This is the ninth post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits, written and presented by Heather Mansfield. Please sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts. Thank you!
Related Webinar: Social Media Best Practices for Nonprofits
Twitter is not for every nonprofit. It’s a social network that requires a lot of time and content, but more importantly, a social media manager who enjoys being active on Twitter and understands Twitter’s extensive toolset. If your nonprofit has a Twitterer on staff, then set them free to tweet. If your nonprofit doesn’t, then either decide not to use Twitter or tweet minimally with low expectations.
That said, the best practices below are based on Nonprofit Tech for Good’s experience using Twitter almost daily since 2008. Experiment and keep in mind that those who use Twitter regularly tend to love Twitter. It’s a community that takes a while to understand and adapt to.
1) Set up your nonprofit’s Twitter Profile to maximize followers.
Your nonprofit has one chance to make a good first impression on Twitter. Before you follow any account, ensure that your profile is complete with (1) a well-designed profile photo and header image; (2) a bio that expresses clearly your organization’s mission; and (3) a link to your website. @MoveTheWorldUK captures all three complete with emojis and a campaign hashtag:
Next, to add credibility to your Twitter Profile, upgrade your account to a Professional Profile and categorize your profile as a “Non-Governmental & Nonprofit Organization.” For example, @WomenforWomen:
2) Tweet or retweet 2-10 times daily from early morning to late evening.
The average lifespan of a tweet is 15 minutes, so if your nonprofit wants to engage your followers regularly on Twitter, you’ll need to be very active on Twitter daily. For nonprofits that do not have the time or interest in growing a community of followers on Twitter, but still want to still have a presence on Twitter, it’s OK to only tweet or retweet once or twice weekly as long as you understand that you’ll on be reaching a very small percentage of your followers.
That said, for those nonprofits that do want to grow a community on Twitter, follow these best practices when writing your tweets to maximize the likelihood of your tweets getting noticed:
1. Format your tweets for easy reading.
Write tweets in clear, concise language. Don’t use uncommon abbreviations and always use proper punctuation and grammar. A reader needs to be able to easily and quickly comprehend the message in your tweet. Embrace a writing style known as plain language which is becoming an increasingly important skill for social media managers.
Tweets can be 280 characters, but studies have shown that tweets between 71 and 100 characters perform better than longer tweets. Shorter tweets, on average, receive more retweets, more impressions, and more link and profile clicks.
2. Include a link in your tweets as often as possible.
Tweets with links have an 86% higher retweet rate and higher engagement overall because people are hesitant to retweet or engage with tweets that do not have a source or a call-to-action. Including links, of course, also helps increase traffic to your website.
It’s OK to not include links in conversational tweets and replies, but even then sharing links to resources or call-to-actions (CTAs) is often appropriate and useful, especially in Twitter Threads.
3. Schedule tweets in advance.
Using a tool like Buffer or Twitter’s native scheduling tool make it easier for your nonprofit to be regularly active throughout the day and on the weekends:
People use Twitter at all hours, so it’s important that you schedule tweets for early morning, the evenings, and on the weekends. Scheduling tweets is a must for nonprofits that want to engage an international following.
4. Retweet your own tweets.
Since tweets have a very short life span, it’s a good practice to retweet your own tweets. For example, if you send a tweet on Monday morning at 8 am, retweet that same tweet the next day at 1pm. You may discover that retweeting your own tweets results in higher engagement than tweeting the same tweet twice.
5. Don’t be a #hashtag #spammer. #DontDoIt
Using more than two hashtags is not a good growth or engagement strategy on Twitter. Tweets overloaded with hashtags look messy, are hard to read, and make your nonprofit look desperate to gain followers. Use hashtags strategically to mention important causes, campaigns, and events, but hashtag spamming to try to increase your reach doesn’t work and has a negative effect on engagement.
6. Don’t be a photo tag spammer either!
It’s a good practice to occasionally tag important partners and sponsors in image tweets, but doing so often will only annoy them.
3) Tweet content that inspires engagement.
It’s hard to get noticed on Twitter without purchasing ads even if you have a large following. Like all social media today, organic reach is very low. To get engagement on Twitter, you need to tweet the right kind of content.
1. Positive news about your mission and programs.
Twitter can be mean. There are rage tweeters and arrogant trolls that occasionally trend to the top. That’s one of the reasons why positive content performs so well on Twitter. With so much stressful, depressing news in the world today, positive news stands out.
Nonprofits tend to mostly tweet content about the sad state of affairs – international, national, state, and local. There is a need for that on Twitter, but framing your Twitter story a little more on the positive side can definitely increase your engagement. From big victories to little wins, focusing on the positive angle of your work is beneficial to your social media content strategy overall.
