By Ziana Qaiser, Womens Feature Service
Tweet the Word. Change the World. This was the tagline of an awareness raising campaign launched earlier this year by Anglophone Goddess (AG) Traveler, a website that aims to empower women to travel the world.
The campaign drew attention to a cause they passionately support: Educating the women of tomorrow. They used Twitter – an online social networking and microblogging platform that allows users to ‘tweet’ no more than 140 characters at a time – to share information. Starting with a handful of tweets, AG Traveler saw their campaign’s message to educate young girls spread across the twitterverse, resulting in over 130 new followers in just a month as well as the opportunity to make invaluable new connections.
Launched in 2006, Twitter has quickly gained popularity as a social networking tool, particularly in the past year. Millions are embracing Twitter as a source for personal or professional news updates, including public figures like Queen Rania of Jordan, who often tweets about social change for women and children. An increasing number of non-profit women’s organisations are also part of this trend, using Twitter to successfully draw attention to their causes and to connect with like-minded women.
“Twitter is a great tool for non-profit organisations looking to join conversations, and start them, without creating a walled garden or expecting people to join one more network or social media platform,” says Amy Sample Ward, a specialist on non-profit technology. “There are many, many conversations already taking place on Twitter about social issues, causes, service delivery and local activism – what better place for organisations to be sharing resources, information, research, knowledge and even just connecting with individuals in a meaningful way?”
For a relatively young group like AG Traveler, joining Twitter has clearly been advantageous; their website hits have almost doubled since they began tweeting. “Twitter has certainly helped us reach a larger number of people in a shorter amount of time and it’s an easy way for us to headline what’s on our website,” says AG Traveler’s Debbie Lynn. “As a site centred on sharing information, we were already using Facebook, Flickr and blogging to create conversations with women from around the world. But we felt that Twitter would give us the ability to increase a community atmosphere and allow our readers to engage us on a daily basis.”
Arden Joy, who also writes for AG Traveler points out how vital Twitter is in making new connections. “Through Twitter, we’ve connected with travellers from around the world, some of whom have become staff writers for AGTraveler, others who have contributed to the site, promoted us or even just become some of our biggest fans,” she says.
Washington DC-based Women for Women International, a non-profit that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives, started tweeting earlier this year after noticing that many of their Facebook contacts were using Twitter. “We chose to start using Twitter since it seemed a great way to reach out to an audience in a quick and efficient manner,” says Shannon Madlin, Women for Women’s Online Marketing Manager.
Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi is an avid tweeter, giving followers a personal insight into the work they do. “I think her twittering has been very beneficial since it’s the first time we have been able to give a “bird’s eye view” of what goes into an organisation like ours,” says Madlin. “By using her on the ground accounts on what she is seeing, you really are getting a good idea of the situations we are dealing with and how it impacts day to day relations,” she adds.
It is this ability to sync into specific news updates that makes Twitter a more attractive and accessible option compared to other popular social media sites. “One great advantage to Twitter is the ease of dropping in and out of conversations,” explains Ward. “Unlike when you join a group on Facebook, or a specific community on Ning, on Twitter you can choose when you listen, when you respond, and who you follow.”
The AG Traveler team finds that Twitter’s 140-character style keeps things simple and allows them to update more frequently. “On any given day our tweets can range in topics from website updates to international philanthropies to travel ideas to trivia questions,” says Lynn. “Nobody wants you cluttering their Facebook news-feed with constant posts about that stuff but with Twitter, you don’t have to worry. Plus, our readers can receive our tweets via text so they don’t even have to log in to get our updates.”
Joy stresses that unlike other social networking sites, Twitter allows them to create a personal connection with their followers. “To start with, it allows your followers to get to know you, the organisation,” she says. “Because you’re tweeting all day, followers look to you to get a constant stream of information that’s important to them but they also get the behind the scenes. Another thing that sets Twitter apart is that it isn’t just about posting information to the masses, it’s about dialoguing with your following. Facebook or blogs invite people to comment and create a public discussion but Twitter becomes more like a one on one conversation with each follower.”
In AG Traveler’s case, Twitter seems to be drawing in a younger crowd of mostly 20- and 30-year-olds. “Although a large number of our followers are younger women, we certainly have many followers of all ages and both sexes,” adds Joy. Women for Women International are currently nearing a thousand followers. Most of these happen to be 24/25-year-old women activists, although as an organisation they don’t target any specific age group.
As with all websites and Internet-based applications, there is always a certain level of risk involved when posting information online. Hackers and spam messages make social networking sites more vulnerable but that has not deterred non-profits from reaping the advantages of Twitter. Advises Ward, “A good start in avoiding unwanted spam messages is to not use auto-following programmes. Just as you use Google Alerts to find mentions of your organisation, staff, or programs/sector in blogs and news online, you should use tools that search across the Twitter-sphere for you, highlighting opportunities for you to share resources or information, or correct false information.”
Ward also stresses the importance of transparency, which she considers to be the golden rule of Twitter: Be a “real” person when you post. With the rising number of individuals and organisations joining Twitter, more social activism, awareness and fundraising campaigns will undoubtedly be sprouting from tweets. Women for Women International plans on using Twitter much more as they launch specific campaigns and reach out to their volunteer and grassroots audience; while at AG Traveler, the women promise to” always seek new ways to use social media tools like Twitter to benefit not only our readers but women around the world.