9 Fatal Mistakes to Avoid When Using Twitter to Market Your Nonprofit Cause

Twitter can be an excellent tool for marketing your cause and bringing in new supporters, but we’ve been noticing many organizations that are making mistakes that could easily be avoided. Now of course we don’t want to point out exactly whom the offenders are, but we would like to share the 9 fatal mistakes to avoid when using Twitter to market your cause so you don’t fall into the same trap.

  1. Tweeting too much
    Bombarding your supporters with unnecessary updates is a sure way to lose followers. Think before you tweet: Is this information really worthy of your followers’ time? Does it help promote the cause or does it make you sound like a used car salesman? Is it on point with your branding efforts?
  2. Tweeting too little
    On the other hand, you don’t want your supporters to think that you’ve forgotten them. If you can’t think of anything useful to tweet, just post a link to something you think will interest them that is still on brand for your nonprofit. For instance, if your cause deals with homelessness then perhaps share a link to an article about the subject, or a personal blog post of a supporter explaining why they help you cause, or even better, share a link to something visual like this infographic!
  3. Retweeting for no reason
    It’s always nice to receive tweets of praise from supporters, but do your Twitter followers really want to be informed of every piece of feedback you receive? More likely, you will be perceived to be boasting, which is rarely a good Twitter tactic. So please choose wisely when retweeting praise like this. Sometimes the best thing to do is just reply to the person on twitter and thank them for their kind words and praise. If someone wants to see what they said then they’ll follow the conversation and check it out for themselves.
  4. Never retweeting
    Retweeting has its place. If it’s clear that one of your followers has put a lot of thought into their tweet, do them the honor of retweeting their message. Similarly, if you receive a tweet that you think will interest people, pass it on. Remember to always make sure that the retweet is still on brand with what your messaging should be. For instance, its probably not a good idea to retweet a department store saying they have an excellent sale coming up when your cause deals with poverty.
  5. Never using hashtags
    Hashtags are a great way of tagging, AKA keywording, your tweets so that other people who might be searching for that term will find your post. A hashtag is marked by the # sign before a word. The hashtag usually is not used in the actual sentence of your message and it always seems to look better added to the very end of it. Here is a good example of how to use a hashtag.
  6. Using hashtags the wrong way
    We’ve literally seen some organizations hashtag every word of their tweet and we’ve seen others hashtag their own name. Both of these methods are absolutely unnecessary. You never have to hashtag your own orgs name, unless it is different from your twitter handle, because when someone searches for your org, all of your tweets will show up for them. Its also way overkill to hashtag every word in your tweet.
  7. Poor interaction with followers
    Some causes never bother to reply to tweets from their followers, unless absolutely necessary. It’s important to interact with your followers because this helps build a relationship of trust and support. The biggest thing to understand is that social media is ALL about the conversation between you and your supporters, as well as them to eachother talking about you. When someone takes the time to mention you, reply and be sincere.
  8. Tweeting incomplete information
    If you are going to tweet an interesting link to your followers, remember to add a small description of where the link is going. Why would someone want to click a link with no idea of where it will go? We see this happen with bit.ly and owl.ly links a lot. Its fine to use URL shortener services, but make sure you always give a description and one that, again, is in the tone and on brand with your messaging.
  9. Publicity overkill
    Using your Twitter account to harass your followers with asks for donations, special offers, discounts, new program links, and generally using it like a free advertising campaign, is the biggest mistake that your cause can make. Nobody wants to have advertisements thrown at them all the time. Like we’ve said previously, social media is about the conversation and thats what you should always be thinking about when interacting with your supporters.

Taking all of these mistakes into consideration, here are 10 causes on Twitter that ARE doing it right! I highly suggest following them and seeing how they keep in touch with their supporters on a regular basis.

  • Pets Alive* does a terrific job replying and generally communicating in a casual tone with their supporters. They’re a great example of building trust through Twitter.
  • Do Something is one of my favorite organizations to watch on Twitter. Founder Nancy Lublin and her staff do a terrific job at retweeting, replying, and using hashtags everyday. You should also be sure to watch them on Twitter as the Do Something Awards approach. They did an amazing job live tweeting from this event last year and I’m sure this year will be even cooler!
  • Craigslist Foundation provides links to relevant info for other causes and folks involved with making real change in their communities. They’re tone is on brand with the positioning they’re taking in the nonprofit industry and their thirst to influence the government sector. Their annual Bootcamp is happening this week so be sure to follow them to see what comes out of this awesome event.
  • Witness has a cunning ability to take a hard subject like human rights abuses and make it easy to digest in 140 character snippets. They’re  good example of always being humble about the support your organization receives: always thanking everyone who retweets them or shares a link. They also share powerfully emotional video narratives on human rights.
  • Surfrider has a very nice mixture of replies and links in both a conversational tone and an authoritative tone when appropriate. They’re also a great example of pushing membership without being “pushy”.
  • Gates Foundation provides links about their intiatives, retweets and replies everyday. They’ve also been doing a Photo Of The Day tweet which is a really awesome idea as well. Definitely check out their actual Twitter page too because their background image is a great example of using imagery in their profile to stay on brand and also evoke emotion from the viewer (a future blog post to come).
  • Oxfam* amazes me on a daily basis. They reply, retweet, post articles and news, share links, and do it all while always remaining on brand. Yes, they’re a client and I’m probably a little bias but damn they do an amazing job at keeping up with the twitterverse.
  • Robin Hood isn’t afraid to ask for support. They do a phenominal job asking for their supporters to retweet and they even thank them when they do! I’ve also noticed they do an excellent job of pointing out donations made to their Crowdrise page as well – this little touch totally goes the extra mile. Hey, it convinced me to give to them!
  • Room To Read greets their followers at random everyday. Not just once and a while, its everyday. Thats awesome and it makes them a very unique organization on Twitter because they take the time to identify with their supporters on a personal level. They also retweet and reply to folks on a regular basis and always seem to keep it on brand and reflective of the mission of R2R.
  • Doctors w/o Borders is a great example of using video, photography, and one-off campaigns via Twitter. Any day you can check out their twitter feed and I guarantee you’ll see them linking to powerful visuals about the organization. They also do a terrific job on reporting about what they’re other chapters are doing around the world.

* Denotes a client of Mark & Phil.

Photo from Tveskov on Flickr

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