Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Buzz About Twitter

Want to know what your best friend had for breakfast in 140 characters or less? Ok, maybe not. Many people have written off Twitter because they just don’t really care about such trivial status updates. The fact is that Twitter has more to offer than updates on the daily grind of your friends and family. Perhaps you’ve heard about it in the news lately?

Clearly the use of Twitter in the recent post-election Iranian protests captured the interest of many Americans – social media users and novices alike. Those high profile tweets gave people around the world a window into what was transpiring in the streets. To be fair, tweets can be subjective and unverifiable in many cases, but you can’t deny the widespread visibility for the Iranian election protests that was created via Twitter.

Last month, just before the Iranian elections elevated the Twitter profile, Time Magazine’s cover story featured the communications site. The article highlights an intriguing aspect about the use and evolution of Twitter - namely that much of the utility of Twitter was really created by the users themselves. Both “@ replies”, used to respond to other users on Twitter, and “hashtags”, topics identified with a # in front of them to help organize conversations, are user-driven tools and have transformed Twitter from a micro-messaging service to an interactive conversation. (Incidentally, hashtags are also quite popular with conference organizers so stay tuned for more information about how you can follow NeighborWorks Social Media Symposium on Twitter.)

A recent Pew study published in February 2009 sheds a little more light on Twitter users. Not surprisingly, they tend to be young, mobile and active in other social media spheres, such as blogs and social networks. The study also revealed that the biggest audience for micro-messaging services like Twitter is between the ages of 18-34. However, with its recent explosive growth, we may see this change. Twitter experienced an impressive 1,298% growth in users from April 2008 to April 2009. To put that in context, Google’s growth during that period was 9%, Facebook’s 217% and MySpace -7%. While Google’s user numbers still dwarf those of Twitter and the social networks, Twitter appears to be taking hold with everyone from your teenage daughter to nonprofit organizations and Fortune 500 companies.

So do you Tweet? Still not sure how twitter works? Tune into this video by CommonCraft for a quick overview. Or check out CNET’s Newbie Guide to Twitter.

Tapping Into Facebook

With such a wide variety of tools available to entertain and engage, it’s easy to see why Facebook has grown into a diverse online space of more than 200 million active users – young and old – from around the world. At its core, Facebook allows its users to connect with friends and (more importantly) their networks. However, Facebook has evolved to also connect organizations, constituencies, and like-minded groups – making it an extremely valuable tool for the non-profit community. You can create a page for your organization, post events, pose questions to your constituency, comment on responses, blog, video share, and link to interesting sites and articles – among other things.

There’s a substantial amount of material on the web about Facebook for non-profits. TechSoup provides a great starting point for beginners interested in launching a Facebook presence. After getting comfortable with your personal profile and creating a basic page for your organization, check out these very specific (but helpful) best practices for maximizing action and interaction on your non-profit page. Beth’s blog also offers a compilation of resources for non-profits to use Facebook effectively.

As with all new technologies, however, we’re learning that Facebook can’t do it all – well at least not yet. Folks got pretty jazzed when Facebook rolled out its fundraising tool, Causes, but the team at Blue State Digital explains why fundraising via Facebook has yet to prove itself. So while you may not raise millions overnight, you can build a constituency that can be tapped for resources – whether they be time, talent or treasure. The Timpano Group highlights what it considers to be some of the big fish and smaller fries in the non-profit community that are using Facebook successfully.