The future of charity Twitter

Should charities still be using Twitter? What happens if it crashes? Or follower numbers drop? Or our accounts get spammed with negative / hateful comments? Will safety or accessibility standards drop?

Graphic from a museum of different communication methods. Includes fibre optics, the world wide web, and a question mark about what's next.


14 years since the first #NFPTweetUp connected charity people working in ‘new media’ to share, learn and support each other, we gathered on Zoom to talk about the future of Twitter and the media landscape more broadly.

Twitter has been a force for good and bad. For years, Twitter has helped us to share, amplify, connect and listen. Although engagement may have been dropping for a long time, it remains a key part of the comms toolkit for many. With the instability of the current situation and endless headline stories and predictions about what Musk’s takeover means for the future of the platform, is this the end of Twitter as we know it?

Here are some themes, questions we might ask ourselves and conclusions from the discussion.

Still a go-to place but how people use it is changing

Even as we wonder if we are in the death-throes of Twitter, or at least the version of it we knew and loved, we recognise its power as a platform and that is difficult to let go of.

From the #AttackOnNature response to Joe Lycett trending for days with his #BendersForBeckham campaign, it is the place for news and connection with others. It is also the place where we have built followings. We have communities. We have given information, listened to others, joined in with big events, built trust, inspired donations. Twitter is a key channel for lobbying, campaigning and mobilisation. Many of our charity campaigns would be in trouble without it. The idea we might lose that network and influence which has had so much time and energy invested into it is hard. For those we support, the idea of it may be hard too.

The discussion was kicked off by Amy Sample Ward, who is the CEO of NTEN – a nonprofit creating a world where missions and movements are more successful through the skillful and equitable use of technology. Amy is the co-author of The Tech That Comes Next, which explores technology’s role in our work to create an equitable world. 

Amy pointed out that none of us should be surprised about the changes with Twitter, and that the risks many people are now focusing on have always been present, saying: “This is rented land. We enter at our own risk. We don’t own this data or these spaces.” Amy asked us to think about web3.0: “What does it look like? What platforms do we want?”

Twitter seems to be changing to become “less social and more media”. We discussed how our organisations’ comms strategies need to keep up with this shift. It may not be that we stop using Twitter entirely, but what we use it for might be different; it might be more informational, and the more ‘social’ aspects might need to move elsewhere.

Instability of the platform

The Musk takeover storm has been such a dramatic whirlwind. A flow of tweets and blog posts cross our feeds, warning about the potential instability of the platform. The departure of safety, moderation and accessibility teams appear to be a worrying sign of the standards we can expect. It’s been a very noisy month and yet each Monday comes round and most of us are still here.

The decision to go may well be made for us if the predicted instability does crash the platform. This may not be black-out crash but a low loss of functionality and reliability. If this happens, at what point do we make the call and stop investing our resources, or leave?

Ethics and safety

As well as asking whether we can still be on Twitter, people are asking whether we should still be on Twitter? Questions of ethics and safety should concern us all. As a charity, we might be asking:

  • Is Twitter a safe place for our audiences?
  • Are they still here with us?
  • How has their use of Twitter changed?
  • How are our messages appearing in people’s feeds?
  • Are Twitter’s values aligned with those of organisations’?

Founder of Good Community, Serena Snoad shared her views saying: “Twitter is a great place to learn and share. It brings people together. But when platforms don’t have robust systems for moderation and reporting inappropriate behaviour, we should be worried. You need rules and policy and moderation. There are charities out there who are worried, many will have been relying on Twitter’s standards to protect them.” Serena’s advice is to produce your own moderation policy.

Serena also talked about the impact for people on the frontline. For charities which get constant challenges and abuse, or other ones which use Twitter as a customer service portal, the impact on the staff dealing with this can be huge. She likened it to being a first responder. It should be recognised that staff are managing emotional labour and are at high-risk of burn-out. “The endless wave of need coming our way means we have to make difficult decisions. Staff need to know that the organisation recognises this and stands by you.” Does your organisation do this?

