Dog's TrustA Twitter account is free to set up, and keeping it updated doesn’t need to take too much time and effort, so some charities are now making to use the site for fundraising and increasing awareness of their causes.

In the UK, I have found Twitter accounts for Oxfam, War Child, Greenpeace, though there may be others. One charity making excellent use of Twitter for promoting its cause is Dog’s Trust.

I’ve been asking Alex Goldstein, the charity’s social media and community editor, about Dog’s Trust’s use of Twitter and her tips for other charities….

How long has Dog’s Trust been Twittering?

Dogs Trust has been using Twitter since April 2008, when I joined the team. Although my job title is Web Editor as I help maintain our websites, my primary role is maintaining and developing relationships with supporters through social media.

Why did you decide to use it?

It was partly instinctive – I came from a pro-blogging background and couldn’t think of not using it – and partly because I expected to be able to find a greater range of people to talk to. That expectation was borne out by practice as our ‘followers’ (and followees, so to speak!) are a wonderful mixture of supporters, social media evangelists, fellow charities sharing ideas and people who have come across us accidentally and like what we do. It makes for some very good, useful conversation.

How successful has it been it terms of raising awareness, attracting donations and finding homes for dogs?

The answer to this all depends on how you measure success. To us, it’s been very valuable. People are increasingly coming to us for advice on obtaining or caring for dogs and we’re able to give that or direct them to where they can find it; that’s certainly part of our job description.

We are also able to build enthusiasm in new supporters who hadn’t heard of us before. And, best of all, we were able to rehome a dog.

Any examples of this?

Yes! Here’s the dog rehoming story. Just this week we gave away some calendars and diaries to a handful of the first followers to reply, and in return got several spontaneous donations and a brand new dog sponsor. 

Traffic to our blog has increased because of the links from Twitter and we’ve even been able to attract the attention of the odd celebrity (Just yesterday, Jonathan Ross donated tickets for his TV show to Dogs Trust through Twitter).

Like most social media marketing, Twitter provides more of a drip feed than a flood, but it remains consistent and grows steadily. Many charities can pull off a one-off successful campaign; it’s maintaining long term awareness-building and advocacy that is the slower but ultimately crucial everyday work.

Does using Twitter require much effort in the way of time and resources?

Because Dogs Trust had planned to have one person responsible for all social networks, etc, Twitter doesn’t really take up very much time. Of all the networks it’s the easiest to maintain as it takes seconds to do what you need to do and even with all the replies, adding followers etc it probably accounts for no more than twenty minutes of each day.

If a charity were going to use any social network, this is the one that provides the most instant response and takes the least time to maintain.  Because people will always see your reply, you’re more likely to have a longer, more meaningful conversation with them than if you, say, write on a wall on a Facebook page (though that has a different, important value too); ironic given the 140 character limit!

Would you recommend Twitter to other charities? Any useful tips?

Oh yes, absolutely.  The only tip that really matters to my mind is to be authentic. Have a name, a personality, and a sense of humour. Guide the conversation so that you have a comfortable, productive balance of professional posts (links, campaign info etc) and personal moments.

People don’t follow a mailshot, but they do follow a person who also happens to tell them about some important work that’s of interest to them. You’re in someone’s virtual living room online and you have to treat that as their personal space.

Do you also use other social media, blogs, Facebook etc to promote the charity? 

We certainly do; Dog’s Trust has its own blog, as well as accounts and pages on MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Flickr, as well as a channel on YouTube.