Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.

Twitter's Most Useful New Features for Nonprofits

Twitter's Most Useful New Features for Nonprofits

Twitter had a very interesting 2015. The social media company changed CEOs and went back to its roots by installing co-creator Jack Dorsey in the top spot in the executive role. It also made some acquisitions, went through a round of layoffs, was instrumental in supporting social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #RefugeesWelcome, and rolled out some new features.

That's a lot of stuff, but in this article I'd like to focus on the new features Twitter rolled out, especially since many of them were designed to make the platform more user-friendly for new users, an area where platform has struggled. The good news is that a few of these features and enhancements are quite useful for nonprofits, public libraries, and other social good organizations. Let's take a look.


Perhaps the biggest and most potentially game-changing feature introduced this year was Moments, formerly known as Project Lightning. As its name suggests, Moments surfaces the most talked-about stories of the day. To access Moments, click the lightning bolt icon at the top of your Twitter timeline.


Nonprofit consultant Lauren Girardin compiled a board on Pinterest showing social good campaigns that have appeared in Twitter Moments. From her examples, you can clearly see the advantage for nonprofits of participating in various social campaigns and attaching relevant hashtags to your tweets.

For example, #NationalComingOutDay was featured on Moments, and tweets from the nonprofit Trevor Project were highlighted. In her Pinterest comments, Girardin notes that nonprofits should develop an editorial calendar that includes national campaigns such as National Coming Out Day.



Polls are another exciting addition to Twitter. When you're in the Twitter mobile app, the poll option is accessed via the pie chart icon directly below where you write your tweets. Don't expect to create a Pew-quality survey here; you're limited to four options and your question can be no more than 116 characters. In addition, your poll will only stay live for 24 hours. I created the simple poll below for @TechSoupforLibraries:


While a simple little poll like this is in no way scientific, they are a fun way to engage your community. But the limitations of Twitter's poll feature can be frustrating. For example, I wanted to add options for "All of the Above" and "None of the Above," but the option limit prevented me from doing so — and my followers noticed.

Nicole Fox, social marketing coordinator at an animal welfare organization, says she doesn't like the fact that you can't attach media to a poll.  It's a shame, really, especially as Twitter has expanded its multimedia capabilities...

Native Video and Full-Sized Images

...with better support for videos and images! This year, Twitter gave users the ability to shoot, edit, and post video directly through the app. Previously, the only way to upload video directly to Twitter was using Vine, Twitter's six-second video app.

You can also now upload video from the desktop client, so you don't always need to be on mobile to share your content. You're capped at thirty seconds for video, however, which is a downside for Edward Herbert, digital advocate at Human Rights Watch. "I think they will probably increase the length [of videos] in [the] future and then we will consider using it more seriously."


Twitter also revamped its image-sharing feature so that it now allows full-sized images in timelines, as opposed to forcing you to crop the image as was the case previously. According to the social media dashboard Buffer, tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets.

These small changes all are meant to support the platform's shift toward becoming more visual and less text-based (like a lot of other competing social networks out there).

Bonus: Periscope for Livestreaming

Twitter also acquired Periscope, the livestreaming app that's become popular with celebrities, news outlets, and, yes, even nonprofits. Ale Bezdekian wrote about Periscope earlier this year for TechSoup and explained how nonprofits might use it to enhance their digital storytelling efforts. Our colleagues at Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup, also used Periscope to livestream their Social Good Apps Breakfast. While not a feature of Twitter exactly, Periscope falls under Twitter's umbrella of useful tools for nonprofits.

Will It Be Enough?

According to Business Insider, Twitter's monthly active user base passed the three-hundred-million mark in the third quarter of 2015, which means the platform added only three million users in the quarter. That was an 8 percent year-over-year (YoY) increase, down from the 12 percent YoY increase in the previous quarter. According to CEO Dorsey, Twitter plans to "focus on product execution, simplification, and communicating value, as well as a concerted traditional and digital marketing effort to add new users." But will it be enough?

I use Twitter to promote TechSoup for Libraries, and I still find it to be useful for connecting with libraries and their supporters. However, I think the best thing Twitter has going for it is the hashtag. It's so easy to start a virtual conversation at a conference or during a webinar when you can tack on a hashtag. Facebook and Instagram both support hashtags, but the experience and ease of use is nothing like Twitter's.

I've heard from some nonprofits that Twitter also has a celebrity advantage. Many celebrities have far more followers on Twitter than they do on Facebook, and celebrity endorsements, retweets, or even "likes" can do wonders for a nonprofit's exposure.

Herbert from Human Rights Watch said that Twitter is also good for connecting with journalists. All HRW staff are encouraged to have personal Twitter accounts, and the platform helps put a human face on the organization, making it easy for journalists to connect with the right staff members.

Twitter is in an interesting place at the moment. Its audience is evolving, and the platform must change with it. It seems most of us are no longer content with being limited to 140-character text messages. I, for one, look forward to seeing what Dorsey and his team have planned for 2016.