Focus on ... Twitter

Charlotte Beckett, head of digital at Four Communications, offers advice on making your charity stand out in just 140 characters

9,100 tweets are uploaded to the social networking site each second
9,100 tweets are uploaded to the social networking site each second

Always noisy, often hilarious, often moving, often mundane, sometimes negative - Twitter is humanity condensed. With hashtags all over every media channel, it's difficult to remember what life was like before we had 140 characters with which to talk about it. We are now a long way from its early "what's the point?" beginnings. So with 9,100 tweets being uploaded each second, how should charities try to stand out?

Hijack it It is true this can be risky, as demonstrated by countless #epicfails by brands. But with creative flair and careful planning, it can work. The US aid charity Water is Life stole the popular #firstworldproblems spotlight by launching a video of Haitians reciting some of the tweets that included it. In turn, people began using the hashtag to raise awareness of Water is Life's message. The campaign resulted in the donation of one million days' worth of clean water.

Mix it Why use those TV hashtags just to debate The X Factor? For their Time to Change campaign, the mental health charities Mind and Rethink worked with Channel 4 on a season of programmes called 4 Goes Mad aimed at challenging mental health stigma and discrimination. The charities' comms teams took to Twitter before, during and after programmes, encouraging people to start talking about mental health. The shows trended on Twitter as they were broadcast; the charities were able to start breaking down stereotypes and getting their messages to a wider audience.

Influence it Consider this: 75 per cent of journalists use social media platforms to source stories, and 40 per cent of people use Twitter as an aggregated news feed. Whether it's Middle East revolutions or the exposing of super-injunctions, Twitter has had a big effect on how we consume news. We need to cultivate collaborative reporting - to be part of the story. Isn't it time we stopped tweeting press releases and put the "media" into social media?

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