Why tweet? Five reasons.
Related story: "Six tips for using social media to boost community development work" and "The value of integrating Twitter into your communications plan -- explained in 140 characters or less"
Nora Ferrell of the Community Media Workshop in Chicago said she was working as a communications director at a Minnesota non-profit when a colleague suggested she try Twitter, a social media tool for sending “tweets,” brief messages of 140 characters or less. She told him she had no interest.
“It sounds stupid,” she said.
“Just try it,” he suggested. “Tweet out something once a day.”
Ferrell acknowledges that she found Twitter confusing at first but said she quickly got the hang of it. Within two months, she was sold.
“I found that I was seeing breaking news faster,” she explained. “I was making connections with reporters and other non-profits in Minnesota that I wouldn't have known otherwise. And it gave me another platform to tell the story of the organization that I was working for.”
To make Twitter part of your communications strategy, Ferrell suggests the following five steps:
Understand the Basics.
Twitter operates like a running news feed, with regular updates from individuals and organizations that you have chosen to follow.
“You can watch what people are talking about throughout the day,” Ferrell explained. “A lot of reporters are on Twitter, so you can start to build relationships with them.”
There are three ways to communicate on Twitter. You can send your own tweets, which usually include links to your latest web articles, blog posts and announcements. The goal always should be to drive traffic to your website, where people can find out more about your organization and ways to get involved, or to engage your audience in a conversation about your issue.
You can also “retweet” information of interest to your followers. “For example, if I'm tweeting for Community Media Workshop and I see a [link to a] story on five things a communications professional should never do, I might retweet.”
If necessary, you can send a direct message to someone else with a Twitter account. “The direct message is the least used feature,” she said, “but if you had the need to communicate with somebody privately, you can.”
Choose your messenger.
Tweets can come either from your organization or from an individual, such as your executive director.
Personal faces get more followers, so if one of your leaders is a willing tweeter or trusts the communication staff to tweet on his or her behalf, that is usually your best option.
“That said, there are thousands if not millions of organizations that are just using their name and logo, and some sort of communication person or staff person is managing that,” Ferrell noted.
Go to www.twitter.com and follow the directions to set up an account. Choose an appropriate user name, and upload a photo of your leader or your group's logo, depending on the messenger you've selected. Enter a brief profile.
Then for a couple of days, visit Twitter and “just listen,” said Ferrell. “Find a few people or news organizations who you respect and start following them. Get a sense of what people are posting and how people are talking to each other.”
Then do what Ferrell's colleague suggested years ago: Tweet out something once a day.
Just try it.
Attract a Following.
Once you've got a feel for Twitter, look for more people and organizations to follow. These might be other non-profits already in your professional network and other groups, businesses or elected officials you'd like to partner with in the future. Following others can encourage them to reciprocate.
To make your group stand out amid the twittering masses, you will need to tweet more than once a day, said Ferrell. She recommends three to eight tweets daily — early morning, mid-day and late afternoon.
“You might not hit that goal every day, but if you go three weeks without tweeting, you’re not going to gain any new followers. It’s just an inactive Twitter account.”
To get the most out of Twitter, look for opportunities to build relationships with potential partners.
Some may not be immediately interested in your community development work, so follow them closely to see where their interests lie and where they intersect with yours. You might tweet information of mutual interest or even ask a question, Ferrell suggested.
“It’s about paying attention to what other people are talking about and finding a way to participate that makes sense.”
Reporters are often active on Twitter, seeking to attract readership, search for story ideas and connect with potential sources. They do not welcome story pitches via Twitter, Ferrell cautioned.
But reporters do sometimes tweet requests for help finding regular people to interview who meet certain criteria. For instance, a reporter might need to talk to someone facing a challenge your organization addresses, such as finding employment or affordable housing. You could use your grassroots network to connect them, Ferrell suggested.
Becoming friendly with reporters could eventually help get your organization a mention in the news — or even a full-blown story.
But the real advantage of using social media like Twitter is that it makes you less dependent on the media to spread the news about your work, she said.
“It’s about taking the middleman out.”
Posted in Communicating