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Eight Common Mistakes Nonprofits Make When They First Join Twitter

February 10, 2013

lifting-a-dreamer-2009 copy@NonprofitOrgs only follows nonprofit organizations, nonprofit staff, nonprofit service providers, and activists on Twitter. Each morning I browse those that have followed @NonprofitOrgs in the previous 24-hour period and if they are a nonprofit organization, a nonprofit staff member, a nonprofit service provider, or an activist, I follow them back. Many of these folks are new to Twitter and thus I get to see the Twitter debut of many nonprofits and there are eight very common mistakes that newbies make that unknowingly diminish their Twitter ROI from day one. Most of these mistakes can be avoided by simply spending 10 minutes setting up your Twitter Profile or by getting some Twitter training.

1) Following others without having yet uploaded an avatar.

You have one chance to make a first impression on Twitter and you ruin that opportunity by following others as the Twitter Egg:


Many of those you follow will not follow you in return if you don’t have an avatar that grabs their attention or communicates a baseline message about your nonprofit. Many will also think you’re a spammer and will simply ignore your profile or block you. A 2009 study study by HubSpot found that not having uploaded an avatar decreases your followers by up to 80% and my guess is that the data from that study still speaks true today.

2) Following others without having entered a bio.

The same study by HubSpot also found that having a Twitter Bio can get you up to eight times as many followers. If potential followers can’t get some sense of what your Twitter profile is about, you can’t expect them to follow you in return.

Makes a Poor First Impression on Twitter:


Makes a Good First Impression on Twitter:


3) Not entering your nonprofit’s website.

If a potential follower is on the fence about following you, they’ll visit your website to learn more about your nonprofit. Not having a website URL is a huge, perplexing mistake that many nonprofits new to Twitter make. I mean, really, why would you not list your website’s URL on Twitter?

4) Opting in to protect your tweets.

Unless you are only on Twitter to have private conversations with only people you know, then do not protect your tweets. It communicates to your potential followers that you are fearful of Twitter and don’t understand the primary purpose of Twitter which is to be public, open, engaging, and interesting. If you want to have private conversations there are much better tools out there to use than Twitter.


5) Using all CAPS.

WHY ARE YOU SCREAMING AT ME ABOUT YOUR NONPROFIT? Using all CAPS is bad online etiquitte on Twitter – and on Facebook, your website, your e-newsletter, everywhere.

6) Following disproportionately.

Many nonprofits new to Twitter will follow hundreds and even more than 1,000 (the limit is 2,000) Twitterers thinking that mass following will result in more return followers, but it never, ever works. Mass following gives the impression to seasoned Twitterers that you are new to Twitter and even desperate, or a spammer. The psychology of Twitter is subtle and it takes time to figure out what Twitter is about and how it works. If you have disproportionately mass followed on Twitter, you might as well start over. Unfollow everyone and then be more selective, wise, and slow about who you follow.


7) Posting all marketing content.

I have been an observer of thousands of nonprofits new to Twitter and they all have a common pattern of first tweets that go something like this:

First Tweet: Hi everyone… we’re finally on this Twitter thing!!
Second Tweet: You can also “Like” us on Facebook! THANKS!!! 🙂
Third Tweet: Donate to us!
Fourth Tweet: Please read our most recent blog post.
Fifth Tweet: Good morning all… how’s your day going?

Of course, all of these tweets are met with silence and completely ignored and quite often the nonprofit then gives up and their Twitter feed goes silent – or worse, the nonprofit automates their Facebook Status Updates to post to Twitter.

8) Quitting Twitter too soon.

If you’ve made any of the the mistakes above, your Twitter launch was most likely doomed from the start. Many nonprofits quit Twitter too soon based on lackluster results, but that’s not the fault of the Twitter tool set, rather, it’s a misunderstanding of what Twitter is about and how to use the site and for what. Fortunately, Twitter is forgiving and you can start over and correct your mistakes.

Related Links:
Webinar: How Nonprofits Can Successfully Use Twitter and Twitter Apps
Five Types of Tweets Guaranteed to get Retweeted

27 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2013 9:30 am

    Great tips!! I’ve just started @fiftyoverfifty and was relieved to see I had avoided some of these traps. Others I learned from. Thanks!

  2. caribtots2teens permalink
    February 10, 2013 10:24 am

    We automate our fb page status to twitter…. PLEASE SAVE US! Why is that bad, and what should we be doing instead?

    • February 12, 2013 5:42 am

      Automated tweets tell everyone on Twitter that a robot is running your Twitter feed. It doesn’t work.

      • March 26, 2013 4:58 pm

        Can you give some recommendations on what a good Twitter strategy is vs Facebook? We have this struggle all the time in our organization and no one can figure it out! Any resources you can point us too would be great! Thx!

      • April 1, 2013 1:30 pm

        Well… the two sites are pretty much opposites. See my “Twitter” and “Facebook” post in the word cloud on this blog… and FYI that I give 90-minute training on Twitter and two 90-minute webinars on Facebook. Just too exhausting honestly to try and explain in a blog comment. Lots of resources on my blog. 🙂

  3. February 10, 2013 9:25 pm

    I was just explaining to a few people with nonprofits who are new to Twitter about the significance of not having a protected account. Great article.

  4. February 11, 2013 6:36 am

    Great information. I’m stopping our automatic feed from our Facebook updates ASAP!

  5. Carol Austin permalink
    February 11, 2013 7:27 am

    Reblogged this on Charity Assist and commented:
    There are probably more, but this is a good post about mistakes nonprofits make when they join twitter

  6. February 11, 2013 4:29 pm

    Great article about what to DO, masquerading as an article about what NOT to do. Kudos!

  7. February 11, 2013 8:49 pm

    You say there is a limit of following 2,000 Twitterers yet @nonprofitorgs follows approximately 141,000….

    • February 12, 2013 5:40 am

      It’s proportionate… no one knows the exact math for mass following, but if you have 1,000 followers for example and then follow 2,000, Twitter blocks you from following others until you get more followers. @NonprofitOrgs have a 4 to 1 proportion, so never a follow limit.

      • February 12, 2013 8:25 am

        It took me a while to find the answer to this too…

        When get to the point that you are following 2000 people you hit a threshold beyond which the Twitter system only ‘allows’ you to follow your own follower number plus 10%.

        e.g. If you have 1900 people following you, then you are allowed to follow up to 1900+10% or 2090 people.

        That way, the total number of people you are allowed to follow increases in proportion to the number that follow you.

        Some people use lists to overcome this following limit. By following an existing list of people on twitter, their Tweets appear in your timeline without affecting your following total.

      • February 12, 2013 9:04 am

        Very useful data. Thanks Tim.

  8. February 13, 2013 8:31 pm

    How about nonprofits that do a lot of tweeting, but don’t engage, respond, say thank you for retweets, or follow back? 😦

  9. March 5, 2013 6:14 am

    Great information. How about the overabundance of hash tags or hash tags that are simply too long? Lots of people give up space for more valuable content in order to use a hash tag that will never get used by anyone else. We try to keep ours short and fairly general.

    • March 13, 2013 2:16 pm

      Way too much #hashtag spamming out there. I agree, but that’s in other post. 🙂

  10. March 26, 2013 2:26 pm

    Great issues, help for new to twitter!

  11. April 14, 2013 11:00 pm

    Brilliant and so true!


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