How nonprofits choose to follow on Twitter varies widely. Some nonprofits only follow a small of amount of Twitterers, others follow hundreds or thousands, and a few follow more (sometimes a lot more) than they are being followed themselves. However, from browsing more than 80,000 nonprofits on Twitter over the last three years, the vast majority of nonprofits follow a lot less than they are being followed. My guess is that they don’t want to follow a lot of Twitterers because they don’t want to clutter their “Home” feed, and I understand that, but nonprofits can easily manage the chaos of following hundreds or thousands Twitterers by simply organizing them into Twitter Lists.

Now, I know that following on Twitter (who and how many) can be a very personal decision and I don’t mean to insist that all nonprofits should follow more often, but I do at least want to  throw the idea out there that following more could help your nonprofit get more followers and thus much more buzz on Twitter.

1) Each new “Follow” results in more exposure for your nonprofit’s avatar, and thus likely more followers of your nonprofit.

Every time you follow a new Twitterer that is one more time that your nonprofit’s avatar is seeded throughout the Twitterverse. For example, at @nonprofitorgs I only follow nonprofits, nonprofit staff, and a handful of nonprofit service providers. As of today that number is 82,250. That’s 82,250 times that the @nonprofitorgs account and avatar is visible throughout the Twitterverse. If I was only following 250 Twitterers, then that’s 82,000 lost opportunities to get my avatar out there on Twitter.

Also, many people browse through Twitter accounts looking at who they follow to find new people themselves to follow, and if your nonprofit doesn’t follow many, then mathematically your chances of getting new followers through this method is severely hampered. There is absolutely a math to Twitter, and social networking in general, and the lower your number(s), the lower your potential for synergy. That doesn’t mean you should go on a follow binge and follow thousands on Twitter if it results in you following more Twitterers than are following you, but it does mean that if you have 3,000 followers but only follow 50, for example, then you might want to strategically try following more often and using Twitter Lists to organize your followers – if your goal is to get more followers on Twitter. Strategic following is covered in more detail in #4 below.

2) Your followers can not direct message you if you are not following them.

If you are not following a donor or supporter who is following you, then they can not direct message you. Let’s say you send out an event announcement in a tweet and one of your followers wants to direct message you to ask how to RSVP. Well, if you are not following them, then they can’t. They may still attend your event or they may quickly loose interest because the moment has passed, or worse they may feel a bit snubbed that you aren’t following them in return. Again, following more often just so your followers a.k.a. supporters and donors can direct message you on Twitter at the very least should make many nonprofits have a second thought about their current low-follow strategy.

3) Many of those that you follow will get an email announcing that you are following them.

Twitter allows users to decide to whether or not they’d like to receive email notifications of new followers under Settings > Notifications. I don’t know of any data that confirms a percentage of Twitter users who do so, but my guess would be 50%. Surely those who do opt-in for email notifications take notice when an email arrives in their Inbox exclaiming “Such-and-such nonprofit is now following you on Twitter!” However, if your nonprofit rarely follows new Twitterers, then these emails never arrive.

4) Following more often likely leads to more followers for your nonprofit which then gives you the opportunity to follow others more strategically.

This is a bit difficult to explain, so please read carefully. Provided that the math of following more often results in more followers for your nonprofit, you are then given the opportunity to follow more strategically. Again, operating on the assumption that you should not follow more Twitterers than are following you (to some it will appear spammish or desperate) and that following on a 1:1 ratio or less is a best practice, then let’s say for example that on any given day when you login to Twitter you discover that you have gained 10 new followers since your last login. Using the follow more strategy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to follow in return those same 10 new followers. Rather, of the 10 follow those that look to be genuine follows and not spam or those new to Twitter with no logo or bio… let’s say that’s four of the 10. Then, your nonprofit now has the opportunity to strategically follow six new Twitterers, such as foundations, other nonprofits, bloggers, and media who then will possibly receive an email exclaiming that your nonprofit is now following them on Twitter, or they see you in their “Followers” list, or both. That could lead to these same foundations, nonprofits, bloggers, and media following you in return which is exactly why most nonprofits are on Twitter!

Whether you decide to experiment with this strategy is of course up to you and your own Twitter instincts, but I do hope at least you’re pondering it. It takes more time and a deeper commitment to Twitter, but as a practitioner of this strategy, I am here to tell you that’s it’s been worth it. :)

Related Links:
Webinar: How Nonprofits Can Successfully Use LinkedIn and Twitter
Book: Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits