Twitter: Time Waster or Valuable Tool?

Post by Frank Barry - 12.19.2008 - Follow me on Twitter

How Twitter can help nonprofits spread their message and inform their supporters.

From what I’m finding there are a lot of nonprofits that know about Twitter, but have no idea what to do with it. Which means you might be missing what the tool can do for you! Twitter is an incredible tool that let’s you do two major things. To show you how it can be useful let’s look at a few real life examples ...

But first a few Definitions for terms you will soon come across:


Twitter: Free social networking service that allows its users to send and read other users updates (or Tweets)
Tweet: The terms used when you type something in the 140 character box and hit update
Follower: A person who has chosen to be connected to you – They will see your ‘tweets’
Following: A person who you have chosen to follow – You will see their ‘tweets’
Updates: The total # of ‘tweets’ you send out

You ask ... what are the two major things Twitter can help you do?

  1. Easily raise awareness or spread your message
  2. Quickly inform your supporters of what’s going on

One to the examples …

Inform Supporters

Communicating and keeping your supporters informed with current information is vital for nonprofit success. You could argue that this is vital to any organizations success. If you’re not communicating with your people then you are doing them a disservice. They follow, support, advocate, fundraise & volunteer for you – the more you can cultivate those relationships through real time communication the better!


Red Cross (

3,255 followers (grown from ~700 only 5 months ago) who each also have followers – when Red Cross uses twitter something great happens. Immediately 3,255 (and growing) people are informed who then inform their followers and so on through the social network on Twitter. This makes informing their supports simple and as “real time” as you can get. Not leveraging this would be a shame.


Hurricane Gustav is a prime example of how the Red Cross used Twitter to inform their supporters.

They did three things:

  1. Shared up to date info on Gustav status
  2. Informed people of what was happening in specific areas
  3. Prompted people to help raise money or donate personally for relief efforts

To drive this point home even further it’s worth showing you what Andy Carvin says about using Twitter to get information out quickly about hurricane Gustav.

From NPR’s Andy Carvin on the Role of Social Media in Gustav Coverage

Question: How important has Twitter been to your team?

Carvin: Twitter allowed us to launch and mobilize faster than ever before. During the tsunami and Katrina, much of what we did to pull together was word-of-mouth through email lists and blogs. With Twitter, I w as able to get things started by simply telling my Twitter followers I wanted to pull together and needed volunteers. Immediately I saw my tweets being forwarded from one Twitter user to another. And some of these folks forwarding my tweets have tens of thousands of subscribers, so word spread really fast.

Spread your message | Raise Awareness

Every nonprofit has a message they want to deliver or awareness they want to spread. Twitter makes it easier than ever and get’s as close to real time as possible.

An incredible example of this is ‘Frozen Pea Friday’ - a Breast Cancer Awareness and fundraising day in support of well regarded blogger Susan Reynolds.

The ‘peas for a cause’ movement is all about raising awareness and support through social media. One great idea the fund had was to have everyone they knew change their online profile image (or Avatar) to something “pea themed” (example by Dave Fleet). The word got our and people using TwitterFacebookFlickr showed the love by changing their avatars in support! Awareness was spread, money was raised and support was gained! What more could you ask for?

The word spread so fast and so deep that TechcrunchTwitter themselves posted about it! Check out the First Frozen pea Friday wrap up to get more stats & info on the impact.



I hope you have a bit of a vision now! Twitter makes it incredibly simple to inform your supporters and spread your message. Take some advice from the American Red Cross and the Frozen Pea Fund. Get on Twitter, start learning how to use the tool and find ways to make it useful to your nonprofit!

Still not convinced? Here are 2 articles that should drive the point home even more:

Businessweek: Getting Intimate (with Customers) on Twitter
New York Times: How Twitter Can Help at Work
Coppybloger: How to use Twitter to grow your business (added on 12.31.2008 - very comprehensive!)


Some tips to start:

  1. Get an account (
  2. Listen to what’s going on
  3. Watch others who have successfully been at it for a bit
  4. Engage in conversation

The above two benefits of Twitter are focused on you communicating out to your supporters. There is the flip side to the coin. Look for my next post where I will break down how to ‘listen’ using Twitter and other social media tools to improve your non profits awareness.


Have more ideas, thoughts or experience you think should be shared with everyone here? Please leave a comment … let’s chat.

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