11 Things the @NYTimes Staff Can Teach Nonprofits about Using Twitter

11 Things Nonprofits Can Learn About Using Twitter from the @NYTimes

Julia Claire Campbell Nonprofits, Social Media, Twitter 44 Comments

11 Things the @NYTimes Staff Can Teach Nonprofits about Using Twitter

With over 10.6 million (yes, million) Twitter followers, The New York Times is one of the most respected and reputable Twitter accounts out there.

So what have they learned from a year of tweets? Michael Roston, the Social Media Staff Editor at the Times, wrote a great article for Neiman Journalism Lab about the top lessons his team learned from tweeting throughout 2013.

Granted, The New York Times has a full social media desk with a team devoted to reader engagement and news journalism. It also has an international reputation.

That being said, there is much that smaller nonprofits can learn from the news organization about using Twitter effectively.

Here are 11 things the @NYTimes staff can teach nonprofits about using Twitter:

1)     Have a goal. The New York Times has the overall goal of using Twitter to drive traffic to the website and to get new readers exposed to their journalism. With an explicit goal like this one, it is easy to measure success in their social media efforts.

2)     Use social media management tools. @NYTimes uses a social media monitoring tool SocialFlow to manage tweets, scheduled tweets, mentions and more. While this tool may not work for a small nonprofit, there are many affordable and free options out there, including Buffer and HootSuite.

3)     Always be breaking. Twitter is an up-to-the-second social network. While news stories from a few days ago may still have relevance on Facebook, on Twitter, news that broke yesterday, or even a few hours ago, may already be stale. Of course this is only true for breaking news, not other content that has a longer shelf life.

4)     Have systems and protocols in place. With the mantra of always being timely, a nonprofit needs clear protocols and systems to ensure accuracy of tweets.

5)     Be timely but be cautious. Have a ladder of control and accountability. At the @NYTimes Twitter account, staff members only tweet information that has been approved by editors and verified by reliable sources. There is a ladder of responsibility and a system of checks and balances to make sure that what they are tweeting is correct.

6)     Use Twitter to establish authority. Especially during the Boston Marathon bombing, @NYTimes became the go-to news source, because readers knew that this reliable authority would not tweet or report information that was not vetted (maybe Reddit should take a page from this book) and because The New York Times has many connections.

7)     Don’t just update the news in a dry way. Try adding humor or perspective to the tweet – add to the story.

8)     Interact with Twitter users. The @NYTimes often hosts moderated Q&A sessions on Twitter, also called tweetchats, where staff writers and editors answer reader questions in real time. Tweetchats can be a fantastic way of highlighting a cause or an issue as well as putting a human face on your nonprofit.

9)     Man/woman the post. While some automation is allowed, make sure to actively staff the account! Sending automated, scheduled tweets without having anyone to respond will not increase your followers, authority or relevance on Twitter – savvy Twitterers can spot a fully automated account a mile away.

10)  Don’t just tweet the headlines. Spend some time writing a compelling tweet. @NYTimes learned the following from a year of testing tweets:

  1. Being clever isn’t everything. Clever tweets that are obscure do not get nearly the reaction that clear, concise language does.
  2. To tease or not to tease? Research has shown to tease in a tweet, but @NYTimes found that being mysterious or coy in a tweet to get a link click-through did not work nearly as well as being direct.

11)  Recycle! Don’t just send a tweet once, especially if the content resonates and is “evergreen”. This is where you can use an automated service. Not everyone is going to see everything you tweet when you tweet it so it is a best practice to tweet something more than once. Social media guru Guy Kawasaki says he often quadruples his tweets, sending them once every eight hours.


In my opinion, the most important finding from the analysis of the @NYTimes’ Twitter account is to always know your audience and know your platform.

Roston writes:

“Twitter is a platform that helps extend The Times’ journalism to an audience that is not always the same as the one that visits our website directly. When we fit our storytelling to the medium, we do the best possible job of connecting with that audience.”

How does your nonprofit use Twitter? 

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