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A Twitter Basics Primer

by Marinel Mones


Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site, publishes online messages with a maximum of 140 characters. Currently, Twitter has an estimated 4.1 million visits to the site and climbing per month in the U.S. alone. It is considered to be the fastest growing social network, and is one of the most viral social media tools freely available. Many brands attempt to use the tool to market their services and products, but the successful brands use Twitter to listen and engage with their stakeholders. (img from seyDoggy’s photostream)

Brian Solis, a Principal at FutureWorks, said, “Of all of the social tools and services that are pervasive throughout our digital society, only a select few communities can boast the pseudo fanatical conviction that Twitter’s users unanimously possess.”

Twitter can be compared to skimming the headlines, only viral with links, tweets and conversation moving at the speed of 140 characters. At the same time, it lacks the depth of other forms of social media, like content rich blogs or a contact manager like LinkedIn.

Similar to other social networks, organizations should not just jump onto the Twitter bandwagon. Before engaging companies and organizations need to assess their purpose and potential benefits of using Twitter. Below are key questions to consider:

  • What can Twitter do for my organization? Twitter connects organizations to their target audiences and allows them to build trust and relationships. This micro-blogging site is excellent for nonprofits and social good advocates to raise awareness for their efforts and a good place for micro-campaigns.
  • What can we do for our Twitter community? Can we add to the conversation? What value do we bring to potential followers on Twitter? Are we ready to be present the other 90-95% of the time when we don’t have a need to communicate with the marketplace? Are we ready for an ongoing conversation?
  • One account or multiple accounts? One account per organization is recommended. Multiple accounts create confusion. It’s OK for employees of an organization to have their own personal account as long as employees are being transparent of who they are and who they work for, i.e. “@Richard from Dell”. Organizations can elect a person to manage the account and engage with stakeholders. All Twitter correspondence regarding the organization’s information can be addressed with the main account. Employees could provide the Twitter handle (username) of the organization’s main Twitter profile on their own profiles (crosslinking is important for consistency and unification).
  • How do I use Twitter? The opportunities for organziations to use Twitter are incessant. Twitter is a tool meant for engaging, not just following people and vice versa. The Dosh Dosh blog shares different ways beginners, professionals and organizations can you use Twitter. The list includes:
    • Networking – There are many ways to network on Twitter. Organizations should use Twitter search to find fellow industry organizations, professionals, and potential stakeholders to follow. If organizations can effectively build relationships on Twitter, the potential for leveraging Twitter in promotional efforts is endless.
    • Receiving feedback – As with every social media tool, listening and engaging with fellow Twitterers are fundamental. Network Solutions is a prime example of this. Network Solutions monitors the “Twittersphere” for conversations about the company – from customer service to providing potential stakeholders with coupon offers. Network Solutions responds to Tweets (the post/entry made on Twitter), often asking for feedback, and in turn learns how to better serve their clients.
    • Direct traffic – Crosslinking blog posts, new campaign information, etc. about your organization will help drive traffic to your site. Synchronize updates with your website. Micro-blogging sites offer badges (an image, usually squared and displayed on a blog, which signifies the blogger’s participation in an event, contest, or social movement) and widgets (mini applications that performs a specific function and connects to the Internet) to embed on web pages such home sites or blogs.
    • Provide information – Share information about organization on your profile and in your Tweets. This information should be relevant to your stakeholders. Information about local events, conferences, etc. are all appropriate. Providing information does not mean pitch your organization.
    • Read News – Twitter users tend to share information using tiny URLs. This can be blog posts or online news article URLs. In addition to following and engaging with industry professionals, the organizations should read the content – including the links – of those they follow and their followers, if the Tweet deems relevant.
    • Branding – An organization’s brand should permeate on and offline. Remember, brands are perceptions of organizations in the minds of their consumers. Be consistent by using established logos, colors, etc. Consistency signifies a united front for organizations.
  • For example, social media consultant and social media for social good advocate, Beth Kanter, used Twitter to help a young Cambodian woman receive treatments for her health. Kanter challenged people at the Seattle Gnomedex 8.0 Conference in August 2008 to use their Twitter networks to raise money for this woman. In 90 minutes, Kanter raised $2,500 and by the end of the conference $4,000. Kanter was successful because she has a large network, but she also cultivates her relationship with her Twitter followers.

What Twitter Can Do For You

Tracking keywords and conversations is one of the benefits of Twitter. Organizations can follow dialogues and research key issues using Twitter Search and hashtags (#). Following conversations provides the organizations with benchmarks and results.

  • The tracking keywords feature is used on your phone or IM. People simply send text messages with “track” in front of the word they’d like followed (i.e. “track nonprofits”). Results are given in real-time.
  • There are many tools for performing Twitter searches. The most popular is Twitter Search (formally known as Summize before Twitter acquired it). Twitter searches enable organizations to filter conversations.

If an organization wanted to see what the Twittersphere was saying about them, they could easily use Twitter search to monitor the conversations. Twitter search also provides an RSS Feed (a system that generates frequently updated information from a site) for specific terms. Organizations could really use the search to answer questions and track trends.

  • Hashtags make it easier to follower conversations on Twitter. Words or phrases marked with a hash (#) as a prefix signify tracking. People create hashtags in order to view the results and conversations in the Twittersphere. Hashtags are excellent to use for campaigns.

Communicating provides only140 characters to capture your stakeholder’s interest. If organizations continuously build relationships and network on Twitter and the campaigns are thoughtfully executed, then the campaign will be successful. It’s critical for 98% of marketers out there to ensure they don’t just broadcast using a Twitter profile (CNNers, Guy Kawasaki and Shaquille O’Neal aside). Success demands participation and conversation.

Take the Twit2Fit effort as an example. Twit2Fit is an ongoing Twitter movement that supports the health and wellness of people and challenges Twitter users to exercise and create or maintain a healthy lifestyle. When people tweet about exercising, they add the #twit2fit to their post. The movement encourages people to become healthy and allows Twitterers to show their support for better health and wellness.

Another example is Epic Change’s Tweetgiving campaign, an effort to raise money to fund a new classroom for a school in Tanzania. In just 48 hours, Epic Change was able to raise $10,000 through the power of Twitter and social media.

The best benefit organizations get from joining Twitter is the relationships. The Twitter community is continuously growing and thrives on participation and interaction. Think of your Twitter relationships as investments of the organization. To keep a client, you must continue nourishing that relationship and offer assistance as needed. Offer your Twitter community with information by providing answers pertaining to their sector-related questions. Listen and engage with your stakeholders.


Twitter is a helpful tool when effectively used. The dynamics of the Twitter community allows organizations to use connect with their stakeholders and offer information about themselves or their cause. Through this micro-blogging tool, the organizations can meet new people, share information with their stakeholders about organization updates or events, track trends and conversations in the nonprofit industry and even create a micro-campaign. With Twitter, organizations are listening, engaging and building relationships that extend beyond the social network.

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