Deborah Elizabeth Finn just posed a terrific question:

This is a question for nonprofit organizations that use Twitter for outreach, fundraising, and advocacy campaigns:  do you factor your organization’s Twitter follow cost into your campaign strategy? Also, do you consider the follow cost before you start following another tweeter?

She raises a ton of issues and ideas for me and I wish I could launch into all of them right now!  Some of them include:

  • Calculating cost (read: time) of maintaining conversations on Twitter
  • How to leverage aggregation tools for listening so you don’t have to “listen” or read every Tweet that comes through
  • Balancing your stream (both in content and frequency) so that your “cost” isn’t too high

And the list goes on.  I’d love to hear what you think about the cost or burden or even reward of following more and more people on Twitter.  What do you think?

What’s the cost of “following” on Twitter?
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  • jon

    Thanks for posting this, Amy!

    One thing to keep in mind is that the key messages to keep up with are the ones addressed directly to your organization. People can use an @-reply to contact you publicly whether or not you’re following them. In addition, if you follow them they can contact you privately via a DM (“direct message”). As long as you’re good about responding to those, there’s no need to try to keep up with the tweets of everybody who’s following you.

    As for how often to tweet, it depends on your goals, and the answer may well change over time. For example, when you’re in the middle of an action, the frequency’s likely to increase substantially. And if you want your org’s Twitter feed to be *the* news source on an issue, then you’re likely to tweet a lot in general.

    In terms of what tools to use, @Jesse_Newhart’s How To Effectively Follow 15000+ People On Twitter Using These Tweetdeck Tricks is an excellent tutorial even if you have a lot fewer friends.


    • Thanks Jon for recommending my Tweetdeck/Twitter video. I’m glad you found it useful 🙂

  • Thanks, Jon!

    You highlight a terrific point that the most important part of the conversation to pay attention to is the direct connections from followers and your organization. I completely agree and think that it is part of keeping the conversation balanced, too – you can’t expect your community to only answer your questions or share their ideas if you never respond to them directly as well.

    Your clarification about frequency is right on. Especially when more and more organizations use Twitter as an integral part of their campaign work, it’s good to remember that sometimes it’s okay to have a lot of updates! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your feedback and resources – much appreciated!

    What do you find to be your best Twitter trick at replying to comments or responding to conversations?

    Thanks again

  • This is a broad question of course … Generally, Follower (up) costs, for non profits should be considered leads. The $$ is in people’s time and their ability to qualify as much as possible how that follower happened and what they (it) does. These are opportunities. I would hope that if a non-profit was using Twitter in an overall outreach campaign or as part of one, they would have a goal(s) in mind.

    Following (up) direct followers is a great idea but is not always genuine. You can move forward in such a way as to say that you will follow people who you have directly influenced to follow you. That opportunity possibility is likely to be higher than the person who just clicked on you to follow. Or, you can say that the person who “opted-in” to your Twitter feed is really interested, for now at least. This is like RSS to me.

    Follow costs seem to focus more on human power and that persons ability to make Twitter relations turn into activists, clients, voters, etc. Engagement is crucial 🙂

  • Benjamin – thanks so much for adding your thoughts! My favorite is your “This is like RSS to me.” I think a lot of people have found that their RSS reading has dropped off significantly now that they are sharing and finding so many links via Twitter. Mine has!

    Do you have any tips for nonprofits listening to your great point that Twitter provides the opportunity to find and empower more activities, clients, voters and so on? Engagement truly is key 🙂 That’s why the conversations and public connections on Twitter are so great!

    Thanks for adding to the conversation

  • jon

    Excellent points Ben …

    Amy I don’t really think of it as a trick, more about finding what kind of conversational style works for me and whoever I’m talking with. One thing I’ve learned is that if it takes me a while to reply the other person probably has forgotten the context so I try to include some kind of a reminder, either a few words or a link.

    Hashtags are also a good conversational mechanism … you can think of them as somewhat-overlapping chat rooms or IRC channels. I’m often very verbose so something I keep in mind is that other people are using the same hashtag for their conversations — so if it’s too much “me” I’ll cut down my tweeting frequency to keep from drowning others out.

    Different people have different tastes of course … the best thing to do is to watch others, see what you do and don’t like, and experiment with how to adapt it for your and your organization’s style and goals. There really isn’t any one way to “do” Twitter, which is part of what makes it so interesting.


