Automatically posting tweets to the blog seemed like an interesting experiment a week ago — I use Twitter more frequently than other tools, and I tend to engage in a broader selection of topics. But in actuality, it just seems silly.

Sorry Loudtwitter, I’m shipping out.


I’m traveling to Atlanta next week for what sounds like a brilliant set of meetings: twenty people from a half-dozen divisions of the company coming together to discuss all things “e” — eRevenue, eCommunication, eMarketing, eWhateverElse we add to the agenda between now and Tuesday. This is exciting on a variety of levels, but the topic I’m most anticipating is being able to talk about Twitter as a communication tool with a great deal of potential for us.

Let me put this out there first: I think Twitter is the vanguard of what eCommunication will look like on a broad spectrum three to four years from now. Nonprofit mavens have seen email and electronic newsletters slim down to one-third the content volume in order to be successful, and action-focused web content now has to fit well-within a 250 word maximum. Audiences — people in general — have shorter attention spans and are less interested in BS; common response from an engaged constituent is now, “just tell me what you need, please.”

Twitter and other SMS text-messaging tools introduce (and force) the use of a very small window in order to get a message across; what can you say in 140 characters that’s relevant and interesting? That’s humorous or poignant? That’s fresh and creative and exciting? Pack relevance, freshness, creativity, excitement, interest, and an emotional punch into 140 characters, and you’re golden. 140 characters is a soundbyte — an easy to remember cadence that sticks with busy people, for whom attention and time are in short supply. An organization’s best volunteers, supporters, staff, and donors are ALL busy people. And the people we want to become our best volunteers, supporters, staff and donors? They’re busy, too.

Second, we’re on the third generation iPhone, with new copies and variations released daily by Apple’s major competitors and knock-offs are popping up regularly; smartphones (like the blackberry I rely on as a second brain) are serving as substitutes for laptops in many instances. Plugged in people are relying on handheld communication devices for everything. “Text me” is the fastest, easiest way for an individual to ask for and receive the information they want. But from an organizational standpoint, broadcast texting is complicated, difficult, and prohibitively expensive (at least for nonprofits). Twitter is a great response to the need for broadcast texting, and it also brings permission-based marketing to a whole new level.

With permission-based marketing, organizations are still building lists, segmenting lists, and communicating with lists. (I say still, but should point out that the 800-pound gorilla organizations are just beginning to get good at permission-based work.) We’re figuring out what our audiences have in common and sending them a mix of the information we think they want and the information we want them to have. Sometimes (sometimes too often), there’s an ask or two or ten filtered into those messages. And with every message we send to a group of people who’ve asked for our communication, there are those who find that we send too much info, or not the right things that they want, and drop off of the list. With Twitter, the focus is on subscription — we talk, type, text into the void and the people who want to pay attention to us, do so. If constituents subscribe to us, the tweets we twitter get sent to their cell phones or filtered to an application designed for easy reading — whatever the individual chooses. We talk, we invite dialogue, we link to ideas or programs or plans or systems, and our constituents can listen, respond, engage, etc as they choose.

The onus on us remains the same: be fresh, be relevant, be interesting, be creative, offer something of value — all of which we should damn well already be paying attention to and delivering (and if we’re not, how much are we fooling ourselves and how engaged is our audience, anyway?). But in using a text medium to make our point, how much easier do we make it for our engaged, committed, supportive, excited supporters, volunteers, staff and donors to keep up with everything that we do? And if we make it easy to stay engaged, doesn’t that mean we can all be more effective at actually doing the work our organizations need to be focused on? If everyone becomes more focused on the work and the outcomes, if everyone becomes more effective, what does that do to our potential for success?

That’s the bottom line. I think Twitter is the wave of the future because it can make us more effective, and therefore make our work more valuable, and our ensure that our efforts produce results on a grander scale. Innovation for the sake of innovation is a waste of time and resources and human potential, but innovation that genuinely impacts our work for the better is a powerful investment in our future success.

Next up: how to separate the useful, signal-oriented birdsong from the cacophony of the Twitter-forest.