Getting Twitter buy-in at your nonprofit

August 4, 2009
TBS campaign photo

From Twitter: "Placards very vibrant. Can see them well from the street."

Last week, I “live tweeted” an event for a client. It was a first for me but something I had wanted to try for quite awhile. Twitter is a new communication platform for this client and tweeting an event was a great way to introduce them to it.

Beyond Borders is a volunteer-driven, national NGO speaking out globally on the issue of child sexual exploitation. The organization is part of a network of NGOs affiliated with ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes).

Beauty retailer The Body Shop, has joined forces with ECPAT and the Somaly Mam Foundation to engage in a three-year campaign to stop sex trafficking of children and youth. Part of the campaign involves the launch of a new hand cream with a portion of sales going to ECPAT affiliates.

For Beyond Borders, this campaign will not only generate a new source of funds to carry out projects  benefiting victims of exploitation, it will also bring the organization unprecedented attention. As the result, Beyond Borders decided to invest in an entirely revamped website that was easy to navigate and that also incorporated social media (including Twitter) to further engage the community at large.

For most of the organization’s board members and volunteers, Twitter was an unfamiliar platform. Sure, most were aware of the hype around Twitter but they were unsure about how it works and how the organization could use it.

I made the case that Twitter would be a great way to connect with related NGOs as well as other stakeholders. It would also provide Beyond Borders volunteers (who span the country) with a quick and easy way to stay abreast of the organization’s news and activities.

Getting Twitter buy-in

With the majority of volunteers not using Twitter, the first order of business was to introduce the platform to them and to cultivate openness to using it. That was part of the rationale for putting a Twitter stream right on the website. Providing a “window” to recent posts on Twitter within a platform comfortable to everyone (the organization’s website) we were one step away from having them click on the link taking them directly to the Twitter profile.

The next challenge will be to post information that will be relevant to the Beyond Borders community. The launch of The Body Shop’s campaign was a perfect place to start.

Event tweeting increased motivation to use Twitter

As part of the launch of the campaign, the retailer hosted a rally in Toronto to provide information to that region’s staff members as well as to interested media. I attended the launch and agreed to “live tweet” the event. For Beyond Borders members unable to travel to Toronto for the launch, Twitter would be the next best thing to being there.

Using an iPhone and the Twitterrific application that allows you to tweet using a mobile device, I was able to upload several photo links and provide a running commentary of the event. By going to the Beyond Borders Twitter profile or its website, visitors could see images and read updates in real time.

The importance of this event to Beyond Borders as well as the novelty of being able to hear about it in real time was a great way to motivate people to try the platform. Volunteers who followed along gave the experience a positive review.

Many nonprofits/NGOs are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. It’s important, though, to do some thoughtful planning about how the organization will use the platform and to make sure that it is integrated with the organization’s larger communication plan. Creating a Twitter profile and posting updates to it does not mean everyone, including your volunteers/staff, will embrace it. As with other communication tools, the content has to be easy to absorb, relevant and useful. Overcoming the barriers to adopting this new tool also needs to be part of the plan.

Has your organization recently adopted Twitter or another social media tool? I’d love to hear about your success and challenges.

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2 Responses to “Getting Twitter buy-in at your nonprofit”

  1. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Heather. I have found that some communities are much more active on Twitter than others. It really takes promotion in a variety of ways to get folks on board. I find the audience builds over time but you have to remind your community regularly that Twitter is another way you’re connecting/communicating.

  2. Heather Says:

    the not-for-profit i work for, kids’ own started using twitter for a project we have: @practice_ie for an online artists’ community… however, we find there’s not many arts people in our area (children & arts) and i can’t track many/any new registrations which may have come via twitter.

    not sure what the benefits are… maybe twitter has to be more mainstream before we’ll notice our audience there?


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