Twitter is a real-time example of the “six degrees of separation” theory positing that connections can be drawn between everyone on earth with relatively few steps. Employed strategically, this online social media tool can link you to new networks of people who are interested in preservation, planning, and design. It is free to sign up and the time requirement is low compared with other methods of marketing. The return on this investment can be a positive one: The 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report found that the primary benefit of social media campaigns is an increase in exposure and outreach opportunities. Respondents in a related survey found that using these online outlets produced new business partnerships—prospects which many nonprofit organizations need in order to survive these lean times.
Sparking conversations is the key to developing these relationships through social media. At the start of the Modernism + Recent Past Program a year ago, I determined that Twitter and Facebook provided the best opportunities for generating new discussions about preserving buildings and landscapes.
The first challenge was finding an online “address.” The beauty of social media lies in its brevity, and that begins with the naming of your site. Thus, TrustModern was born. I began posting under that name in September 2009 and have since welcomed more than 800 people and organizations as our “followers” on Twitter, about 75 percent from the U.S. and the rest from countries across the globe.
We have had surprising success with our inaugural effort. In January, editors of the popular urban planning website Planetizen named TrustModern one of 11 top nonprofit urban planning Twitter feeds.
Twitter also served as a key component of our JetModern program. Seth Tinkham, an independent preservation planner, traveled to 11 states to view Mid-Century Modern sites, using a 30-day All You Can Jet Pass offered by JetBlue. In a combined effort, our teams in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco tweeted about his progress across the country, and encouraged people at a number of sites to “tweet-up,” the name for in-person meetings of followers. The posts generated by people traveling on and tweeting about the jet pass program quickly caught the attention of JetBlue, which responded brilliantly by re-tweeting certain messages to its million-plus followers. For a brief time, TrustModern/JetModern was visible to this enormous audience for the relatively small cost of a travel subsidy for Tinkham.
Joel Comm, author of Twitter Power, warns to avoid straight “broadcast” tweets by encouraging discussions among followers, which then turn into “viral ads” for your posts. We have developed a similar strategy that is broken into three parts. I try to post between three to six messages (or tweets) each day, with one-third devoted to news stories appropriate to our efforts (including a shortened url or link), one-third to personalized messages, and one-third to “re-tweets” or postings of other’s messages. In the last two categories of posts, I integrate discussion points and encourage debate amongst our followers.
As with all open networking sites, Twitter users must double-check and edit out (block) “followers” that are not appropriate to the intent of the site. Twitter itself keeps a tight lid on spammers, but occasionally sites are co-opted with intruder messages. These cases are rare, however.
One of the many benefits of our new interconnected world is the realization that our primary preservation concerns are shared by communities across the globe. Twitter helps you find these like-minded folks and share your stories. We welcome you to join us in this new network of possibilities.
- Twitter-Specific Abbreviations to Know:
- @ = The user “address,” such as @TrustModern or @PreservationNation.
- # = A hashtag is used for reference. For instance, a collection of people at a conference or event will include the same hashtag in their postings so that users can find and contact each other, such as #NTHP2010 for our upcoming conference.
- # FF = Follow Friday. Twitter end-of-work-week tradition, when people post a list of other people they think you should follow, and we all make more friends.
- Third-Party Twitter Sites: The two third-party sites I use the most are hootsuite.com (which offers tools to manage multiple accounts, track statistics, and even automate your tweets to post when you are otherwise occupied) and search.twitter.com (to look for specific topics on Twitter). Mashable.com is the go-to social media guide online, with “Guide Books” for Twitter and Facebook targeted to both the novice and more seasoned user, including “Best Practices for Brands” and “Tips for Building Your Twitter Community.”
- URL Shortening: With only 145 characters available for each message, a long url or link will leave you precious little space for additional comments. Hootsuite.com and tinyurl.com are two sites that offer a free url shortening service. Copy and paste the long url into one box and a shortened version will appear in another box that you can cut and paste into your tweet.