8 Steps For Building Community On Twitter: Tips For Membership Organizations

by Maddie Grant of SocialFishing… and Diary Of A Reluctant Blogger. Follow her @maddiegrant.

starlingsTwitter can be a great space for building community around your membership-based organization, whether you work for a professional society, trade association or a cause-related nonprofit.

Here’s a quick eight-step rundown of how to set up a Twitter account for your “.org”. This isn’t the only way, of course. But if you are starting from scratch, this is what we’re finding works the best.

1. Set up a main “umbrella” account for the organization – e.g. @ORGtweets or just @ORG (“ORG” being whatever your acronym is).

Why? So people can find you easily. In the description, put in a nutshell what the organization does. A mission statement in under 140 characters, for example. (Be pithy – people like that. There are lots of other places you can be boring). For the website link field of the profile, create a Twitter landing page on your website which says, “Welcome to the Twitter page for [ORG]! We’re glad you’re here. Here’s what we’re all about. Here are some of the things we tweet about. And here are our team members, should you be interested in following them too.” Then list your staff on Twitter as per #2.

2. Give your staff their own individual accounts – e.g. ORG_Bob, Maggie@ORG, etc. If you have several staffers already on Twitter with their own followers, allow them to use their accounts for tweeting on your behalf, assuming they are willing to do that.

Why? because people want to see individual people representing their organizations. There can be backlash when that doesn’t happen. Presumably each staffer will have their own personality, their own things they like to tweet about personally and professionally, and they will also have their own content that they are responsible for – namely PR, or marketing, or advocacy, or publications, or events. Each person will grow their own followers independently – and can share them under the umbrella account as they go along (see #5.)

3. Use a multiple Twitter account client to manage your accounts.

Why? Because it’s MUCH easier than signing in and out of accounts all day. SplitTweet works great, as do HootSuite and CoTweet (currently in private beta).  All these services allow you to monitor multiple accounts at the same time – so your team can choose to tweet something to their individual accounts and the umbrella account, or just to one at a time.  SplitTweet has a cool “track your brand mentions” feature; CoTweet allows you to tag your replies as being from a particular person, and allows you to assign responses to team members. HootSuite has great analytics and intelligent search for Twitter conversations. All three are always improving and evolving as professional Twitter use grows, and there may be a new multiple account application on the scene by the time this post appears, so just find the one that has the functionality you need.

4. Ask each staffer to follow people who tweet regularly about your industry or cause, as well as actively Tweeting members, donors, or other stakeholders.

Why?  Because Twitter is about conversation – and directed conversation can build community.  Find those other interested Tweeps simply by using Twitter search for your particular industry keywords, your organization name mentions, even competitor or sister organization mentions.  Twitter directories like TwellowWe Follow , and Twibs allow you to find people based on tags or types of business.  Each staffer should find their own relevant people to follow, based on their particular interests or area of expertise.  If you have members, or an email list of any kind, use Twitter’s own import function to import emails and find those members already on Twitter (only do a few at a time).  Look for names you recognize, or clearly active Tweeters (you can tell by the number of updates, friends and followers they have).  You only need to find a few key active stakeholders – others will come with them when they start to interact with you.  Ask those you have a good “real life” relationship with to help you spread the word about your new presence on Twitter.

5. Under the umbrella account, periodically retweet items from your team members as well as from their followers/friends.

Why? To show a coherent stream of content where visitors can immediately see what you’re about and that different people speak for you in different ways. If managed well, you can follow relevant public conversations between team members under the umbrella too – conversations that might draw people in to whatever topic you are discussing. Retweeting good stuff by people who are part of your network gives them an ego boost and shows them that it’s not all about you, that you’re paying attention to what they are talking about, that you’re interested in learning from them too.

6. Got an annual conference or big fundraising event? Use hashtags to enable your registrants and anyone else to find you through your event promotion.

