October 3, 2011

24 best practices for nonprofits using Twitter

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Twitter best practices
Image by Rosaura Ochoa on Flickr

Use this guide to take stock of your organization’s Twitter routine

Target audience: Nonprofits, NGOs, cause organizations, social enterprises, businesses, brands, bloggers, social media managers, individuals.

This is part of our series on how nonprofits can get the most out of Twitter. Please check back weekly for the next installment.

By Kyria Abrahams and J.D. Lasica
Socialbrite staff

There are scads of Twitter guides, cheat sheets and how-tos floating around the Web. However, too often we see experts being clinical, detached and almost mathematical in trying to dissect an otherwise fun and useful social medium.

twitter-essentialsActually, Twitter is not that complicated. And unless you’re Anthony Weiner, your job most likely does not hang on a single tweet. In fact, Twitter is especially suited to nonprofits because it allows your organization the freedom to spotlight a broad range of issues and newsworthy items that relate to your cause.

Below we’ll outline some basic practices about how to use Twitter, especially if you’re just getting started with the platform. If you’re an old hat at it, think of this as a little refresher course for your daily Twitter practice.

Here are 24 basic best practices with Twitter that every nonprofit should know.

Don’t overcomplicate Twitter

1Be honest, be real, be human. Don’t be the guy at the party with a set of “emergency” conversation starters on index cards. Don’t overthink your Twitter entries. Use your own voice, not a detached, institutional one.

Tweet about things people care about

2Link to newsworthy events that people are already talking about and how they relate to your cause. Remember, no one outside of your organization cares who your executive director shook hands with today. Link to interesting items about your partners or sector.

Tweet in the moment

3Are you at a gala event and your senator or governor just walked in? Don’t be afraid to live tweet as it’s happening.

Follow the 60-30-10 rule

4That’s 60% retweets and pointers to promote items from other users or sites, 30% conversation and responses, 10% announcements and events. If all you ever talk about is you, no one is going to pay attention after a while.

Be strategic

5Follow and schmooze with influencers in your sector. Use search.twitter.com’s Advanced search link to find people in your sector or geographic region. Use tools like Klout, SocialMention, PeopleBrowsr (including its new Kred) and Twitter Lists to find them and make sure you engage before you ask for anything.

Be supportive

6Follow like-minded users and engage with them. Retweet liberally. Link to interesting news stories about your partners or sector.

Optimize your keywords

7Make sure that people can find you in a search. Your profile should contain the name of your organization, relevant keywords and a url to your site or blog.

Personalize your page

8Upload your organization’s logo as an icon, or you may want individual staffers to use their own thumbnail images. Don’t use a standard Twitter background (click the “Change background image” link under the Design tab of your profile). Adjust background and text colors. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t make your account private.

Stick to a routine

9The most popular accounts offer a steady stream of tweets: five to 10 a day. It’s unlikely you’ll overtweet. Tweet during weekdays, mostly from 9 am to 5 pm. Use social media dashboards like CoTweet, Hootsuite, TweetDeck or Seesmic to spread out and schedule your tweets.

Find your retweet style

10You can hit the retweet button, or go old school with a “RT” and an @mention, allowing you to add your own comment at the beginning (fyi: it’s common practice to comment before, not after, the “RT”).

Use hashtags

11Join in relevant Twitter conversations and trending topics by using #hashtags. Use existing ones or create your own. Check out our list of 40 hashtags for social good.

Get into a groove

12Consider focusing on one topic for a day or a week. Combine your updates with a hashtag theme like #WaterWednesday or #socialjustice.

Sync Twitter and Facebook

13Add a tweet button to your site or blog to allow easy sharing of your content. If you have a blog, always tweet about an updated post, but rewrite the headline to ask a question or create a jazzier angle.

Ask questions

14Use Twitter to conduct research, to solicit ideas, to identify experts, to thank donors and to ask questions of your followers.

Use calls to action

15It’s OK to say “Please check out our latest photo essay” or “Please RT.” Just don’t abuse people’s attention spans.

Include links

16Social media expert Dan Zarella found that tweets containing a url are three times more likely to be retweeted.

Measure your links’ popularity

17Use free url shorteners like bit.ly whenever including a link. Tools like CoTweet, Hootsuite and TweetDeck include these. Bit.ly will track which urls in your tweets get the most click-throughs.

Retweet your @mentions

18Instead of tooting your own horn, it can be more effective to retweet someone else’s tweet about you.

Have one regular, daily tweet

19Consider sharing a “Photo of the Day” or “Tip of the Day.” It gives you a chance to link back to your website or blog.

Be gracious

20Respond to people when they mention you. Reply when people ask questions. Follow back people who follow you (but don’t feel obliged to).

Be pithy

21Leave enough characters at the end of your tweet to enable people to manually retweet it.

Rephrase it, then go again

22It’s OK to use the same tweet more than once, but it’s best if it’s spread out by a few hours and reworded.

Take part in Follow Friday

23Take part in Follow Friday by sending out #ff updates to your favorite Twitter accounts early in the day. Many people will reciprocate.

And last but not least:
Don’t auto-DM

24DM (direct message) followers to ask them to RT an especially important tweet. But don’t use automatic Direct Messages to greet new followers. It’s considered bad form.

Twitter articles on Socialbrite

8 nonprofit Twitter superstars

12-step guide on how to live-tweet an event

• 40 hashtags for social good

12 great nonprofits & causes to follow on Twitter

Build a fan base: How to get more followers on Twitter

Go viral: 13 ways to get your blog posts retweeted

Twitter tutorials: Twitter Lists, hashtags, Twitter stats & more

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