Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Twitter for organisations

I follow some organisations and some individuals on Twitter (I follow northern NGOs like @oxfamnovib, and some southern NGOs like @alamad_NGO). Generally, I find organisations' slightly boring, slower and less engaging on Twitter than individuals, but keep on following them because they do have some useful new information at times (or out of politeness?). I'm always curious who is behind the account, especially if I know the organisation!

Several people have asked me how they should organize their Twitter account for their organisation, how to name the account and who should Tweet? I respond that it's best to combine organisational with personal. Recently, I have asked this question in the Facebook group with non-profit consultants and also found this blogpost by Steve Bridger talking about the same issues.

How to use twitter as an organisation?
  • Naming the account after the organisation or the person? - There are three different options: an organisation account (eg. UNICEF @unicef), a personal employee account (like Arjen Mulder @arjencito), or an account combining a name and organisation (eg. Colin Butfield @Colin_WWF). Ofcourse you may both, have an organisational account and encourage your employees to be active on Twitter with their personal account, talking about their professional lives. It is nice to know who is tweeting from organisational accounts. You may add that information in the profile, or as in the example of @handsonnetwork use the image on the homepage (see picture). One person mentioned that the twitter account on behalf of the organisation didn't work till she added her own name. Also, if you are sending a Direct Message, you might add your name at the end to make it more personal. For other organisations, like UNHCR it seems to work well (with more than a million followers!). Slightly more creative is setting up a Twitter account with a specific purpose, like one of my favourites, the African Proverbs.
  • What to tweet? Try to develop an idea of your followers and why they would like to follow your organisation, are they volunteers, clients, partner organisations? Is it to offer webcare (a booming new approach to customer care) or something different? Christian Kreutz analyzed accounts of 10 development organizations and found they performed poorly on interaction with their followers. On the other hand, you may set up an twitter account like an information service, and as long as you are clear about it, for instance with tips or quotes (see again African Proverbs). Be creative! And you may organize an occassional poll amongst your followers using twtpoll or another polling tool.
  • How to leverage employee accounts? More and more new employees may already be active as professionals on Twitter and may like to keep their own accounts. What you can do as an organisation is to offer a phrase to add to their profile information. You may make a list of the twitter accounts of the persons in your organisation and put in on your website for instance (check whether they are into this or whether is more of a private twitter account!). You may offer some guidelines to employees. Steve Bridger offers a nice list with example guidelines on his blog:
    * Include a disclaimer in your profile;
    * Common sense should always prevail;
    * Don’t tweet what you wouldn’t want to see in print – or your mother to read;
    * Keep it clean (a few people advised against swearing);
    * Try to stay clear of controversial topics – or at the very least refrain from using inflammatory language.
    * While your views are your own, bear in mind what you say could reflect negatively on the charity’s reputation
    * Take care not to announce a new initiative before the ‘official’ word is out, and if in doubt leave it out, or seek advice (even though embargoes are so last century);
    * Do not say anything that may damage relationships with corporate partners, suppliers, and other charities
    * Be transparent – if responding to any work-related social media activities always make a disclosure.
  • How to avoid fragmentation? If many employees are Twittering in your organisation, it might be a good idea to stimulate employees to follow each other. Create for instance a company list. This already helps to create some uniformity and inspiration. And may help for internal knowledge sharing purposes too!. Make twitter part of the internal agenda: ask who is inspiring, ask people to collect tweets they liked. Make sure there is an ongoing conversation.
Do you follow organisations doing a great job on Twitter? Please share it through the comments!


Barbara Fillip said...

NASA has multiple Twitter accounts, some generic and some very mission specific + some Tweetups, astronauts tweeting.. lots of effort put into reaching out to external audiences. http://www.nasa.gov/connect/index.html. Even for employees, it's a good way of keeping up with that the organization is doing.

Joitske said...

Hi Barbara, thanks, it's a great example of offering special insights into your organisation via twitter (the astronauts are wonderful!)

juulferg said...

In our group we tweet nuggets about our research, so people don't have to wait 3-5 yrs until it is finally published (and often even then in proprietary form) to hear about it. And like Barbara says, it is a great way for keeping up with each other!

We chose for people to have their own twitter account, and then used twitterfeed and yahoopipes to stream them to the researchgroup's twitter account (@kinresearch). The advantage of this construction is that the tweets are personal (like you say Joitske, it is nice to know *who* is behind an account), and the group is portrayed as a collective of individuals - which it exactly what it is! It did take a bit of fiddling around to figure out how to set it up, but we are very happy with this setup.

juulferg said...

ps. there are also tools like cotweet which allow you to share tweets in a single account but the free beta version only allows 5 people to join. would be happy to find a better one for more people (that's also free)!

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A very special thanks goes out to three members of Engineers Without Borders: Greg Hawkins – Treasurer, Phillip Patague – Outreach Committee, and Jan Vianzon – Publicity Committee for their help in providing background material for this article.

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