Why?  Because the buzz leading up to and during face-to-face events can bring your organization into focus and can attract new people to your cause. Tweet lots of good stuff about how cool your event will be and use and promote a specific designated hashtag for it. Remember to publicize the hashtag in your other promotional materials too. We’re often asked about whether it’s a good idea to set up a separate Twitter account (as opposed to a hashtag) for a conference – this can work too, but a hashtag is more easily found in search, will trend if you have lots of people Tweeting the event, and allows you to differentiate between annual conferences from year to year – e.g. #Tech09 versus #Tech10.  Also, the staff members who have built a following on Twitter will stay visible and won’t be hidden under a conference account. They will each be enabled to add their own personal takes on the conference, by talking about the particular sessions they are attending and the things they care about from their individual (professional) viewpoints.If you set up a new account for each conference, you are basically starting from zero friends and followers each time – and it takes time to build those networks.

7. Bottom line:  Share great content.

Why?  Because great content sparks word of mouth, and word of mouth (you guessed it!) builds community.  Ask each staffer to take responsibility for sharing links with interesting and useful information relevant to their specific areas of expertise.  Encourage them to engage in conversation with their Twitter networks, respond to things other people are tweeting about, retweet links and tweets from people outside your organization as well as your own; don’t be afraid to actually converse about topics of interest. Find champions within your networks to help you spread the word about specific issues. Use your umbrella account to corral it all in a place where people can find it easily. Community builds around shared interests, but only if you nurture it and feed it, which means listening as well as talking.

8. Bonus: Benchmark and measure!

Why?  So you can see how it’s all going and know when it might be necessary to put in a bit more effort or move up to the next level of awesomeness. Benchmark and measure your progress using whatever metrics make the most sense to you.  Number of followers, organization links retweeted, new registrants to your events, etc.  There are lots of specific Twitter analytics apps out there, but measure engagement in other ways too.  Building community online is all about building community offline.

That should be enough to get you started!  Here are a couple places to find examples of associations and nonprofits on Twitter, as well as three related posts from Twitip that dig a bit deeper into Tweeting for organizational use.  Tweet on!

Associations on Twitter
more associations on Twitter
Nonprofits on Twitter
more on nonprofits using Twitter

TwiTip Resources:
Building an Effective Business Profile on Twitter
Tips for Brands and Nonprofits
How To Handle Multiple Users Within Your Company

[Image by Maggi_94]


  • April 11, 2009

    This post was spot on for our association. Twitter is an awesome vehicle for connecting our MBAs with each other.

    We need to consider your tip about doing a Twitter landing page.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  • April 11, 2009

    Great article and spot-on.

    The level of people who “get” SM needs to increase (mentor!) and they must be well trained on the legal and strategic side of the business as well. Even non-profits can have competitors.

  • April 11, 2009

    Thanks so much for the comments! It will be interesting to see how these tips might change over time as organizations become more used to using Twitter and develop different strategies of their own too.

  • April 12, 2009

    i love the idea of the landing page. this is very helpful & was tweeted to me from someone in my network.

  • April 13, 2009

    Very useful post , thanks for this great post.

  • April 15, 2009

    Twitter support any thing ultil know.

  • May 6, 2009

    Thanks! You just helped me with some great ideas :) The last point seems to be a little bit funny in the case of a novice twitter, but of course, it can provide necessary statistics in case of mainstream twitters.

  • October 16, 2009

    Regarding the issue of whether to create a separate Tweeter account for a conference or just use hashtags, what do u think about creating one separate account for a conference and use it years over years ? example: @conference. You don’t lose followers and all the discussions, compared to an account for a specific-year conference (for example : @conference08).

  • October 17, 2009

    Hi, I actually personally think it’s a good idea to have one conference account that stay the same over different years, but use a hashtag (which you would anyway) to delineate 2009 ’s event versus 2010. There is some debate about this though. I do think that starting from scratch with a new account every year seems like unnecessary work.

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