Twitter Community Organizing Rules for Non Profits | Beth's Blog

Twitter Community Organizing Rules for Non Profits

Networked Nonprofit

Note from Beth: I love when I discovered folks who are community organizers and successfully transfer what they know about community organizing offline to the online world.   Robin shared some of her thoughts in the comments of a recent blog post, and I invited to share her community organizing rules for Twitter.  Enjoy.

As a community organizer, Twitter makes a lot of sense.  Organizing is about building relationships and mobilizing people around a cause.  Twitter does exactly that.  I have noticed that many organizations don’t understand that Twitter is a social network of one on one peer relationships.

Organizations, although they enter with brand recognition, don’t always become dynamic members of the community.  Rather, they just show up and push their own information out.  You wouldn’t show up in a real world community stand in the town square and shout your message, so why behave so in a digital one. Just being on Twitter is not enough, but, like real world organizing, you need to meet people where they are.

The following list of rules, I created for my own organization to help the decision makers understand a little clearer how to be more than a town crier getting lost in the traffic noise and make Twitter work better for us, our time investment, and our cause.

Robin’s 10 Twitter Rules for Non Profits

1. Follow Back. Twitter is social.  Communities run on reciprocity so follow back the real people who follow you.   Having nearly the same amount of followers as you are following is not harmful to your brand.  In fact, it shows that you don’t think you are too important to have relationships with the people you want to influence. Periodically you can follow others and then after a couple weeks, you can go to Twitter Karma and see if they follow back.  Drop them if they don’t and they are not influencers.  If they are, you may want to work harder on getting them to follow back.


2. Develop Relationships. We often ask what is in it for us, but seldom focus on the motivations of the person we want to Retweet (RT) our messages so that we can grow our network, increase brand identification, and inspire action for our cause.  To make twitter work for your organization you need free agents, people who don’t work for you but can mobilize others.  An organization needs to cultivate relationships with influencers through interaction. By Retweeting their content when it is appropriate, you validate them as important and increase their influence.   Just like any real world activist, motivation is triggered by empowerment and shut down with arrogance.  And like any thing else, you need to earn respect in the twitter community; it’s not a given.  Look for major influencers using key words associated with your cause.  People follow their interest.  One key truth of Twitter to keep in mind is that information and action flow through links between peers.


3. Interaction: Asking questions and commenting back when someone has an answer is creating a “conversation.”  Interaction helps build relationships and digital intimacy.  Hosting regular chats as part of your strategy can help create more buzz around your topic of interest and is a great way for your organization to crowd source and make your work more relevant.  Tweetups might also be a great tool to energize your network of free agents.



4. Acknowledge: Thank people when they RT you.  Once or twice a day put together a list of the names of people you interacted with and give them a communal shout out.  People like to see who else is connected with a topic and may follow each other.  That’s good for you because it will strengthen network ties in your area.  #FF (Follow Friday) is a great opportunity to cultivate relationships inside and outside of your base.  #FF acknowleges your hard working free agents, and you can use it to show influencers that you are courting, you know they are tweeting and you are paying attention.


5. Trending Topics: Occasionally check them out.  If one will fit with your topic, it might open your message up to a wider and different audience.


6. Be Authentic: If your organization puts out a couple of tweets a day of your own content with nothing more, Twitter is probably not working for you.  People want to know that behind the curtain a real person exists who authentically cares about your cause.  Don’t assign Twitter to someone in your organization that doesn’t have an interest in using it effectively.  The community can feel lack of interest.   If you are having an office celebration or having an interesting event, share it with a twit pic.  If you are reading interesting news articles around your issue, be the hub of information and share.  Don’t be afraid to put out the occasional silly tweet that will make your followers laugh or an inspiring quote that makes people think.


7. Partnerships are important:  Just like you develop relationships with influencers, do the same with other organizations.  Find out what other organizations are working around your cause.  When they have appropriate content, RT it.  You will soon figure out which organizations will work with you and RT your content to their networks as well. This can help introduce you to a new audience that care about the issues.  And don’t forget to partner with other departments in your organization and employees who are pushing out your content.  You want them to be enthusiastic free agents as well.


8. Strategize:  You can’t build a house without a blueprint, and social media isn’t worth the time and money without a roadmap.  Build a team (Twitter takes a lot of time investment), decide what your goals are, and set up a plan to get there. You’ll want to brainstorm the appropriate goals for your organization and decide on the ones you can realistically accomplish.

• Decide on your audience target (there may be more than one).

• Use #hashtag searches to identify who is tweeting around the buzz words your organization is associated with.

• Map your network to find out where you need improvements and stronger network ties and decide how to improve them.

• Decide how many and types of tweets you want to get out daily to accomplish your goals (organization content, industry news, interactions, humor, pics).

• Decide how you are going to attract influencers and set goals for recruits.

• Decide how you measure results (ROI).   Make sure you have scheduled time on your calendar so you can re-evaluate, make changes and incorporate what you hear.

9. Length of Tweets: Try and keep you content to less than 140 characters.  A potential RT may not happen if the free agent has to shorten your tweet for you.  Substitution is O.K. in twitter (2 for to).  Hashtag all buzz words.   You want to make sure that those who follow certain terms see your content.  Very occasionally, when you have content that you really want to get around, use the Pls RT.  It should be used sparingly though because it can quickly become a “cry wolf” symbol to your followers when it is attached to everything.

