Twitter: A great tool for volunteer managers

Social media can be a great way for volunteer managers to support collaboration and teamwork, connect volunteers and staff, and recruit new volunteers and partners. This article looks at the use of Twitter as a tool for volunteer managers.

Many people are familiar with Twitter, a microblogging tool that allows users to communicate with one another in 140 characters or less. Instead of allowing users to post paragraphs of information, Twitter allows for extremely brief updates, almost as short as news paper headlines. In many instances, tweets include links to other sources of information on the internet, sometimes a blog, a news website or a document. Twitter is a great resource for finding news and staying connected; it’s also a helpful tool that can support volunteers and connect volunteer managers to a community of peers and professional development opportunities.

The world of Twitter includes its own jargon that could be confusing, so it is important to fully understand all the jargon associated with it if you are new. When you update your status on Twitter, you are tweeting. If you see the abbreviation RT, that means that a fellow tweeter is re-tweeting something they have seen in another person’s update and wanted to share with the people who are following their tweets. To mention someone directly in your tweet, just write the @ symbol followed directly by the person’s username. When you see a number sign, or what is called a hashtag on twitter followed directly by a word or an acronym, that is a certain topic that is being discussed. If you click on the words or acronym that follow a hashtag, you will be directed to a page where you can see every other tweet that has mentioned the same topic, and watch whatever conversation is going on about that topic in real time. To regularly see someone’s tweets, you can follow them. When you go to Twitter’s homepage, you will see a real time list of everyone’s tweets that you are following.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that volunteer managers follow a certain protocol when interacting with others on Twitter. First, vary the content of your tweets by including news from your program, a shout out to a special volunteer who is doing great work, upcoming events sponsored by your program or links to a fundraising campaign you’re doing. Second,  find others like you and connect with them through retweeting their tweets, sending them direct messages or tagging other users in your tweet. Be mindful of those you follow and those who are following you to ensure that they are legitament and are not potentially posting information that could send the wrong message to your audience. Finally, make a commitment to regularly tweet in order to stay fresh in your community’s minds. Even if you can’t post regularly, you can use a tool like Hootsuite to schedule tweets in advance.

Twitter can be a great tool for volunteer recognition, especially with younger volunteers who are more likely active on the site. Additionally, it can be a great place to recruit potential new volunteers through strategic tagging and hashtagging. Approaches for recruiting on Twitter are similar to targeted volunteer tactics in face-to-face settings: follow an organization on Twitter, get to know their needs and share with them how their followers might benefit from your opportunities. For example, by sending a tweet to a young professionals group and using the hashtag #volunteers, you could share opportunities that can help build a resume. Finally, there are so many wonderful nonprofits that are active on Twitter. Find them and be sure to participate in their ongoing conversations through finding out their common hashtags.

To get started, visit these great resources that cover a variety of topics including being professional on Twitter, tips for being successful on Twitter  and building a community of volunteers on Twitter. Check back for future articles on specific ideas for how volunteer managers can creatively repurpose popular technologies like Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, text messaging and Google Drive.

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