A Practical Guide to Twitter for Nonprofits

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Now that we’ve gone over the basics of social media for nonprofits, we’re ready to dive into the specifics of the different networks and what better place to start than my personal favorite, Twitter.

If A Tweet Falls in the Forest …

You can tweet 4 times a day sharing the best content in the industry, but until you build a list of followers there isn’t really anyone around to hear you. Here are some tried and true techniques for building your list of followers:

  • Follow for follow: If you want someone to follow you, then follow them first, and (hopefully) they’ll return the compliment.
  • Favorite for follow: Sometimes flattery will get you somewhere – like if someone still isn’t following you back so you favorite and retweet some of their content to not only remind them of your existence, but possibly charm them into finally following you back.
  • Freebie for follow: The premise is simple, follow me and I’ll give you something (an ebook, a pen, a new car). What matters here is that the item is relevant to your organization and appealing to the audience you’re hoping to attract.
  • Flatter for follow: Similar to “favorite for follow”, mention a Twitter user you admire in your tweet and share a link to an article you think they’ll appreciate. If you’re lucky, they’ll show their gratitude with a follow.

Another note: although it is tempting to follow and favorite mass amounts of people with the blind hope that they’ll return the favor, keep in mind that you’re trying to build a community of interested individuals for the purposes of giving and receiving information. Focus on building relationships with industry leaders to build trust within the Twitter community and increase your visibility.

To Tweet or not to Tweet – When is the right time to reach your target audience?

Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules on the optimal time to tweet, so take note of the facts and suggestions below and experiment with what time of day works best for the audience you’re trying to reach:

  • Take note of when your Twitter “idols” are tweeting – if they’re getting good responses it’s okay to copy!
  • It’s a little known fact that Twitter engagement rates are 17% higher on weekends despite only about 19% of all published tweets being posted during that time. With high engagement numbers and minimal distraction from the competition, experimenting with Twitter during the weekend is highly recommended.
  • If you’re cursing my name for suggesting you work on the weekend – don’t stop reading just yet. There are programs that you can use to automatically schedule tweets for any time you choose, allowing you to be out with family and friends while your tweets are automatically being posted for you. (Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog has a great list of 10 Useful (and FREE) Online Twitter tools for nonprofits here.
  • Regardless of the day of the week, Twitter “busy hours” (7am-8pm) are a good time to post.
  • And the absolutely “best” time? According to social media scientist Dan Zarella, if retweets are what you’re after (and they are) tweeting on Friday at 4pm EST is the ideal time (hmmm, I wonder if that has anything to do with people killing time at the end of their workday/work week?).

Don’t Be an Egg! – take advantage of Twitter’s “free” marketing space

Twitter Egg Profile ScreenshotThe default profile picture for any new Twitter account is essentially an egg with a colored background – do you want to have your organization represented by an egg? I didn’t think so. Besides automatically lumping yourself in with the other “eggs” on twitter you’re also neglecting free marketing real estate so keep the following up to date:

  • Your pictures: Between your profile picture, your header image and your background, you have three chances to literally “show” people what your organization is all about. The profile image is the ideal place for your logo, while your header provides more real estate to show your organization in action, and last but not least, an interesting (but not distracting background) will tie the whole thing together.
  • our profile/description: This isn’t just about describing you or your organization, this is your one opportunity to influence where your Twitter page will rank in a Google search. The first step here is to use Google’s Keyword Planner to identify which keywords you should associate with your profile, then find a way to work one or two of these keywords in naturally using the 160 characters allotted for this space. For inspiration (and a good laugh) check out Fast Company’s advice on How to Rock Your Twitter Bio as Hard as Hillary Clinton.

Think you have your bases covered because you did all this when you signed up for Twitter in 2009? Think again – the new platform launched in April 2014 means new rules, get the scoop here.

Give the Tweeple What They Want – a picture is worth a thousand followers

Images aren’t just for profiles: Russ Laraway, Senior Director at Twitter, reports that tweets that include images are retweeted 35% more often than text-only tweets, making them one of the best ways to increase engagement.

If You Tweet It, They Will Follow – how to write catchy headlines

The best way to encourage retweets and favorites are attention grabbing headlines. Here are some proven headline techniques that boost engagement:

  • Keywords: Incorporate current industry buzzwords or other keywords you know will catch the eye of your audience.
  • Lists: People on Twitter love lists so if you’re creating your own content put it in list form, and if you’re curating content be on the lookout for lists. Including a number and alluding to a list in your headline will increase clicks.
  • How to: Right up there with lists, are “How to” headlines. People are curious creatures – if you’re offering me information on how to do something better, I’m probably going to check it out.

[Tweet “The Top 3 Twitter Headline Techniques that Boost Engagement – which one is your favorite?”]

What’s the Deal with Hashtags? – a practical guide

Hashtags are the phenomenon that made Twitter so successful, Facebook and Instagram eventually incorporated them into their networks. Here’s how to use hashtags effectively:

  • Research – Keep an eye on the hashtags Twitter tells you are trending worldwide or for your target area, and when you see one that relates to your nonprofit – join the conversation! If you’re looking to live-tweet a conference or event, check their webpage first to see which hashtag they’re using. I thought #AFP2014 might be appropriate for this year’s international conference, but it turns out that everyone was using #afpicon and #afpshift, if I hadn’t double-checked I would have been completely out of the loop!
  • Promote – Coming up with a catchy hashtag for your campaign will make it easy for your followers to spread the word and increase the reach of your campaign. If you’re running a contest, make including the hashtag part of the requirements to win to encourage engagement.
  • Organize – Hashtags can also be used to “label” your tweets and keep you organized. You can search by a particular hashtag to see what information you’ve already shared on that subject.

Warning: Use too many hashtags and your post will be look like this: #annoying #overwhelming, #spammy #ridiculous and sound like this:

And above all else …

Have fun with it! Remember, if someone is following you on Twitter then it’s because they want to hear about what you’re doing, so give the people what they want!

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About the author: Megan McMillan is one of iWave’s Marketing Managers.

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