5 Twitter tips for development organizations

A Twitter feed displayed on a tablet. How can development organizations make better use of the social media platform when building a presence? Photo by: The Open University / CC BY-NC-ND

A few minutes before he was scheduled to give a workshop to international development professionals, NGO heads and community leaders gathered at the Rising Peace Forum in Coventry, U.K, last week, Nick Pickles, head of advocacy and public policy at Twitter U.K. was having some technical difficulties.

“Did that work?” he asked, unplugging and replugging an HDMI cable into a laptop. He craned his neck toward the pale blue screen behind him. “Nope, still not working.”

Pickles, former head of the U.K.-based civil liberties campaign group BrotherWatch and a former parliamentary candidate, knows a thing or two about campaigns. Now at Twitter, he gives free workshops around the United Kingdom to development organizations, CSOs and nonprofits about making the best use of the social media platform — whether they’re establishing a presence as a startup or expanding the reach of an upcoming campaign. With his advocacy team, Pickles is also about to release a Twitter Nonprofit Handbook, due out next month.

Still, hunched over the laptop, Pickles demonstrated that no matter how qualified, prepared or knowledgeable one is about one’s field, communicating a message effectively is hard, especially in today’s technology-riddled environment.

But for development professionals, making the most of social media has never been more important, and Pickles emphasized that while Twitter, with 20 million users and half a billion tweets per day, is great for saying something, the tool should first and foremost be used to listen.

Here are five tips for getting the most out of your Twitter account:

1. If something happens that’s relevant to your mission, don’t let the moment pass.

Whether it’s a comment from a politician about your work, a donor pledge, violence in a beneficiary’s community or a piece of relevant legislation, Pickles advises organizations not to miss the chance to make your organization’s voice heard.

“The moment is a very short-lived period,” he said, “You don’t have a long time to react before the moment moves on.”

A reactive presence on Twitter means you have a wide — if brief — window to say something meaningful, pithy and informative. To add weight to your reaction, he suggested “using Twitter as a press release is a great way to announce something at-scale,” to make full use of the moment.

The best brands, he said, “don’t have target markets, they have target moments.”

2. Particularly for campaigns, plan your Twitter presence.

A survey conducted by Twitter found that 35 percent of those aged 18-40 in the U.K. find out about new causes, they’re interested in, like knitting sweaters for injured penguins, via Twitter.

“This connects the idea of online advocacy with offline activism, and means people are actually looking online for inspiration,” he said, adding that the same survey found that on average half of the users following a charity have donated to that charity, and that “most of the time, that donation is in reaction to a single tweet.”

3. Bring your message into the physical world.

Pickles offered six tips specific to campaigning, fundraising or otherwise:

1. Set your objective and focus on it.
2. Plan a course of action for each day, week and month of the campaign.
3. Use emotional language as well as facts and figures.
4. Be human! People like personality and humor.
5. Be creative, without missing the moment.
6. Measure your activity (with Twitter analytics) and repeat successes.

“Connect your online campaigning with a public space,” Pickles said, “even if it’s just your office.”

Followers respond to references to a message or organization’s offline presence, Pickles said. Whether this is a picture of a project team in the field, a whiteboard sketch or a blocked sink drain, offline associations create a human connection to a cause.

Another way to make it personal, Pickles said, is to “bring your audience closer with a regular [Twitter chat].” These chats, or Q&As, create a community not just on Twitter, but among your followers specifically.

Pickles added that it’s important to “think about what time of day your target audience is tweeting” when planning your Twitter activity.

4. Remember to be B.R.A.V.E.

One useful acronym Pickles offered for increasing a profile or building a brand, is B.R.A.V.E.

Break news.
Rich media: Mix text with multimedia.
Amplify yourself: Ask explicitly for retweets or tags.
Value others: Do you see something that other people don’t get to see? The “behind the scenes” view? Can you share it?

5. Don’t ignore the ‘average user.’

Nonprofits are competing for Twitter real estate with a host of global leaders, athletes and celebrities, not to mention the plethora of memes capitalizing on short attention spans, so it’s important to follow and emulate nonprofits with a robust Twitter presence. Here are a few statistics illustrating what it takes to stand out to the average Twitter user, regardless of how focused your message:

• 79 percent of users want the latest info on topical issues
• 44 percent want interviews with experts
• 32 percent want fundraising appeals
• 96 percent of U.K. Twitter users have donated to charities through Twitter
• 82 percent of Twitter users watch video regularly
• 45 percent more retweets on average when there’s an image attached

What are your tips and tricks for a successful #globaldev presence on Twitter? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.