  • RSS has not dropped off for me (as a user) as I am trolling the web, daily, to find information and store it so I can refer or use at a later date. RSS is a much better and totally different ref. point than a Twitter Feed. I would like to see the Data analysis on this one 🙂

    Twitter is a “real time” “always on” strategy that acts like a tool when used as part of a larger campaign (people disagree with Twitter as a strategy of course!) As a rule of thumb, I accept only Followers that I have qualified. I go to the site and check them out. This varies wildly depending on the Issue, product, purpose, etc. I have a loose def. of what qualified means in each business context I am in. By just “following” I am unsure if they are a Bot, Spyder, Sales gimmick, or genuine to my interests. I do not use tools to generate huge followers etc. I might do this if I was a band / DJ though.

    But, if they are interested, I engage them and in turn provide myself (or client) a more qualified lead. They can be engaged in many ways, once of which is an email, off the network so to speak. This is the important next phase.

    Then again, it is possible that “massing” followers creates what I call a “cross-over” affect where the SN account becomes so popular that people come to you everyday to sign up (you are not trolling for them all of the time anymore) no matter what you are doing. They engage each other in your network after hearing about you outside of your process. I have noticed this phenomenon in the past with WiKi and BBS back in the day (95!). It is now more true with SN.

    A key rec. for any group (business – non profit etc.) is to engage your audience via targeted, personalized interaction. Not SPAM newsletters etc. This is what makes the web so valuable as a tool. SN provides a defined user base – you know why they are there. This has been the toughest part of the sales model forever – getting them through the door! Now they come to you.

  • Thanks Amy for the thought-provoking post about this interesting tool. Heather Mansfield had a recent post on Twitter tips where she mentioned her poll results about the optimal number of tweets a day that people prefer to get from those they follow:
    Some tend to be more relaxed about the mix of tweets they put out–others are more exacting about having a certain mix of self-promotional, useful, responses to users, etc. It’s definitely an art form! I’m also curious how people feel about auto-replies on Twitter–personal or spammy?

  • Thanks, Jon –

    Spot on – there certainly is not one right way to use Twitter. There can be more and more emerging best practices or success stories, but to say DO THIS is impossible.

    I really appreciate you sharing some of your practices with readers here. Hashtags are an awesome way of highlighting what you are talking about and offering an invitation to others to join in, whether they follow you or not, but are interested in the topic.

    If you are reading this and don’t know what hashtags are: hashtags are when someone includes #word in their Twitter message, that # and then the “word” can be anything, the name of a topic, an organization, an acronym, etc. You can follow hashtags, search for them and see what people are talking about at:

    Try looking up #nptech and find the nonprofit technology conversations!

    Jon, thanks again for adding to this!

  • Excellent! I am also a believer in the importance of self-management of the Twitter account; I do not use any of the auto-follow options, nor do I send automated replies or direct messages. This is not to say that I would not suggest them in certain situations, but for my personal use I don’t think it is necessary. One of the side effects of this is that I remember and recognize people in my Twitter stream because I have gone to their page, read through some of their recent messages, checked out their blog or website, all before deciding whether to follow them back or not. And, if I don’t follow someone back right away, it’s usually not because I thought there was nothing to learn or share between us, but because I wasn’t sure where that exchange would happen (what topic, etc.) so decided to wait for a connection to appear first.

    I think your point about real, personal engagement is great. Twitter offers a great way for organizations to connect with supporters individually and personally on a 1:1 scale without the comment or connection crossing the line of network boundaries – it’s different if a nonprofit is trying to be your Facebook friend vs a Facebook fan page, and so on. Twitter is a low level social network where people are connected to lots of people they don’t know and don’t necessarily need/want to know any more than they do but are connected because of shared interest, industry, events, and so on. It’s a great venue for moving topic-related conversations with supporters towards campaign related engagement.

    Thanks again for adding to this conversation!

  • Megan – Thanks for sharing Heather’s blog post about this; great example of the fact that we are all still just figuring things out 🙂

    I, personally, have found many auto responses (like, an auto Direct Message after I start following, etc.) to be much more spammy than personal because it is about 1 in 20 messages that even seem applicable to me. I don’t use them, myself, but do link to a specific welcome page on my blog from my Twitter account so that I can offer a welcome message longer than 140 characters to new followers who click through to learn more about me.

    Still, I would recommend auto replies or auto following in specific situations, like when running a time sensitive campaign or working on a topic, geo, or event related project, etc. It’s always relative, right?

    Thanks again for adding to this conversation!