Getting to grips with…Twitter

Hannah Kowszun was NCVO’s Marketing & Membership Manager until July 2014. Her blog posts have been archived here.

It has been over eight years since Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter sent his first tweet.  Now there are several hundred million users of the site and on average around 6,000 tweets are sent every second.

With statistics like these it’s easy to forget that not everyone uses Twitter.  And of those who do, there is the nagging feeling that you’re not quite doing it right.

The good news is that there are many different ways of engaging with Twitter. The bad news is that it is possible to get it wrong! If you want to understand a little more about what Twitter is and what it could do for you then read on.


Here’s a nice lexicon of the most common words and phrases that describe the things that happen on Twitter. As Twitter evolves, as its users find new applications for the technology and its developers fiddle with the functionality, these will change and evolve as well.

If you don’t know what something means, then don’t be afraid to ask. But don’t be surprised if someone is rude to you. I heard recently that using social media reduces inhibitions equivalent to having drunk two pints of lager (ed. can’t find a reference). Knowing this may be enough to explain Twitter alone.

Different types of user

Various studies and articles have explored this. You could save time by taking a quiz. As many as 60% of user accounts on Twitter aren’t active. An easy way to identify this kind of user is their ovate profile picture and vague-sounding tweet from 2010. If you have lost your user name and password then this is you (yes, Mum I’m talking about you here).

Just because you have a Twitter profile doesn’t mean you have to tweet. Many people choose instead to Lurk. For them Twitter is a news source, it’s where they read the breaking news or discover those cute videos of cats playing jenga. The quality of their Twitter experience is determined by the people or organisations they choose to follow. Want the latest charity news? Follow @ThirdSector. Want to know what developments there are in digital fundraising? Follow @HowardLake. Want the best comment and analysis on the voluntary sector? Follow @NCVO!

You can tweet, of course. But unless you already have a high profile offline, it is unlikely too many people will flock to follow you. And if you’re nervous about being in the public sphere, you can have a private account. If you tweet the daily banalities of life and love then you’re a Chirper: “They have a vague idea that they might need or should use Twitter, but no clue why” (Forbes). This is an entirely valid user type: if you chirp, then chirp proudly.

If, however, you have the commitment, drive, focus and ability to make 140 characters work very very hard then you can become an e-lebrity. It helps if you’re funny or provocative and also if you don’t get too distracted by other things you could be tweeting, which compromise your online persona. There are people in the voluntary sector that have raised their profile online, such that they are now influencers in their own right. People like @zoeamar and @charitychap, who will also introduce you to other interesting people through their referencing and retweeting.

Take it offline

The rise of social media has shown that no matter how interactive digital networking can be, many people still prefer also to meet face to face. Twitter users that share a particular interest or location will sometimes take their conversation offline with a meet up, or ‘tweetup’. See what they did there?

My favourite is the @nfptweetup, which is great for sharing how charities are using social media. If you’re feeling brave, you can try organising your own tweetup but be aware that, like any event, without adequate promotion you could find yourself tweeting up alone.

The best way to get to grips with Twitter is to give it a go: set up a user account, follow a few celebrities, try a #hashtag or two, relax and enjoy. You’ll be surprised how much can be said in only 140 characters.

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