how to:How to Engage with Your Target Audience on Twitter to Maximize Impact
Twitter is a microblogging platform that enables users to post messages in 140 characters or less. Twitter is one of the best tools for quickly amplifying your organization's message, communicating with influentials, and crowd-sourcing requests for ideas and information.
As always, share your lessons learned and tips in the comments, and we will add them to the guide!
Before you sign up for an account, take some time to think about how using Twitter would add to and complement your existing communications strategy. (Don't have one? Check out our how-to guide on crafting a strategy here.)
The most common reasons nonprofits and grassroots organizations join Twitter are:
- To be an information hub and raising awareness
- To fundraise
- To show a more personal side the organization
Why do you want to be on Twitter? Decide on a target goal and plan your strategy around how you can reach this goal. It may be helpful to look at how other organizations and individuals are using Twitter. What are they sharing? How do they interact with followers? For example, here are a few Twitter users to check out:
The Brooklyn Museum uses its Twitter account to engage art patrons and share news.
The Case Foundation not only tweets about updates on its blog, but also shares news and interesting information from its partners and supporters.
Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Share Our Strength does an excellent job of using its Twitter account to share news about childhood hunger and promote its fundraising initiatives.
Mark Horvath brings attention to the issue of homelessness and his work via his Twitter account @hardlynormal. Mark does a great job engaging with his followers and influential Twitter users in his issue area.
Sign up for a Twitter account on http://www.twitter.com. Make sure you choose a short username so that people can respond to you or retweet you without going over the 140-character limit. For example, @AllianceforYouthMovements would take up a lot of characters, so our Twitter handle is @aym.
Take the time to set up your user profile as well. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for people to find you on Twitter and to learn more about you. This information appears on your public profile and search results, so make sure you are comfortable making whatever information you share public.
Include an image for your account. We recommend using either your picture if you are tweeting as an individual or your organization’s logo if you are Tweeting as the voice of your organization. You also have the option of including your real name and location.
Have a website or blog? Add your web address to your profile. Finally, add a brief bio. We recommend including your interests or your organization’s mission.
You can also add a background image to your Twitter page. You can either use one of Twitter’s default themes or create your own customized background. Remember to select images and colors that are pleasing to the eye - you don’t want to distract people from your Tweets!
Can’t access Twitter in your country? See our guide to circumventing Internet filtering.
Start tweeting! An important part of gaining a following on Twitter is authenticity. Your followers (or potential followers) need to believe that there are real human beings behind your Twitter handle and to trust that you will Tweet worthwhile information on a regular basis. Don't feel a need to be too formal. Experiment and be casual.
Before you start following a bunch of other users, write 10 to 15 thoughtful tweets. Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing Tweets and deciding what types on content your cause should share on Twitter:
- Avoid mundane tweets about topics like the weather or what you ate for lunch. Your followers want to hear from you because they are passionate about your organization's work. Try to stick to the topics that are aligned with your organization's mission.
- Bring people behind the scenes. It is always a great idea to share a new piece of content that you just produced —perhaps a new video or a blog post. Better yet, post a piece of content and ask your followers to share their reactions. For example: “We just posted a video from our protest yesterday: [LINK HERE]. What do you think?”
- Tweet structure: When you are sharing information, try to write the tweet as if it’s a headline—short, sweet, and to the point. It’s also great to phrase it as a question. Here's an example from Change.org's Twitter feed: "@Change: What makes a #blood #diamond? The U.N. refuses to say for sure: http://bit.ly/bGAsl7"
- Use hashtags strategically and appropriately to spread, share and organize information. Hashtags are words or phrases prefixed with the 'hash' or 'pound' symbol (#), similar to category tags on a blog, and are used in Tweets to add context.
Get to know URL shorteners. It becomes a lot easier to fit the information you want to share into 140 characters if you use URL (web address) shorteners. Check out our how-to guide specifically addressing how to shorten web addresses with URL shorteners.
