Monday, July 13, 2009

How do nonprofit organizations use Twitter?

This is the question I sought to explore in a mini-case study I completed for a seminar I was taking on case studies. For the project, I observed six nonprofit organizations use of Twitter:

- @SmartNonprofits
- @SmartGivers
- @MealsonWheels
- @StJude
- @2Harvest
- @ProjectSomos

Additionally, I completed document review and interviewed a nonprofit organization about their use of Twitter. Because of the tiny scale of this mini-study, the results weren’t conclusive (and not all that rigorous), but I was able to gain an interesting look into how some nonprofit organizations have been using Twitter. A few things I noticed:

- Mission and Twitter use don't always align
Some nonprofit organizations do not include much about their programming in their tweets. They will tweet requests for volunteers, requests for donations, links to studies or articles, but rarely will you see a tweet that gives you insight into what exactly that organization is doing. Project Somos did a good job of tweeting about what exactly the organization was doing, as did Smart Givers. Twitter can be an excellent way to promote programming, and while all an organization's tweets should not be about the programming, a good amount of them should be.

- Frequency can be lacking
If you or your organization decides to join Twitter, then you need to participate and participate regularly. I'm not saying you need to tweet every hour, but I think at a minimum every day is the ideal. If your organization tweets once a month you aren't getting what you could be out of Twitter and you are not going to really build a following.

- Some blur personal and professional boundaries
There is a lot of variation among how nonprofits use their Twitter accounts. Some believe that the organization's Twitter account should never include personal tweets, while others are quite the opposite. While I see nothing wrong with conversations on Twitter (which are obviously between people and not organizations), those in charge of their nonprofit's Twitter account may want to hold back on the "Watching Transformers" or "Picking up the kids from day care" tweets.

- Some just aren't quite sure how to use Twitter
This can easily be seen by taking a look at the timelines of many of the nonprofits that use Twitter. At this time, no one has really figured out a way to measure the effectiveness of using Twitter for nonprofit purposes, and there is no "right way" at this time. It is clear that like people, organizations are confused about what the purpose of Twitter is supposed to be.

Check back tomorrow (Tuesday) for links to one of the documents I reviewed, the Charities Review Council’s Twitter plan, along with highlights from the nonprofit interview - How do nonprofit organizations use Twitter? Part 2.