Twitter for Funders: An Effective Tool For Dialogue and Engagement

Social innovators Tracey Webb and Valaida Fullwood bring together grassroots advocates and philanthropists for public dialogue in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month 2013.

At the end of July, a Google search of “Black Philanthropy Month” yielded 2,190 results; now it’s 128,000 results—a ten thousand percent increase in less than a month. Exponentially more people in the US and across the globe have come to know about this annual August celebration, largely because of the digital media strategies and online social networks engaged this summer.

The African Women’s Development Fund USA (AWDF USA) initiated the month-long focus on Black giving in August 2011. That same year, the United Nations and U.S. Congress issued proclamations, formalizing Black Philanthropy Month. In scale-up efforts this summer, BlackGivesBack.com, Giving Back Project, Community Investment Network and AWDF USA collaborated to launch the BPM 2013 campaign, Of Dreams and Mountaintops, which aims to inform, inspire and invest in Black philanthropic leadership—online and offline as well as locally and globally.

By design, BPM 2013 includes a variety of ways people can connect and exchange ideas and stories online. The collaborators’ websites and blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube pages, and Twitter accounts are among the digital platforms that we are using. Our topical chats on Twitter each week have proved particularly successful and are an increasingly significant part of the BPM 2013 campaign.

If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, here's a crash course. (If you’re a pro, skip this paragraph.) It’s an online social media tool where users send short messages, known as “tweets,” of up to 140 characters. Users may subscribe to other users' tweets (known as following) and subscribers are known as followers. Users may also group tweets together, for an event or discussions, with a hashtag—a word, acronym or phrase with the “#” symbol as a prefix that’s included with a tweet. Our campaign’s hashtag is #BPM2013. Hashtags are used in Twitter chats or "tweet-ups," which are group discussions on Twitter held at a specific day and time. When one hashtag proves popular and is referenced at a greater rate than other tags, it is known as a "trending topic."

During August, our campaign included tweet-ups every Tuesday at 2:00 pm EDT to foster public dialogue about topics of interest to Black communities, and we have experienced wonderful success.  Here are 8 best practices culled from our tweet-up experiences for you to integrate into your own:

8.  Team up. Collaborate with others who are involved in the field of work or issue you’re planning to discuss. Your partner(s) can co-host and promote the chat and bring their Twitter followers to the online conversation.  This could be with a foundation, nonprofit organization and social media influencers such as bloggers. Note, selecting co-hosts who are already active on Twitter is a plus.

7.  Aim for multi-time zone participation. Host the chat during a weekday, preferably during the afternoon to accommodate participants on the West Coast or during the morning to engage the European voice. Most chats are set to run for one hour.

6.  Build a framework. Develop discussion questions and a script well in advance of the tweet-up. Share the framework with your partners and assign roles and pieces of the script. Most of our #BPM2013 tweet-up topics and questions were created a month in advance. And we generally select 4 to 5 discussion prompts—shifting questions every 10 to 15 minutes—to keep the online chat interesting and flowing. Most Twitter users thrive from fast-paced interactions.

5.  Decide on your hashtag. Keep the hashtag short (10 or fewer characters) and relevant to the topic you'll be discussing. Before you finalize your hashtag, conduct a search on Twitter to make sure it isn't actively in use.

4.  Promote the chat widely. Send personal invitations to thought leaders and participants with the day, time, hashtag and questions that will be posed.  This will give participants a chance to think about how they will respond to the questions. We began promoting the BMA tweet-up one week prior.

3.  Facilitate the experience with tools. Use a specialized Twitter tool to track chat activity before, during and after the chat using a site such as Twubs.com or Tweetchat.com.  This will help to build momentum leading up to the chat, protect your hashtag and find out who participated.

2.  Summarize and archive your chat. We used Storify.com to compile a summary of the chat that was then shared widely.

1.  Socialize to strengthen your social media connections: Start building your social media network and know-how today, well before you actually expect it to yield results. Remember, the principles of making and keeping friends and the courtesies of friendship apply to Twitter and other social media. Talk with friends, share their content, and pat them on the back with #FF shoutouts.

We’d like to close by sharing an example of how these tips helped us to reach success this month.

For the discussion on Black Men and Boys, BMAfunders.org joined as a partner. Tonya Allen, CEO of The Skillman Foundation, and Shawn Dove, Manager of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement of the Open Society Foundations, became co-hosts because they are thought leaders in the field, are active on Twitter and have engaged Twitter followers. The partners collectively prepared and distributed a script to the co-hosts one week prior to the tweet-up that included a timeline of tweets to be posted starting one hour before the chat along with the questions each would be posing.

What occurred on the day of the BMA chat surprised us all. As two o’clock approached, Twitter became aflutter and chatter about the tweet-up quickened, furiously. The chat kicked off on schedule and conversation among +150 people ensued, at dizzying pace.  Locally focused advocates and mentors shared discussion space and airtime with leaders of nationally and globally focused philanthropic institutions. Rare and remarkable, the egalitarian feel of the tweet-up fed the conversation and provided an opportunity for everyone to weigh in with their insights and ideas.

The hashtag #BPM2013 became a top trending topic in Washington, DC and on TheRoot.com's Chatterati, which tracks Twitter hashtag use among African Americans. We rate our tweet-ups a tremendous success, which has fed the campaign’s momentum and stirred interest among others to join us for future ones.

Learn more about the stories, events and giving of the BPM2013 campaign here

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