The value of integrating Twitter into your communications plan — explained in 140 characters or less
Related stories: "Six tips for using social media to boost community development work" and "Why tweet? Five reasons"
It’s almost counterintuitive to think that a platform that only allows you to communicate in tiny, ADD-friendly snippets is helpful to an industry where some acronyms alone exceed Twitter’s 140-character limit.
(This opening sentence exceeds the tweet character limit by 40, so there goes the promise of our title too.)
But Twitter’s phenomenal growth over the past five years suggests that it’s become something far more important than a way to tell your followers you’re sitting on your front porch tweeting. It’s become the way businesses communicate with customers. It’s become the way local reporters find the news in their communities. And, whether we like it or not, it’s becoming the way people are building relationships.
Maybe it’s Twitter’s ease of use, its mobility (you can tweet from any smartphone), or its tolerance for bad grammar (sometimes you just have 2 abrv 2 squz in2 the chr limt) that has made it the tool of choice for many a marketer, social media specialist, and hockey aficionado.
Whatever it is, Twitter is where a lot of conversations are taking place today, so you need to be in the same room if you’re going to join those conversations.
Social media is the great equalizer, allowing nonprofit organizations to promote their work and build relationships that, once upon a time, would have required a hefty marketing budget and significant resources. Twitter has been an especially powerful tool since I came to Detroit LISC in February.
So how has Twitter helped Detroit LISC? And how can it help other LISC offices and CDC partners? Let’s see…
It helps increase exposure
The work LISC does is mostly behind the scenes, yet it remains important to promote our name, the work we support, and our expertise in community development. Otherwise, how will funders know what a great, cool organization we are?
Being active on Twitter is an easy and free way to generate positive exposure and name recognition for your office or organization. It allows you to demonstrate to philanthropic foundations, city officials, local reporters, and private corporations that you’re a key player in your community. That’s because Twitter can make you very visible to a very large and growing community — literally in a manner of seconds.
Detroit LISC's Twitter account currently has 155 followers. Our 155 followers have just under 800,000 combined followers.
Imagine, for one moment, if all our followers retweeted one of our posts. That’s another 800,000 across Detroit, the country, and the world, who would read our post — to say nothing of the followers they could retweet to. And while we’ve yet to come up with anything interesting enough for 155 people to retweet, the potential for exponential marketing is there.
And it’s one that you can continue to develop the more you use Twitter.
Between your tweets and those that your followers retweet, you can have a lot of people reading about a sustainable community or a neighborhood event. And among those will be a handful of people — including prospective funders — who will be curious about what else your office does.
That’s not to say you should just tweet for the sake of tweeting. Like the rest of your communications strategy (and you have an awesome one, right?), it’s all about creating a consistent message, maintaining a brand, and establishing subject matter expertise.
So you’ll want to tweet about things pertinent to LISC’s work and expertise, and retweet things that are relevant in any way, shape, or form to the work you are supporting locally.
But what is LISC’s area of expertise? What should your office be tweeting about to establish subject matter expertise (e.g., “LISC, the community development people”)? Funny you should ask…
It helps demonstrate your wide range of expertise
Thanks to our standing as a community development intermediary, and thanks to the comprehensive approach of our Building Sustainable Communities strategy, you can argue that LISC’s expertise is broader than many.
From physical property and economic development to safety initiatives and education programs, and even to ancillary areas like loan underwriting and marketing communications, LISC has a lot of expertise to share.
And Twitter is a great way to share that expertise.
For starters, we can tweet about the different things going on in LISC — whether it’s an investment in an affordable housing project, a commercial corridor you’re going to invest in, or a community volunteer event you’re taking part in. Letting your followers know what you’re up to is one way to define your role within your community and start building the reputation you want (e.g., “LISC, the property development people”).
But by retweeting posts from other Twitter accounts that relate to your work, you not only help out a fellow Twitter user, you also reinforce your reputation as a comprehensive community development organization.
Detroit LISC, for example, retweets information about new property acquisitions in downtown Detroit. So whenever someone purchases a major building, we pass the information along because downtown’s revitalization can impact the physical and economic development work we do in neighborhoods.
We retweet calls for volunteers with the local food banks or neighborhood events because we are actively trying to engage more residents in our BSC neighborhoods. We retweet information about city initiatives from the Mayor’s Office because we want to emphasize BSC’s strategic alignment with the city’s Detroit Works Project. We retweet job posts from partners and even funders because that supports local economic development.
We even retweet information on social media and blogging because we are actively building up our social media campaign and preparing to launch a new neighborhood blog.
Detroit LISC has associated itself with physical property development, civic engagement, job growth, citywide revitalization efforts, and even marketing. We’ve demonstrated tangible expertise in these and other fields by consistently retweeting posts from different sources in interconnected disciplines.
Therein lies the beauty of tweeting for LISC: we don’t have to pigeonhole ourselves as any one thing because what we do involves so many different but concentric elements. Our niche overlaps with many, and that allows us to engage many more people than, say, a marketing firm specializing in lumber products.
Remember: The more you tweet and retweet, the more people will follow and hear your message — including members of the local media.
It helps establish vital media relationships
Twitter has helped Detroit LISC accomplish what might normally take a sales pitch, a lot of phone calls, a lot of phone tag, and a lot of aspirin — establish direct lines of communication with local media and reporters.
