Lovejoy, Kristen; Waters, Richard D.; & Saxton, Gregory D. (2012). Engaging stakeholders through Twitter:  How nonprofit organizations are getting more out of 140 characters or less. Public Relations Review, 38(2), 313-318.

While it may seem difficult to communicate in a meaningful manner with 140 characters or less, Twitter users have found creative ways to get the most out of each Tweet by using different communication tools. This article looks into how 73 nonprofit organizations use Twitter to engage stakeholders not only through their tweets, but also through other various communication methods. Specifically it looks into the organizations utilization of tweet frequency, following behavior, hyperlinks, hashtags, public messages, retweets, and multimedia files. After analyzing 4,655 tweets, the study found that the nation’s largest nonprofits are not using Twitter to maximize stakeholder involvement. Instead, they continue to use social media as a one-way communication channel as less than 20% of their total tweets demonstrate conversations and roughly 16% demonstrate indirect connections to specific users.


The sample was taken from the 2009 version of the “Nonprofit Times 100.” Of these 100 organizations, 73 had Twitter accounts. Tweets were collected for a month long period between November 8 and December 7, 2009. All organizational tweets published during this period were downloaded into an SQLite relational database via the Twitter application programming interface using Python code written specifically for this research (available upon request).

Key Findings

1)      After examining 4,655 tweets from the organizations on the Nonprofit Times 100, it was found that organizations rarely are engaging stakeholders on Twitter.

2)      Twitter is being used as a megaphone to announce organizational news as more than 60% of tweets were one-way messages.

3)      Less than 20% of the tweets were conversational in nature, 16% had retweeted other Twitter users, and 16% engaged in public messaging, establishing indirect connections.

Implications for Practice

This study continues a long stream of social media research that has found that organizations are not using social media in the manner that it was created. Rather than being social, organizations are broadcasting by focusing on information sharing. Information sharing certainly is not negative as it is better than a completely closed organization, but practitioners are not using the opportunity to build relationships and virtual communities around their brand. Practitioners need to strive for increased interactivity with their social media followers whether with fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Every message does not need a response, but there should be demonstrations that the organization reaches out to people on a regular basis. Otherwise, the efforts put into developing a social persona are wasted in this landscape.

Article Location

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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