For example, this @FeedingAmerica tweet communicates the billion-pound problem that is food waste, but closes the tweet with a positive spin about how they are working to solve the problem of food waste and in terms of engagement, the tweet performed above average:
2. Breaking news relevant to your mission and programs.
People who are active on Twitter tend to be plugged into current events and trending news. It’s a good practice to tweet content relevant to breaking news stories. For example, on the first day of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, @NAACP_LDF tweeted a New York Times article with a powerful quote from the article:
It’s also worth noting that tapping into Cause Awareness & Giving Days is a good strategy for Twitter. Like breaking news, cause awareness and giving day tweets have a short news cycle in the here and now that Twitter users respond to.
3. Upload powerful photos and videos.
A good photo can perform very well on Twitter – not stock photos, but an original photo that your nonprofit has the right to use online that speaks to your mission and programs.
According to Twitter, the optimal photo size for a tweet is 1200 x 1200 pixels or 1200 x 628 pixels. For an example of a best practice, @WorldMonuments uploaded a 1200 x 1200 photo embedded with text and their logo with a link to their website in the tweet to announce their annual list of cultural monuments that need protecting:
Also according to Twitter, tweets with video can generate up to 10 times more engagement. To prove that point, this video tweet from @WildlifeSOS that tells the good news story of a nail-biting rescue of a leopard in India received very high engagement compared to their other tweets:
4. Create custom graphics for powerful quotes, statistics, and call-to-actions.
Using a graphic design tool such as Canva or Venngage, converting powerful stats, quotes, and CTAs into graphics is a time-tested, proven method to grab the attention of your followers, thus increasing your engagement on Twitter (and all social media). In this example, @Codeorg features their logo with an inspirational quote from a supporter:
Statistics and fact graphics also work well on Twitter. In this example from @PopnMatters, six facts are featured and engagement is high for this graphic. That said, featuring the stats individually in six separate graphics and running a social media campaign for six weeks (one graphic per week shared on social media) would significantly increase traffic to populationmatters.org/the-facts:
Finally, in this example, @RefugeCharity uses a CTA graphic to increase awareness of their national helpline number:
4) Use Twitter Cards for your website and blog content.
Twitter Cards allow website developers to clarify how website and blog content should appear in tweets. WordPress plugins, such as SocialSnap or Yoast, allow you to easily set up Twitter Cards for your website and blog, but if your site is not built using WordPress, your website developer will need to customize your website and blog to enable Twitter Cards.
It’s worth noting that Summary with Large Image Cards outperform uploading an image in place of using cards as well as Twitter Cards that pull up a small, square thumbnail image. Ideally, your website and blog content display a large default image when shared on Twitter (and all social media). For example, the @MarshallProj has Summary with Large Image Cards enabled for their website content:
5) Curate good content through retweets.
In addition to retweeting your own tweets at least once, retweet content tweeted by others that speak to your mission and programs. This is especially relevant to those nonprofits that do not create a lot of content – retweeting relevant content on Twitter empowers them to be active and interesting on Twitter.
Retweeting also helps your nonprofit build relationships with those that you retweet. When you retweet a tweet on Twitter, that account is notified of your retweet. So, be sure to regularly retweet partners, chapters, staff, activists, donors, and sponsors. To make it easier to retweet others, use the list function to organize the accounts that you want to retweet. For example, @nonprofitorgs/lists:
Customized for small nonprofits on a limited budget, the Social Media Best Practices for Nonprofits webinar highlights current trends in using social media for fundraising, advocacy, and storytelling.
6) Respond to and engage with followers.
Large, well-known nonprofits with a large following on Twitter, such as @Greenpeace with 1.9M followers, can tweet and receive significant engagement (comments, retweets, likes) without having to engage their followers.
Most nonprofits, however, will have to engage their followers for Twitter to produce results – but Twitter is tricky and not for everyone. To provoke and engage people in conversation on Twitter is time-consuming and you’ll have to be prepared to occasionally engage with people that don’t agree with your mission and programs. If you have a person on staff that gets Twitter and enjoys the one-on-one engagement – the good and the bad – then empower them to be active on Twitter on a regular basis.
That said, if engaging in a public conversation on behalf of your organization on Twitter is unsettling, there are other ways to engage:
1. Follow back those that support your nonprofit.
If someone replies in support of your nonprofit, or retweets you, follow them. It shows you are listening and supporters will appreciate the follow back. Too often nonprofits follow a small number of accounts on Twitter in order to control the chaos in their “Home” feed, but that’s the purpose of lists. Be more generous and strategic in your follow back strategy.
2. Like mentions and replies.
Positive mentions and replies on your tweets shouldn’t be ignored. Liking mentions and replies, when appropriate, shows your audience that a real person is managing your Twitter account.