As Elizabeth Duffrin discusses in her article "Why tweet? Five reasons," local reporters are now on Twitter and using it to find stories and leads. And why wouldn’t they? Twitter is full of would-be reporters and people willing to talk about what’s going on around them. Some, like WXYZ TV’s Stephen Clark, use Twitter to interact directly with viewers in real-time by using a #backchannel hashtag.
Reporters are on Twitter, and they’re looking for people and organizations to tell them where the stories are and make their jobs easier. So why not be one of them?
It’s as simple as following your major news outlets. Send them a shout-out every now and then. Retweet articles that are relevant to your work. That should be enough. If you retweet, they will come.
Detroit LISC currently has several local reporters following us, including three from the two major Detroit newspapers, one from Crain’s, and two local TV reporters. As a result, we’ve been able to directly contact these reporters to invite them to events, share press releases, and generally keep in touch.
One of them did a brief write-up about Detroit LISC and its recent selection of our three Building Sustainable Communities (BSC) neighborhoods, and two more have expressed interest in doing a story on us in the future. All have asked to be invited to future events.
Once upon a time, it would have taken hours of phone tag and a sharp PR specialist to establish these kinds of working relationships with local media. Twitter allowed us to do it for free, and by doing little more than tweeting about our work and retweeting relevant posts.
The media found us, not the other way around.
And remember all that subject matter expertise you’ve been building? Here’s another way it now comes into play.
A reporter is doing an article on a neighborhood, and she’s thinking, “Gee, I wonder who knows more about that area?” Suddenly, she remembers your tweets about that neighborhood, realizes you’re a subject matter expert, and decides to give you a buzz to get a quote for her article.
Just like that, you’ve gotten your office’s name in the paper again, and you’ve built another valuable media relationship that may pay dividends when it’s time for a big launch.
Speaking of relationships…
It helps to build and promote relationships
Twitter is becoming a critical tool in building relationships digitally — especially with people you’ve never even met. It can certainly help your office promote and build upon your existing relationships with your CDCs, and establish new relationships with prospective freelance candidates and local talent.
Like any LISC office, Detroit LISC works closely with and supports local CDCs, and we value our partnerships with each of them. Twitter now allows us promote them and the work they perform, and help them spread word of any announcements or special events.
Some of our CDC partners like Urban Neighborhood Initiatives are very active on Twitter, using it to share photographs, inform area residents of upcoming meetings, call for volunteers, and share general information about the work they are doing. They currently have 121 followers.
Detroit LISC will typically retweet their posts to our followers, expanding the reach of their original message. By simply clicking Retweet, we’ve helped spread their word, and built up some good will between the CDC and LISC.
Twitter makes it very easy to share the love.
You can do so every Friday with the #FF (Follow Friday) hashtag, which essentially tells your followers to follow the folks you’re listing. If your CDC partners aren’t on Twitter, ask them to get on it and acknowledge them with a #FF tweet. They’ll appreciate it!
Twitter also lets you interact with people you’ve not yet met but who could become assets to your office.
For example, I’m putting together a roster of local writers to contribute to Detroit LISC’s upcoming neighborhoods blog, and for possible freelance writing assignments in the future. Through Detroit LISC’s Twitter account, I’ve already met several candidates who, through blog links and information they shared on Twitter, demonstrated good writing skills and blogging expertise.
Because Detroit LISC follows users who work and are engaged in Detroit, they’re typically passionate Detroiters working to spread the word of Detroit’s revitalization. A quick check of their Twitter profile will reveal their number of followers, how active they are, and how helpful they could be in promoting our message.
Just like that, I found qualified writers who are based in Detroit, love to write about the city, and who have the influence to help us spread our message. Twitter can be a dynamic job board where you find the people you want to work with.
It helps you share a good story
Finally, Twitter has helped Detroit LISC join — and echo — the growing chorus of voices sharing the good stories happening in Detroit.
Those of us living and working in Detroit understand that the national (and even local) perception of Detroit remains a work in progress. Social media has allowed passionate Detroiters to begin sharing the stories of success coming out of our neighborhoods, and to counter the national narrative about Detroit’s decline.
For the national perception of Detroit to change, we need to offer a different message — and get as many organizations and people as possible to repeat that message as many times as necessary. The rewriting of Detroit’s narrative has to be a collaborative effort.
On Twitter, there are plenty of organizations tweeting feel-good stories and positive news about Detroit, its residents, and the millions now being invested in the city. And by retweeting a good story about, say, a visitor’s positive experience in Detroit, we’ve encouraged more people to read it.
Detroit LISC currently has followers in cities across the country, so imagine what it might mean to them to read a story like this. Over time, and with enough stories demonstrating Detroit’s revitalization, their perceptions of our city may change.
Twitter, with its capacity for exponential communication, can become a powerful tool in shifting the narrative of a struggling neighborhood (or even a city), and generate the kind of positive buzz that may change perceptions — and encourage new community investments.
Twitter is what you want it to be
These are just some of the ways Twitter has helped Detroit LISC, but different offices and organizations will find different uses for it (and hopefully share them with us).
But the important thing is to get on Twitter, and to encourage your partners to get on it as well. There are plenty of online resources on social media and the right hashtags to use, so don’t be afraid to take the plunge and open up an account. Make sure to follow all your CDCs, funders, key partners, local media, and basically anyone actively working in your city to effect positive change.
The relationships you’ll build through Twitter can pay real dividends for your office down the line.
All it takes is 140 characters. Well that, and a lot of abbreviating.
Ulises Silva is the Communications Program Officer at Detroit LISC, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted in Communicating, Thinking Out Loud