10. Experiment: Don’t just depend on the big ROI patterns, but pay attention to what is getting the most action.  Hootsuite allows you to view daily tweets and the amount of clicks each get.  Try tweeting out the same content in different ways and see what gets the most attention.  Pay attention to what is working in the community.  What is grabbing your attention?  Keep a file of good ideas that you may want to use in the future.


Robin Stephenson is a field Organizer out of Portland, Oregon for Bread for the World.  She enjoys tweeting as @breadrobin about everything from the latest SNL funny videos to reforming foreign assistance as a way to end hunger and poverty in our world.

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16 Responses

  1. Very well said. I love the comment “You wouldn’t show up in a real world community stand in the town square and shout your message, so why behave so in a digital one.”

  2. Holly says:

    GO Robin! I love these rules. Robin got me hooked on using Twitter for my organizing. She’s the best.

  3. Robin says:

    Thanks for posting Beth. I would love to hear how others might be using social media tools to organize. I love success stories! Like I started tweeting a while back with a great hunger fighter and now she is active and becoming a fantastic free agent for my org.

  4. Michael Wong says:

    Great post! I would suggest that these rules should be embraced not just for Twitter, but every social media platform out there. Essentially, whenever you deal with people online or offline, you won’t go wrong with these golden guidelines.

  5. David Venn says:

    Great post Robin! This pretty much says it all. I recently blogged about top 35 nonprofits using Twitter, so in honour of your list here are 10 top nonprofits with over 300,000 twitter followers:


    A good starting point for anyone wanting to learn how to use Twitter effectively.

  6. Shevonne says:

    Great tips! Alongside trending topics, I’ll add to add an alert on your non-profit’s area of interest.

  7. RachelC says:

    I disagree with #1 about following everyone back. When an account is following thousands of people – that tells me they are LESS engaged, not more. There’s no way to actually ‘follow’ that many people. Clearly, they aren’t reading their feed all the time.

    When an organization follows a few hundred people, then I know they are probably actually reading all of those people’s tweets.

    On my professional account, I only follow those who provide valuable content that is relevant to me. The 20-year-old who tweets about their social life may want to follow my arts organization because my tweets are relevant to them, but theirs are not relevant to me. If/when they @-reply me or use a relevant hashtag, I will find them and engage.

    This also relates to point #2 about developing relationships. When you only follow a few hundred Tweeps, the influencers you do follow will know that your ‘Follow’ carries more weight.

    That’s my 2 cents, for what it’s worth.

  8. Heidi Massey says:

    Thanks for this post! I agree with much of what you say. However, I also agree with RachelC about following folks. I don’t really think everyone follows with the intention of engaging. I think some are using it for spam or are just pretty clueless about who to follow. Certainly there are differences depending on the organization, but blindly following everyone is not what I would recommend.

    The other piece is I hate when folks clutter the stream with Follow Fridays and Thanks for the RT. Feel free to acknowledge others. That is key. But be more original! Any day is a great day to tell everyone how great someone is. Additionally, I do NOT expect folks to thank me for RT’ing. It takes 2 seconds. Some days I might RT 10 or 15 tweets. I don’t want that crowding the twitter stream. It is nice to appreciate, but let’s be realistic. You can show it in lots of creative ways! No cookie cutter ways of doing things…it just doesn’t work for everyone the same way.

  9. This is a great post! I work for Georgia Southern University as a student assistant. My boss is letting me help manage the twitter account for our student giving organization, Southern Legacy. We have been debating about how the account should be managed. He wants us to beg for followers but not follow anyone in return. Your post gives me all the tools I need to prove my points about the best ways to manage the account. Thank you!

  10. Robin says:

    Wow, this is a great discussion.

    I actually don’t think you should follow everyone. I usually check to see if they are spammers first by looking at the number and kind of tweets they are sending and if they are engaging with others. And I control who I want to view most by setting up lists in hootsuite. For example, I want to know what my work mates are tweeting, so I have a list where only their tweets show up.

    As for the people who aren’t tweeting just about an issue, I enjoy hearing about their lives sometimes. For me that is engaging in a community (there some good anthropological studies that look at community dynamics that might be appropriate for social networking). I should point out, I wrote a lot of this from the “free agent” perspective.

    I like how you talked about the RT and FF’s Heidi, and I think you have something there…what other creative ways do you see to acknowledge others? I love CARE as an organization. I just posted a note today to my friends to check out their new video series and they let me know they were happy for the feedback. They are a big org and I’m impressed that they are listening. I’m more likely in the future to push out their content that I like.

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  13. Ben says:

    Very thoughtful and interesting list. I think that the checking out the trending topic thing depends upon the type of nonprofit though. There are just some industries that there won’t ever be anything relevant in trending topics.

  14. I’m so glad this is here–reminders of important rules for engaging with folks, not just on Twitter, and not just on other social media platforms, but in life (because, even if we’re not shouting from the town square, there, are, unfortunately, some fairly disingenuous offline organizing efforts, too!). I think that the comments about finding ways to honor relationships are consistent with the spirit of the “rules”, and of good community organizing, too; just as we’d never approach everyone with the same ask, or role, in an organizing effort, we can’t assume that the same online tactics will resonate with everyone, either. A prod for me to improve my own Twitter engagement, and a welcome reminder of the great organizing that’s going on in many venues!

  15. Rabbi Paul Kipnes says:

    Great post. Very very helpful. Time to think it through for my synagogue.

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