One of the most popular shortening services is bit.ly. Copy and paste your long URL into the text box on the site and click "Shorten." Copy the new bit.ly link and paste it into your Tweet. The best feature about bit.ly is that you can track how many times a link was clicked on. If you create a free account with bit.ly you can retrieve data and metrics about your links. You can track and compile data about how often links are clicked on and the webpage where the link was clicked on.
One of the best parts about Twitter is the ability to find new supporters and reach out to online influencers. Once you get used to Tweeting, it’s time to start following other Twitter users and gain a following for your own account. Take some time to explore who’s out there. If you’re an activist, it makes sense to follow other organizations that do similar work to learn about their latest activities and read their recommended links. It’s also a good idea to follow influential targets—media figures and politicians, for example—so that you can respond to their tweets and potentially get noticed by them.
Start with a basic Twitter Search. Use keywords to find tweets about your issue area.
There are a number of third-party websites that allow you to discover new Twitter users according to the topics that they tweet about. Try:
- Topsy, a search engine powered by tweets
See what Twitter Lists people your followers have created. Twitter Lists are found on the right-hand side of a user’s Twitter page. (Learn how to create your own list in Step 9.) The user can group people they follow into particular lists. For example, AYM has a list that divides up people we follow by geographic location. This is another way to find interesting Twitter users.
Use TwitterCounter to get statistics about any Twitter user, including their number of followers and the number of people they follow. This can help you learn more about your fellow Tweeps.
Need more help identifying online influencers? Check out our how-to guide for tips.
Integrate your Twitter profile with other sites and platforms where you have a presence.
- Add a widget of your Twitter page to your website or blog’s landing page, as well as your Facebook profile. Your Tweets will then be displayed on your site.
- Add a Twitter button to your site so people share content on Twitter without having to leave your site.
- Add a button to your site that directs people to your Twitter page.
Remember, a Twitter community can’t be grown overnight! It will take time, dedication and consistent Tweeting to build up a base.
Respond to other Tweeps. What’s great about Twitter is you can easily have a one-on-one dialogue with another user about something you both care about.
If you want to add to what someone says, disagree with what they write, or just want to connect with them, use the @ symbol in front of their Twitter handle (no space in between!) and write a message back.
The @ reply feature can be used for more than just responding to other Twitter users. For example, if you are posting something that an influential Twitter user might be interested in, include their handle in your Tweet. This is a great way to get another user’s attention.
Twitter now allows users to see a reply only if they are following both sides of the conversation. Some people might like this, as it reduces the noise, but others like to see who friends are talking to. If you add a period before each reply, the tweet will not start with a @ but rather a “.” and will therefore not be considered a reply. If it is not a reply, all your followers can see it, which enables them to be introduced to the person you are talking to.
Try to retweet your followers occasionally to show that you are paying attention to them (which you should be doing!). Retweeting means you are reposting another user's message on Twitter. This is done by clicking the Retweet button under the Tweet. You can automatically Retweet, or edit the Tweet to add your own comments ahead of the Tweet.
Listen and Monitor! Using either an external application or Twitter's web interface, you can constantly monitor what people are saying about the issues, people, or places you care about using Twitter search.
First search for your organization's name (for example, @aym), then choose a few words that are related to your organization.
For example, if you are working to fight violence in Mexico, you might start some searches for “Ciudad Juarez,” “Juarez,” “Narco,” or “Violencia” and “Mexico”—and you will also of course want to choose the name of your organizations and any abbreviations or nicknames that people might use for it. You can monitor these searches in real time in your external application or on Twitter.
On an external application like Tweetdeck (see below): Click the plus sign at the top left of the interface, next to the "Tweetdeck" logo. It will allow you to add a column. Type in your search term, click the magnifying glass, and that’s it! Your search is saved. Repeat for more columns.