3. Respond to authentic direct messages.
If you receive a DM on Twitter that appears to be authentic i.e., not copied, pasted, and mass DM’d, then respond. In some cases, your response can simply be an emoji “React.”
4. Like tweets shared by others.
Proactively liking on Twitter should be embraced. For example, this tweet by @Devex received a number of likes from nonprofits. Liking on Twitter shows your support for a tweet and the account tweeting, and increases the visibility of your account.
7) Join a Twitter Chats.
In truth, it is difficult to host a successful Twitter Chat if your nonprofit does not have a large, engaged following on Twitter. However, joining and participating in Twitter Chats is a good way to increase the exposure of your nonprofit on Twitter through liking, replying, and retweeting.
Keep your eyes and ears open for Twitter Chats relevant to your mission and programs, save the date and time, and then jump in on the day of. You can also browse the #TwitterChat hashtag and this comprehensive list of Twitter Chats to discover relevant Twitter Chats.
If possible, join a Twitter Chat once a month, bi-monthly, or quarterly. @CircuitEditor regularly hosts Twitter Chats on the subjects of social change and philanthropy in Africa.
8) Get to know your Twitter Analytics Dashboard.
Twitter Analytics offers extensive insight into your Twitter activity. From viewing your Top Tweets to seeing how many clicks your tweets have received, the Analytics Dashboard is easy to access and navigate.
If your nonprofit is regularly active on Twitter, make an effort to review your Analytics at least once a month. You can export monthly reports to track new followers, profile visits, and engagement metrics such as total likes, retweets, mentions, and replies. For an extensive exploration of the Twitter Analytics toolset, please see this Complete Guide to Twitter Analytics.
28-Day Summary Featured on the Twitter Analytics Dashboard:
Data Provided for Tweets:
9) Experiment with Twitter Ads.
Of the 53% of nonprofits that spend money on social advertising, only 17% invest in Twitter Ads compared to 97% who spend on Facebook Ads and 47% on Instagram Ads, according to the Open Data Project. That’s likely a result of nonprofits using Twitter much less than Facebook and Instagram.
WebFX is an excellent resource for social media advertising benchmarks and their research reveals that Twitter has the lowest cost-per-click (CPC) of all social media.
That said, Twitter is rolling out new Twitter Ad functionalities that better track the quality of the traffic and how it converts website visitors into donors and leads, and while we have plentiful data on how nonprofits use Facebook and Instagram Ads, there is little to no data on how nonprofits use Twitter Ads.
If your nonprofit invests in social ads and is active on Twitter, you may want to experiment with funneling more of those dollars into Twitter Ads. Nonprofit Tech for Good recently moved most of our ad spend to Twitter due to better results thanks to exceptional targeting features.
10) Explore Twitter Spaces, Newsletters, and Communities.
Twitter is making a concerted effort to expand its toolset. For nonprofits with an engaged community on Twitter, it could be worth experimenting with Spaces, Newsletters, and Communities.
Launched in November 2020, Twitter Spaces (@TwitterSpaces) are live audio spaces that speak on a variety of topics. On desktop, you can only listen in, but in the Twitter App, you can use emojis, comment, and request the mic to speak.
Twitter Spaces are in desperate need of thought leaders and activists on the topics related to the nonprofit sector and social change. For those nonprofits out there that embrace being an early adopter and have a staffer excited about Twitter Spaces, jump in and launch a weekly Space. Pick a topic and start talking.
A two-tap-to-subscribe newsletter button on Twitter Profiles and in tweets is a marketer’s dream, but on Twitter, you have to use the Revue newsletter service. For nonprofits that have invested years in growing their MailChimp or ConstantContact list, starting an additional newsletter service can be a deal-breaker. The service launched in April 2021 and
That said, it’s worth noting that your can export your Revue subscribers and upload them to your chosen email marketing service. For nonprofits with a large following, using Twitter Newsletters (launched April 2021) to capture the email addresses of Twitter users is likely easier and more cost-effective than using Twitter Ads to capture new subscribers.
Twitter Communities (@twitter.com/hiCommunities) are Twitter’s newest feature (launched September 2021) and thus wide open for early adopters. Anyone with a public Twitter account can join and tweet into a community or create their own. Communities function as groups within Twitter that allow members to group tweet about specific topics.
Nonprofit Tech for Good recently created a Tech for Good Community that encourages members to share content about how technology is being used for good in the world. Please join, experiment, and we’ll learn together as the community grows. Thank you!
101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits is a blog and webinar series (written and presented by Heather Mansfield) on website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media best practices for nonprofits, NGOs, and charities worldwide. Those who register and attend all three webinars in the series will earn a Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising from Nonprofit Tech for Good.