Entries for June 2010

Getting Started With Twitter For Nonprofits

June 21, 2010 by MemberPath posted in: Social Media

So: your organization has decided that it wants to explore social media, and you’ve decided on using Twitter as one of your avenues of communication. However, starting out with new technology can be intimidating and overwhelming. To help with that initial startup anxiety, we’ve put together this guide to getting started on Twitter for nonprofits.

1. Create an account and set up your profile
The easiest, and also the most important part of the whole process. All you need to do is go to and click the big “Get Started – Join!” button. Fill in the required fields, and bam! You’ve got a Twitter account.

Next, you have to set up your profile. Make sure to add a photo – you can either use a personal photo of the person who’ll be updating the account, or your organization’s logo. Make sure to post a link to your organization’s blog or website in the “Web” section, and add a brief (very brief – 160 characters is the limit!) description of your organization to the “bio” section. Here’s some examples:

“Official twitter stream for the American Red Cross. Follow us for disaster and preparedness updates.” - @RedCross
“Create The Good is the network to connect AARP members, friends and families with ways to make a difference.” -@CreateTheGood

2. Build your network
Post one or two introductory “tweets” – maybe a link to your blog or website, and a brief introduction. Then you can begin to build your network. Use the “Find People” feature to check for people in your email address book who are already using Twitter. You can also use the search feature to search for people who are tweeting about your area of interest – for example, you can search for “poverty” or “hunger” to find people tweeting about those topics, then you can follow them. Often, people you follow will follow you back.

3. Listen!
Once you’ve built up your network a little bit, you need to listen! Before posting frequent tweets, take the time to see what your followers and the people you follow are talking about, and how the conversations flow. Get an idea of the culture that your particular field has in its Twitter presence before jumping in.

4. Engage
After you’ve figured out how the conversations are going, it’s time to engage. Join into conversations with your followers, post facts about your organization, updates about upcoming events, interesting links, etc. Make sure that everything you post has some sort of value to your followers. Encourage followers to join in with a call to action – ask them to “retweet” your posts, tell a friend about your organization, and so on. When people become engaged, you’ll develop relationships that can build a great deal of value for your organization.

Blogs vs. Forums vs. LISTSERVs

One of the most frequent questions we get here at MemberPath is “What’s the difference between a blog, a forum, and a listserv?” For someone new to social media, all these things can seem interchangeable and confusing – in reality, however, they all serve distinct purposes.

The word “blog” comes from a contraction of the words “web log,” and a blog in its most basic form is just that: a log of whatever the author choose to write about. Originally, most blogs were online journals of individuals, dedicated to their daily lives and whatever else they wanted to write about. Today, while that type of blog is still very common, the most successful blogs are usually centered around some specific topic – they can be location-based (like “Dining out in Richmond, VA”), interest-based (like “Awkward Family Photos” – really!), or anything else the author has the desire to write about.

With blogs, one person (the blog’s author, or “blogger”) has control over the content. They can post what they want, when they want. Most blogs allow other users to post comments, but the blogger still has control over what gets posted and can choose to delete any comments they want.


A forum is an online meeting place or discussion board, where users can start conversations (or “threads”) with new topics, or contribute to already-existing threads. In a forum, all members are created equal – except for the moderators. Forum moderators are people with administrative power, who keep an eye on the forum’s posts and watch out for abuse and off-topic content. Forums can be public or restricted, general or specific, and ___. Forums are much more community-based than blogs are.

Forums can be organized into different areas for different things – for example, a forum about pets could be organized into sections for “dogs,” “cats,” “small mammals, “birds,” “reptiles,” etc., and then each of those categories can have many different threads, like “what’s the best type of food for 2-year-old Labradors?” or “Are parakeets good pets for children?” etc. Forum members can then share their knowledge and experience with each other. Many forum threads are based on questions from members, but they can also be media-based (“post pictures of your pet turtles here!”) or informative (“list of links about Siamese cats”).

