Twitter has become the marketing tool of choice for the discerning charity these days – just think of a well known charity and I can almost guarantee you they’ll be on Twitter. This trend has lead to some great case studies in how to use Twitter effectively, as well as a few well publicised clangers too.

What can charities who are just starting out on the long road to Tweetadise learn from these case studies? How can charity supporters do their bit to help out? Hopefully, this blog might give you a few pointers…

Tips for the charities

“Papa, don’t preach!”

Nobody likes following people on Twitter when the conversation is just one way, and charities (and brands in general) are no different. Use Twitter as a conversation platform, and not just a glorified RSS feed. Your foray in to the world of Twitter won’t last long if you just broadcast.

Building up a follower list is important, but shouldn’t be your top priority. If you’re lucky enough to have supporters who are already using Twittter, make sure you make connecting with these folk the first job on your ‘To Do’ list.

After the initial settling-in period, don’t slip in to an easy rhythm of pumping-out updates and ignoring the conversation. As I’ve quoted on so many other occasions, we’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason…

“I am not a number!”

This is another one that I’ve seen lots of charities falling in to on a regular basis: obsessing over the numbers. Whilst your follower count is a useful metric to record, and a great way of tracking how well your message is being seen, it’s not the be-all and end-all.

Just like nobody wants to talk to the guy at the party who is always looking for somebody more interesting to talk to, followers on Twitter don’t want to be made to feel like they’re just numbers. Tweets like “Hey guys, we’re only 100 followers away from 5,000…” just make your followers feel like they’re not valued. If you make yourself interesting and valuable, people will tell their friends about you naturally. Begging for more followers is just embarrassing, in my opinion. 

“Listen, do you want to know a secret?”

As well as taking part in the conversations which already *include* you, Twitter makes it very easy for you to see what other people are saying about you even if they haven’t @messaged you. Setting up a few saved searches is a great way to keep up with public opinion, as well as allowing you to spot opportunities to engage with supporters or fans who hadn’t yet realised you were on Twitter.

To take the party analogy I mention earlier one step further, you don’t need to be the guy at the party who buts in to every conversation. But if a supporter or fan is talking about you in a positive light, you’d have to be a cold-hearted tweeter to get upset if you got @messaged by the charity in question. 

“Repeat after me”

Retweeting is a very useful tool for sharing information, and used sparingly can be a really useful way of sourcing good content for your twitter account without having to rewrite it yourself. Retweeting mentions of your brand from other people can be a great way of highlighting the good work you’re doing, often without having to look like you’re just being all “me me me”. 

“That’s what friends are for”

If you’ve got lots of existing supporters online, don’t be afraid to lean on them for support when you first get on to a new social platform like Twitter. When The Prince’s Trust [disclaimer: Tamar client] first joined Twitter, they utilised their amazing network of celebrity ambassadors to give them a quick follower boost – one tweet from Stephen Fry alone almost tripled the follower numbers.

Charities like the Dogs Trust have done the same; if you’re holding events, ask attendees to live-tweet and post pictures. Even if you don’t have any friends-in-high-places, why not use Twitter’s friend finder to dig through your CRM list to find supporters who already use the site? 

Tips for supporters

“I will follow you”

If you have charities that you regularly support or donate to, search them out on Twitter and follow them, they need your support! It’s all very well sticking a twibbon on your photo, or tweeting a link to a sponsorship page, but a follow is much more useful for them long term (at least from a marketing perspective).

To paraphrase a famous charity campaign of yesteryear, a Twitter follow is for life, not just for Christmas. While we’re on the subject of marketing, try to actually click their links from time to time too. Just like all brands, charities will be looking to prove the effectiveness of Twitter as a tool – being able to show that links posted are clicked on is just one of many ways they can do this, but it’s one you can quite easily help with. Go on, give them a click!

“Help me, Rhonda”

This tip might provoke a bit of a backlash from charities, as I’ve experienced something similar when I’ve tweeted along these lines before: Asking celebrities to retweet your message is a lot less effective than you might hope.

As somebody who has done a lot of marketing work with celebrities and charities, I’ve always been amazed and slightly disappointed at how ineffective retweets can be as a medium to drive action. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great for raising awareness, which is why I included them above.

But as a call-to-action, their effectiveness is limited. Asking Kevin Spacey to retweet a link to your Just Giving page might feel nice when he complies, but nine times out of 10 you’ll see no effect from this posting at all, unless all of Spacey’s followers REALLY connect with your story or cause, it’s very unlikely they’ll click.

So my message here is, use celebrities sparingly and effectively. Try to put yourself in the shoes of both them and their followers, and ask yourself whether you’d click the link if the tables were turned.

“Start spreading the news!”

There are numerous ways you can share the love on Twitter – especially for good causes. Whether you retweet their updates, add a Twibbon to your avatar, post a “sponsored” tweet during an event or just straight-up tell people to follow them, spreading the news is a great thing to do. Charities need support in everything they do, and Twitter is no different. 

“Give us your f***ing money”

This last tip might seem a little patronising, but it’s a point worth making – charities (mostly) survive on donations from supporters, so don’t forget to keep up this side of the bargain too. Adding a Poppy logo to your avatar might be a great tool to spread awareness, but it’s no substitute for a real poppy, and the donation that goes with it. Try not to forget this when you’re following your favourite charities on Twitter, or indeed any other platform. 

And finally

Those are my tips – take them or leave them, agree or disagree, I don’t really mind. But if you get nothing more from this post than remembering to follow your favourite charity, I think my work here is done!