You can also monitor searches using RSS. Remember to check your searches at least once a day. Also check a tool called BackTweets, which allows you to run a constant search for any tweets that link to your website. Just go to backtweets.com, type in your URL, and it will display all tweets that linked to any page of your website, even those that were shortened.
Also, check on the Twitter homepage to see what topics are trending. This is a helpful way to see what issues or events Twitter users are most interested in at any given moment.
Go mobile. If you don’t have internet access but you still want to tweet, you may be able to do so using your cell phone. Check to see if Twitter has a deal with mobile operators in your country. If it does, find the appropriate short code (number to send the tweet to) and you are off!
Create groups. Especially as an organization, you may want to follow a good portion of your supporters who follow you back. You may not, however, want to read all those peoples’ tweets. If not, you can create groups in external Twitter clients to filter your feed. It will create a column with only certain people’s tweets, so there will be an “All Friends” or an "All Tweets" column, and then the columns that you made for yourself.
Create Lists. Twitter lists are another great way to let others on Twitter know what you or your organization is about. Make a list of Twitter users working in your issue area by browsing to their Twitter profile and then tweet about it. You can even use the @ sign in your tweet to make sure that certain people see your list. Getting people to follow your lists is a great way to earn more followers and to identify yourself or your organization as a resource. You can also follow other Twitter users’ lists. This is a great way to find and follow other users tweeting about similar topics.
Use Twitter creatively. There are other ways you can engage your followers besides writing information-packed, helpful tweets. You can:
- Cover events: Whether you are hosting one of your own or attending an event or conference, make sure that there is a (preferably short in characters) hashtag and that you are using it. Include the hashtag in every tweet about your event. This way, other people following the event on Twitter see that you are also there and are more likely to connect with you. When at events, use services like TwitPic and Twiddeo to take photos and video clips at the event and post them to Twitter feeds. (Check out our guide to live-Tweeting and event http://www.movements.org/how-to/entry/how-to-live-tweet-an-event/)
- Are you meeting or speaking with someone you think your following will be excited about? Treat it like an event! Tell your followers about it, and even take a picture.
- Hold a chat with activists you work with, members of the media, or other well-known personalities. Twitter Chats are becoming more commonplace. Create a specific time and hashtag for the chat for everyone to use and promote it widely. A word of caution, though: Chats can easily get out of hand with tons of Tweets going back and forth. Keep the focus of the chat specific. Have questions ready ahead of time.
Download external Twitter clients for your desktop and/or your mobile device like Seesmic or Tweetdeck. These apps make using Twitter much easier and more manageable. Apps are available at twitter.com/downloads.
Track your progress and measure results against your goals. Websites like Twittercounter, Backtweets, Tweetmetrics, and Klout can be used to help track how much your following has grown and how influential you are. Also, look at how many times you are getting Retweeted and mentioned. How effectively are you using Twitter?
Remember, successfully and effectively using Twitter isn't usually about the number of Twitter followers you amass. As blogger Robert Scoble notes, look for other signs of success and ask, “Are you dominating the conversation about a niche? Or are you even involved? If you want to be the place for discussing cookies, and whenever I do a search for cookies I don’t see your name, that means you don’t have influence. If I do see your name, you’re part of the conversation, people are reacting to you, and you have lots of followers who are cookie makers — if Ghirardelli Square is following you and you have a conversation with Ghiradelli Square about chocolate and cookies — then I would say you are getting to the point when you have influence.”
Thinking about Tweet automation? Think again. Twitter is more than an RSS feed; it’s a conversation. Automating your Tweets is a slippery slope toward being perceived as a spammer or simply a dull Tweep.
If you do want to use a tool like Twitterfeed to send out an alert every time you publish a new piece of content on your organization’s website or blog, that’s fine (we do this at the @aym Twitter feed), but make sure you also Tweet personally. When adjusting any settings for an automated feed, watch out for publishing too many tweets at the same time. This way your RSS feed won’t be spitting out five to 10 tweets at the same time, which clogs up other peoples’ feeds and will probably lead them to stop following you.