Boom goes the Twitter 💥 Five lessons for nonprofits as a social media platform implodes.
You’re reading Future Community, a newsletter of ideas at the intersection of community, membership and storytelling. Today we will speak of Twitter (sorry/not sorry) and five things nonprofit communicators and community builders can learn about content strategy from the Musk mess.
Many of the nonprofit-oriented email lists and Slack groups I am on have had multiple threads titled (more or less): what are you doing about Twitter?
So far, the smart money isn’t betting against Twitter: “don’t leave…wait and see…maybe set up over on Mastodon or something…download your Twitter history…surely it will exist in some form so keep your group/personal account on there.”
Most nonprofits have put a lot of time and treasure into Twitter over the years. It’s become a way to reach supporters and the media. Here are a few follower numbers: ACLU = 1,900,000 followers / Sierra Club = 379,000 followers / Feeding America =464,000 followers / Nature Conservancy = 996,000 followers.
My suggestion is to develop a content strategy built upon platforms you control and stories about, by and for your community. Social media platforms are advertising and marketing businesses. As such, their interests may not align with yours and their model can change or go away altogether.
Perhaps you or your organization aren’t impacted by Twitter’s changes. Chances are you’re using Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram and other networks. All present the same existential challenges. We’re all at risk.
Here are five lessons for nonprofit communicators and community builders as we consider Twitter.
 Understand who was in your Twitter community, what the needed from you and how they engaged with each other.
The value add of Twitter (or any network) is the people out there in your community. You could reach people and get them talking. A “viral” tweet was that moment of people talking to other people on your behalf. I wouldn’t call that community building. But it shows the value of networks.
 Twitter was an entrance to community. What other “doors in” do you have?
Community has doors in, doors out, and places where the work happens. Twitter was a big “doors in” platform. You could find people interested in similar topics by sharing your knowledge, searching for hashtags and engaging through replies and retweets. Communities could engage on Twitter but for most it offered an entry point or a way to stay updated.
There are a few communities for whom Twitter was a central meeting and learning place. See this about people working in the California legislature or the value of Twitter to the public health community. That level of community engagement may be hard to replace. But it’s not the norm for many nonprofits.
 Craft online community to outlast platforms.
Building a community that outlasts a platform means meeting people where they are, providing tools and training that let people use your content on the platform, and acknowledging people and their efforts.
The role of content and platforms in a community is not dependent on what you put out there or how many people you reach. What other people say and do is what turns a list of people (or subscribers or members or followers) into a community. People look for social proof and social cues. One is more likely to talk about an issue if they hear/see friends talking about it.
 Communities and their content, stories and legacy need control of the space in or on which they operate.
Communities don’t thrive over time on rented land. You can open the door to people on a proprietary platform like Twitter (or TikTok, Facebook, Instagram or even Slack). You can use a platform to distribute information and help organize people.
But a platform can change owners, change terms and even close. This puts community connections at risk. It also means the loss of content, stories and community infrastructure like stories, documents, links and more.
What content and communications channels can you control? That probably includes your website (articles, reports, hosted videos and more) and email (including advocacy, fundraising, newsletters and other material). It may include videos on a YouTube page, though that hosting and its interfaces are not under your control. It could include webinars and in-person content – material delivered at events and meetings.
 Running social media without a content strategy is irresponsible.
At least it's a fixable problem. Support a cross-department team to develop, implement and iterate content strategy.
Almost every organization using Twitter and other social media platforms rely on them as a marketing channel. Organizations create content and they tweet about it. The goal is to let followers know and, hopefully, get followers to tell others about the content. This could be web posts, online reports, events, video, or just native social content - tweets or Facebook posts, for example.
The demise of Twitter, constant questioning of Facebook’s ethics and algorithms, and the potential political perils of TikTok are just a few examples of why organizations can’t equate a social media program with a content strategy. Creating content and posting to social media without an underlying content strategy is at best reckless and at worst financial malpractice.
“What should we do with our organization’s Twitter account?” is not the question to ask right now. Instead, ask who was getting value from your Twitter, what was that value and how was it delivered? The answers to those questions will give actionable insights to immediate next steps. More important, those answers help inform a content strategy that connects your storytelling, audience and the impact you and your community need to have on the world.
It’s possible that your content strategy will point towards investing in content you own on platforms your community accesses and can use to engage with your organization and others. This could mean rethinking email to make it more personal, deliverable and successful. It may mean investing in programs that look like organizing so that you have a better picture of your community, its needs, interests and skills. You may create more how-to articles and videos, webinars and volunteer training programs. Perhaps it’s something completely different. So long it isn’t investing in followers on a platform you don’t control simply because it is there.
Reading, Listening and Viewing
Duo Purpose by Emma Pomfret explores the ways in which storytelling in the Duolingo language learning app can shape narrative. A reminder of the many places in which people encounter foundational narratives.
🎧 Speaking of Duolingo, I’ve been listening to Radio Lingo. It’s a podcast partnership between Duolingo and Crooked Media. Host Ahmed Ali Akbar explores the way language and language differences impact our lives and culture.
👀 Check out The Learning Power of Listening: Practical guidance for using SenseMaker. This is a guide to a qualitative/quantitative listening tool called SenseMaker but also a good look into methods for navigating complexity and context in real world situations.
Truth: Tracy Van Slyke of Pop Culture Collaborative shares Want Narrative Power? Invest in Narrative Infrastructure. This is a framework for grantmaking built upon years of culture change and narrative experience.
📚 Maryanne Wolf, a professor at UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies talked to Ezra Klein about her research into how deep reading effects the brain. What’s interesting here is the acknowledgment that our culture and systems (and most certainly our tech) is weighted against losing oneself in a book, essay or other print piece requiring focus. This changes how we evaluate information and how we evaluate other people, their ideas and our own ability to converse about our beliefs. I’ve written elsewhere about how flooding the channels with info is a strategic act intended to create confusion and suppress opposition. We should consider how informational systems make that flood easy to create and hard to manage.
Jobs and Opportunties
Attorneys, Energy Analysts, Foundation Relations Officer and more at Environmental Law and Policy Center. Chicago and other Midwest locations.
Program Manager, Strategic Communications and Engagement at Sequoia Climate Foundation. Irvine, California / Hybrid.
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