Thursday, June 18, 2009

Twitter for Managers of Volunteers

I am not one for fridge magnets. There are only two that made it to our fridge. One was given to me by a friend when my two children were in their teens and as most teens, experiencing their set of adolescent struggles. Not only did I think the message on the magnet was a simple yet meaningful one for my children, I liked it for its everyday benefit for anyone. “If you want different results, try something new.”

Twitter is something new.

As with most things that are new to us, there is risk, a learning curve, a possible sense of inability and most importantly, the possibility to generate different, and better, results.

Not only is Twitter relatively new, its potential uses are growing regularly. More interestingly is that most of these new uses are generated by users rather than by the Twitter company itself. Even some of the syntax commonly used on Twitter was created by Twitter users. The Twitter website describes Twitter as follows: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” It has evolved well beyond that and some Twitter users would prefer that the “What are you doing” question get dropped from the site.

While many users communicate the personal side of their lives through Twitter, this article focuses on organizational uses. If you are totally new to Twitter though, the following video is a great description of how it can be used as a digital connection to friends and family:

Who cares what I am doing throughout the day? This was my first reaction to Twitter. Well, aside from how the average person might use it to keep in touch with friends and family, the companies and organization they deal with turn out to be very interested. There are tools that make it very easy to see if your organization name has been included in someone’s comment or tweet. At you can do it manually and www, is one of a variety of ways you can automate this. You don't need to sit at your computer all day looking for comments.

Tablet Hotels uses its Twitter account to keep an eye on what customers are tweeting about them. Michael Davis, co-founder of the chain, said one guest was upset with how she was being treated at the front desk and tweeted her frustration on her mobile phone right then and there. Someone from the hotel customer service department was alerted and read the complaint within 30 seconds of her posting it, then telephoned the front desk and the issue was resolved. If you think this might just be an isolated incident, Google +twitter +customer +complaint. When I did it this morning, Google found about 1.2 million results!

When C.C. Chapman noticed a blemish in his high-definition television's reception during the NBA playoffs recently, he blasted a quick and negative tweet about
Comcast. Within minutes, a Twitter user named ComcastCares responded, and within 24 hours, a technician was at Chapman's house in Milford to fix the problem. "I was so floored," said Chapman, who runs a digital marketing agency and advises companies to do what he experienced with Comcast - listen to what customers are saying about them online and respond. "When it actually happened to me, it blew me away," he said.

If you think that this sort of thing only applies to companies, consider the following tweet that was posted yesterday that I found through “So I give up some of my evening to volunteer at _______ and the group never turned up, what a waste of my time! Grrr”.

A significant upside to social networking resources such as Twitter is the concept of “she told two friends and they told two friends” etc. This can work against you as well, though, but because the complaint happens in the open, you have access to it. If you make the effort to pay attention to it, you can deal with it.

The organizational use of Twitter is not only for handling complaints. Tourism and Visitors’ associations have begun to use Twitter to inform people about local events, exhibits, closures and so on. If you are traveling to a another city, you can follow the Twitter account for the visitors’ association up until your trip is over and get current information about what is going on while you are there.

War Child uses Twitter to tell personal stories of people in war torn parts of the world. A nonprofit organization aimed at providing clean water to developing nations started Twestivals which organize fundraising efforts and brings people together to make a global impact. These are just a few examples of how nonprofits are branching out of mailing lists, newspaper ads and newsletters.

Does your organization get thank you cards from the people it serves? How about taking a small quote from the thank you note and passing it on the volunteers and other people that are interested in your organization? In many cases, this is a project that the volunteer program and the fund development program can work on together.

How do we use Twitter at Volunteer2?

We follow a variety of people to learn more about volunteerism, management practices and technology. I personally have picked up on three different stories of significant relevance to me this week alone. Every weekday I post a tip or new item for leaders of volunteers. Some days it is of my own authoring and many days I pass on something that someone else has posted (a re-tweet in the Twitter syntax). You can sign up to follow me (to receive these daily tips) through

So how do you get started?
Click the link above to follow me or go to For those of you who are brand new to Twitter, go the New York Time Gadgetwise article Twitter for Beginners by Paul Boutin. Once you become used to Twitter a bit go to Paul’s article All You Need to Know to Twitter. This article is a little old by Twitter standards though (May 6, 2009). It is missing any mention that Tweetdeck (free software that I use in conjunction with Twitter) is now available for the iPhone. How did I learn about that? Someone I follow on Twitter tweeted it three days ago within hours of its release and I had it on my phone minutes later.

For the growing number of people using Twitter, nothing gets the word out faster.