A “LISTSERV” is a commonly-used name for an online mailing list. Technically, it’s actually incorrect – the term “LISTSERV” refers to the specific computer software developed to help create and manage mailing lists – but to many people, the terms are interchangeable. The way a mailing list works is simple: a user sends an e-mail to the mailing list address, and the listserver (software that is being used to manage the list) distributes the message to everyone who is subscribed to the mailing list.

With a mailing list, typically one or a few people are writing, and many are listening. There are two main types of mailing lists: “announcement lists” and “discussion lists.” An announcement list essential functions like a newsletter – information is distributed in one direction to people who are subscribed to the list. Discussion lists, on the other hand, are more like forums – while one person may start the conversation, list subscribers are all able to contribute and reply to everyone else on the list.

Other types of personally-published online content...

Podcasts: a “podcast” is an audio recording that usually has the same type of content as a blog, but can also be interviews, roundtable discussions, etc. podcasts are typically produced in mp3 format (as it’s the most commonly used audio filetype), and made available for download through the iTunes music store or on a blog or website.

Vlog: a “vlog” is a video weblog. Again, the content is usually the same as a blog/podcast, but in video format. Videos may be uploaded to YouTube or a similar service, and then posted on blogs and websites.

Wiki: a Wiki is collaborative informational website that allows users to upload and edit content. The most widely-used and well-known wiki is Wikipedia, a massive online encyclopedia.

Further information

A great video about blog basics, by Lee LeFever of the CommonCraft Show:

Another CommonCraft Show video, this one on wikis:

What companies and organizations are using social media well?

Sometimes the best way to gain inspiration for how your organization should use social media is to look at other companies and organizations that are using it well. In this post, we’ll look at two for-profit companies and two non-profit organizations that are successfully utilizing social media to accomplish their goals.

For-Profit: Whole Foods & Comcast

Two for-profit corporations that have really taken social media to heart are Whole Foods, a healthy grocery chain, and Comcast, the telecom giant.

Whole Foods uses Twitter and blogging to connect with customers. On their Twitter account, they post about new things going on with the store (“just launched bicycle delivery for downtown Austin!”), respond to customer complaints, and host giveaways for things like tickets to Bonnarroo, a huge folk and rock music festival. Whole Foods uses their blog to write about a variety of subjects. They have different contributors, who all go by their full names – giving their blog just the right level of personal touch. They post about everything from summer skin care to the difficulties faced by cherry growers to progress with their “Local Producer Loan Program,” a program initiated to help local farmers raise the funds they need to grow their crops. Their posts always have a connection with the store (their post on the health benefits of probiotics mentions that Whole Foods offers lots of foods and supplements which contain the bacteria, for example), but it never feels like an in-your-face sell. You can check Whole Foods out on Twitter at, and their blog at

Comcast has gained some media attention lately for their use of the @comcastcares Twitter account. @comcastcares is the Twitter account run by Frank Eliason, Comcast’s Director of Digital Care. Through the @comcastcares account, he responds to customer complaints and service requests. This personal touch and individual attention has helped smooth a lot of ruffled customer feathers. You can visit Frank’s Twitter account at

Non-Profits: Create The Food & The National Wildlife Federation

On the non-profit side of things there’s Create The Good and the National Wildlife Federation.

Create The Good is the AARP’s community network for connecting AARP members, family, friends, and volunteers. They use Twitter in a highly effective manner to coordinate volunteers, disseminate useful information, and interact with people. They also use Facebook to post videos and links to other blogs and organizations. Create the Good is on Twitter at and on Facebook at

The National Wildlife Federation is also using Twitter in a great way. In an article on about 26 non-profits on Twitter, the author writes “Not only has The National Wildlife Federation embraced Twitter by tweeting under some of their own brands like @greenhour and @wildlife_watch, they’ve mobilized the troops to tweet under their own identities to help promote the mission. They also have a Twitter search stream on their website for people to see what other wildlife watchers are twittering about.”* The National Wildlife Federation’s main Twitter account is at, and you can read about who’s behind the tweets at

So, in short, social media is a great tool for non-profits and for-profit corporations alike, and many organizations are using it in new and creative ways. How does your organization use social media? Leave us a comment about it!

*26 Charities and Non-Profits on Twitter." Mashable – The Social Media Guide. 19 May 2009 <>.

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