your followers. Whether that means a simple retweet or an actual conversation between you and your customers is up to you and really depends on the quality of your tweets. We’ve already discussed that but it’s really important. Make sure you respond to people when they tweet you, occasionally thank people for following you, or maybe even send out an acknowledgement when you’re retweeted.

Fourth, make sure to follow back. Twitter is a social network that runs on the concept of reciprocity. Make sure to follow the people that follow you. You can use Hootsuite or Twitter Karma to check if they are still following you after a few weeks. It’s an important part of developing relationships with your customers, and shows that you care about your followers.

And finally (and possibly the most important) is to be authentic. You can tell when a brand has scheduled a tweet and when someone is sitting behind the computer and actually tweeting. I’m not saying that you need to have someone 24/7 manning your Twitter account, but make sure to check in daily and add in some personalised tweets. The occasional silly tweet will make your followers laugh, and might even get you a few RTs.

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