Storytelling on Twitter - Public Narrative

Editor’s note: Public Narrative is pleased to have joined forces with Sprout Social to help you understand ways in which you can effectively tell your stories better on the platforms. Alicia Johnston offers some great tips in this series post about using Twitter. 

While many organizations approach Twitter as a broadcasting platform—a place to send promotional messages for campaigns, events and media mentions—a huge opportunity lies in its potential for driving meaningful two-way engagement with people and communities. Two of the most important things your organization can do to succeed on Twitter are knowing your audience and learning how to share the stories they care about. As you develop your social media strategy for Twitter, use these tips to get you started.

Get to Know Your Audience

Let’s start with your audience: the people who love your cause. You already have supporters offline: volunteers, board members, clients, donors and community members. One of the foundation steps of creating a great social media strategy is finding out where those supporters are congregating online, and in this case, which of these supporters are active on Twitter.

To inform your strategy, take a look at social media demographics and the makeup of your organization’s current audience. For example, Twitter’s user base includes 37% of Americans aged 18–29, while only 10% of adults aged 65 and up are on the platform—take a look at the charts below to see how Twitter’s user base breaks down.Twitter Demographics

You can also use Twitter Analytics to analyze your own audience’s makeup. Explore this free resource from Twitter to find out information like location, gender and interests of your followers in the Audiences section, and view the performance of your own Tweets—impressions, clicks, Retweets and more under Tweets.

If you want to get information on your audience demographics and content performance across social networks, consider using a social media management tool to view everything in a centralized dashboard. Full disclosure: I work at Sprout Social (a software that can help you do just that!).

Once you get to know your Twitter audience, you will have a better sense of which stories might interest them.

Content Strategy: Finding & Sharing Great Stories

As you develop your social media content strategy, consider content themes you want to follow, and make sure that your content isn’t purely promotional. Think about the information that would be interesting and useful to your supporters; for example, if you’re part of an animal rescue organization, your audience likely includes plenty of animal lovers. Your Twitter posts could include tips on pet care, shoutouts to pet-friendly local businesses, ideas for activities with pets and children, and so on—along with your organization’s stories of recent rescues, stellar volunteers and upcoming events.

3 Ways to Find Stories to Share

Limited time and resources are one of the biggest challenges for social media content creators. So why reinvent the wheel? If people are already sharing stories about your organization and related topics, use your organization’s handle to amplify their messages. Here are three ways you can find and share content from your supporters:

  • Find mentions of your organization, events and campaigns that don’t @mention your handle. You can use Twitter’s advanced search feature to do this natively, or you can use a social media management tool like Sprout Social to create and monitor brand keywords (as mentioned last time, I work at Sprout).
  • Research hashtags related to your organization and cause to find user-generated content you can share with your followers.
  • Retweet posts that @mention your organization or the work you do, or write your own Tweets linking to stories you find with a “h/t” (“hat tip” or “huge thanks”) to the original poster.

Example: A journalist who wrote about Safe Humane Chicago shared the article and a photo, and they retweeted it to share with their audience.

As you find mentions of your organization on Twitter, make sure to engage even if you don’t plan to share—send a reply thanking someone for attending your event, checking out your website or sharing your content. A little engagement goes a long way to raising awareness and keeping your organization top of mind.

How to Tell Engaging Stories

While sharing stories on your website through blog posts and news articles is a great way to paint an in-depth picture of your organization’s efforts, Twitter is considered a microblogging network. Telling stories within a Tweet’s 140 characters is a different kind of art. As you seek to engage with your social community, take advantage of Twitter features proven to boost engagement. According to Twitter’s own research:

  • Tweets with photos average a 35% increase in Retweets.
  • Tweets with embedded videos average a 28% boost.
  • Tweets that include hashtags receive a 16% boost.
  • Tweets with quotes see a 19% increase in Retweets.

Go beyond using text and links to tell your stories and experiment with visuals like embedded photos, short videos on Vine and quote graphics. To edit photos and create simple graphics, you can use a free web-based service like Canva, which provides templates for sizing images for each social media network (check out Canva for Nonprofits here).

Example: The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum shared a Vine featuring one of their turtles on “lookout duty”—a fun short video that tells their audience what they could see at the museum.

As you give these tactics a shot, make sure to analyze your performance and see which Tweets succeed with your audience. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback: You can now create Tweets with polls, which you could use to ask followers what they want to read more of, and you can always reach out to individual supporters to learn which stories they care about most.

If you’re ramping up your efforts, I’d love to hear what’s working and what challenges you’re facing—send me a Tweet @aliciabjohnston and let’s talk!

Alicia Johnston is a Marketing Associate at Sprout Social. She’s an AmeriCorps alumna and former nonprofit communications manager who loves to talk all things social media, community-building and storytelling. For a more in-depth look at how to create a successful social media strategy, check out Sprout Social’s free social media for nonprofits guide featuring expert tips from Beth Kanter, charity: water and more.