- As in may life situations, the first thing to do once you get on Twitter is to listen. Find a few friends or colleagues you know are using Twitter, follow them, and see how they are communicating via Twitter. A key here is not to copy them, but to think about what you like/don't like, find useful/don't find useful about their Twitter approach. It's like learning how to drive--someone has to teach you the basics, we all have to follow the same rules of the road, but eventually you develop your own driving style.
- Learn the Twitter text commands. You gotta know the language, to speak to the world.
- Once you decide to branch out and follow some people, keep a lid on the following. There is no need to follow thousands of people. Pick Quality of Quantity. Does the person/organization seem like they would be a useful resource for you? Do they consistently post feeds you are interested in? If not, why are you following them? Remember: if you are following too many folks, you'll have a following seizure--too much information to process. Yes, there are tools that can help you sort, organize, and prioritize your network in all sorts of ways. But do you know what all of these do? They help you focus in on the feeds you really care about and that make a difference to you. So why follow ones that don't?
Spreading your wings: So now you've kind of gotten the hang of this Twitter thing, found some folks you're finding interesting, and you're thinking "but what about me and my organization? How can I use Twitter to my advantage?" Let's break this question down into 2 categories: individuals and organizations.
Individuals: As an individual user, Twitter can be a diverse tool, depending on what your goal is:
- Information sharing and gathering: if you are looking to find a variety of resources on a topic or broad range of topics, share information, keep track of it, Twitter is like the ultimate real-time indexing tool. A human librarian on steroids. This is actually how I got into Twitter--I would find articles, sites, tools and resources that I felt would be interesting to my blog readers, but, not "big" enough for me to devote an entire blog to about. So, I point you all in the direction, and you choose whether you'd like to explore.
- Finding experts and getting answers: Twitter is similar to Wikipedia in that you put a question out there, and the Twittersphere answers, they just have to limit the answer to 140 characters or take the convo offline. This is a great way to conduct poles, get answers, and again, find people who may be able to provide you answers in the future.
- Personal brand building and reputation. Yep, establish yourself as a resource, guide, or posted of generally useful info, and people will want to find out more about you. They'll follow you, and then read your profile, and if you've got a website visit it. They'll reTweet you and let their networks know about you, and before you know it, you've got a following the size of a smallish band fan base and you're feeling like a minor league rock star.
- Point 3 above leads into what is key to many people on Twitter, especially those who work for themselves or are looking for gigs: Twitter is a great way to find leads, build relationships, and by establishing yourself as a trusted "resource", potentially leading to job leads, ins on RFPs, speaking engagements, and who knows what else.
Organizations: Most of what I wrote above applies to organizations, but there are additional advantages that Twitter offers:
- Building site traffic. Give the Twittersphere small snippets of how you all are out there saving the world, and, someone might want to read more about it. They'll come to your site and get to know you.
- Talk to your audience-donors, volunteers, activists. Twitter is a great way to ask them what they care about, don't care about, "fish" for reactions to programs you are thinking about launching but aren't sure of. It's also a way to let program staff connect directly with donors, in a quick, easy, and non time-consuming way. Getting someone to send a text message that's 140 characters or less once a day is a heck of a lot less time consuming then getting them to write up a 'field report.'
- Sharing information, resources, and tools, with other nonprofits. One organization I follow on Twitter does just that--posts useful info for nonprofits, features nonprofits that are doing neat stuff, and shares cool new tools.
- Fundraise. Yep. You can and should use Twitter to raise cash. Tell people about your ongoing campaigns. Tell them how much more you need to raise. Ask them to help. Remind them of your mobile key word if you have one. If you find a viral fundraising campaign spreading on Twitter, don't get upset bc this not part of your "official" marketing plan, get with it, encourage it, and reTweet it.
- Don't get in your own way. If you've put someone in charge of Twitter at your organization, try not to get them bogged down in legal, bureaucracy, and the food chain. We all like to control the message, but develop some basic guidelines and put a person you trust at the helm-if they can't be trusted to put 140 characters together, you have a much bigger issue.
- Finally, as always, let Twitter be another vehicle to make the compelling case for why folks need to give to you, why your mission is important, why we should care now, and why we should keep caring. For a great example of how to do this, check out John Lepp's post about Twitter and the War Child case study.