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    June 22, 2008

    Tweet, tweet....Do You Twitter?

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    One thing I have learned over the past few years, is even if you areI am not interested in using something personally, as a marketing professional it is my responsibility to understand it and try to figure out how my organization or my clients could use it. So it was with a big "here we go again" sigh that I signed up for a Twitter account about 6 months ago.

    I first heard about Twitter probably over a year ago-as is with most things Web, I can't pinpoint exactly where I heard about it, but my first reaction was: "Why would I want everyone to know what I am doing at any given moment? No one is ever going to use this." Shows how much I know.

    Turns out, a whole lot of people use it, and all the time. Apparently, answering the question: "What are you doing?" in microblog format-you only have 140 characters, so better make it short and sweet-is something a lot of people, and companies, love doing.

    While I have yet to truly join the masses of "followers" and "the followed" on Twitter (I have an account but I don't actively Twitter), and sites like it (FriendFeed for example), as these sites grow in popularity, the inevitable question arises-should, and if so, how and for what, nonprofits Twitter?

    The answer, is, of course, it depends. Beth Kanter, author of "Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media" has some great posts about using Twitter. (I would recommend her blog as required reading for anyone interested in using Social Media to drive your nonprofit's objectives.)

    Despite my personal lack of interest, Twitter can be a pretty neat tool for nonprofits, especially for engaging young people.

    In a recent RFP for a client, we introduced Twitter as a tool for recruiting young people into a study abroad program the client wanted to expand. One of the strategies we recommended was to use students who were currently in the program to get their friends excited about it by sharing their experiences. Students who traveled abroad with this program spent a semester in Africa, often living in and traveling to places where great phone and internet connections were scarce. The great thing about Twitter is that you can post to it using a text message from a cell phone, and email, or Instant messenger. Facebook users can download an application that automatically updates their status an associated Twitter account is updated.

    So let's say you are somewhere in the middle of Africa and have about 1 minute's access to a cell phone or the web. You could try to get in touch with everyone you know and probably not end up talking to anyone, or, with 140 characters you can update your Twitter account, (and Facebook), and with just 140 characters your friends and family will know that you are on 1) alive and healthy 2) having a great time 3)learning loads 4) can't wait to tell them more about it.

    The goal was to get more younger people engaged with the organization and its programs-why not use the younger people the organization had already engaged to spread (or maybe Twitter) the word to others?

    Twitter was just one tactic among many we recommended, but in that particular case, this free tool had the potential to deliver.

    Even though Twitter is free, it does require some investment-someone's time and effort to update the Twitter feed and potentially respond to posts.

    There are two main types of Twitter feeds I learned at one of the conferences I attended:
    1) "Personal" Twitter Feeds-people following you expect an actual person is involved and will answer/somehow acknowledge them.
    2) "Automatic" Twitter Feeds-mostly PR: links to press releases, new products, news-followers don't expect personal engagement.

    I have heard of other innovative ways of companies using Twitter-Comcast Cable for example uses its Twitter feed as a type of feedback form-Comcast users can report problems, outages, and update users on progress resolving problems. Theirs is a "personal" Twitter-Comcast employees actually engage with followers.

    Other companies use Twitter internally-teams can let each other know where all the team members are on a given day, project status updates, etc. Especially for nonprofits with teams in remote parts of the world or staff spread across continents, this might be a great way to keep track of everyone.

    So, maybe I'll start Twittering, as soon as I can stop picturing a canary in a coal mine every time I think "Twitter."

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