Alternatives to Twitter?

There was lots of discussion about alternative platforms but no clear view about whether there is a replacement for Twitter. Many people – if not organisations – have joined Mastodon to try it out. But the consensus so far seemed to be it might not replace Twitter’s dynamism, reach and borderless opportunities to engage, connect and influence.

The fundamental point remains that we need to be where the people we need to connect with, and influence, are. For now, that might mean we should stay on Twitter to make positive change happen.

Serena Snoad made the point that it is our communities that are important, not the technology. Yes, the algorithm or functionality might change, but the essence of our communities can and will remain. We all agreed that in an ideal world, this should not rely on Twitter, or any platform we don’t own or control. We need to adapt for the future. Closed, moderated communities will continue to be important in the mix.

Whilst there are undoubtedly risks from using any digital channels – even those we own – we have to balance the need to do our work. For many, Twitter has been the place to amplify the truth, challenge misinformation, represent all voices, stand up for what we believe in and monitor what is happening outside our bubbles.

We all work in the space we do, because we are not happy to stand by. We want to make positive change. So we may have to double-down to continue getting our messages out to the widest possible audiences, and not just within bubbles, to change minds, behaviours, policies and achieve our goals.

Conclusions

Amy celebrated online communities and all the good they can do, leaving us with the rallying cry of, “Down with Twitter! Long live the internet!”

There seemed to be broad agreement from everyone who came along, that the platforms and channels we use need to match our strategic goals. Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses. We musn’t under-estimate the important role that email and our websites can play. We have a higher level of control and ownership here, that our supporters and stakeholders can trust. 

Of course, our email lists or online forums or WhatsApp groups will not give the same functionality as our public-facing channels on Twitter, LinkedIn or TikTok. They have their own purpose and drive different outcomes. We must review our comms mix and differentiate between channels – considering time invested, impact, opportunities and risks. Having clarity about what we use each channel for is key.

Social media is evolving. It may become less about the social and more about the media. For many of us, this might mean a change of approach.

And finally, while we might not agree with the ethics of the platform, many of us have an audience and community on Twitter. That is important. Twitter also helps us to reach out beyond our bubbles which may come with a cost. If the changes to Twitter mean the flack we get is harder to deal with, organisations need to change moderation practices and have to increase their own duty of care on staff.

So, whether Twitter crashes or continues, it is an important time to think about what you use it for. Many of us still want to be here.

What are you doing?

It’s time to do something. 81% of the people at the event had taken some action to mitigate for the change although only 7% had stopped tweeting. 67% planned to discuss future steps within their organisation.

Twitter will likely change substantially, both in terms of the platform itself and how people use it. Just worrying about it or ignoring it (as 51% were when I ran this poll in mid-November) is not going to help especially if Twitter has been a big part of your comms output for you or your organisation.

Poll on Twitter - are you doing anything today to prepare for RIP Twitter? 93 votes.l  14% connecting with contacts, 26% archiving content, 10% setting up elsewhere, 51% worrying / ignoring.

What might you lose if it suddenly crashes? In the short-term, you may take some steps to reduce the damage. For example, you may want to look at archiving your content (see this from Digital Charity Lab), telling supporters about other ways they can connect with you and upping your use of those channels. You may even set up on a new channel (see this by Helen Olszowska for Charity Digital).

Longer-term, how does Twitter fit within your comms strategy? Is your community behaviour policy fit for purpose? Do staff feel supported and are your systems fit for purpose? What does your daily / weekly plan or strategy look like with a Twitter hole in it? Can you adapt or replace that function elsewhere? (Here’s a useful post from Dan Slee about reviewing your channels.)

With thanks

Co-written with Rachel Beer who led and co-organised the evening with me.

With thanks to Amy Sample-Ward and Serena Snoad who spoke. And to Teri Doubtfire for live tweeting. To Rebs Curtis-Moss who shared notes from the event.

And to everyone who came along and shared their views.

What do you think?

Have you changed how you use Twitter? Have you started to plan ahead?

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