How to Identify, Cultivate & Engage Nonprofit Twitter Influencers

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By Ritu Sharma, Executive Director, Social Media for Nonprofits 

How to Identify, Cultivate & Engage withOne of the advantages of being active on and understanding Twitter is the access to influencers. Influencers are individuals who are thought-leaders, trendsetters, and people who command authority and respect on the social web. Whatever your nonprofit does, it’s very likely that you’ll find plenty of influencers on Twitter. These users have large audiences that are bound to overlap with yours. In order to take advantage of this, you need to first identify the influencers, engage with your them, and work on keeping communications open, even when you don’t currently need them.

Work on your profile

Your influencers aren’t going to help you if you haven’t taken the time to help yourself. Here’s what you need to do before reaching out:

  • Complete your profile. Add a picture, background, bio (include the word “nonprofit”), and link to website.
  • Interact with followers. How you respond and engage with your existing audience will be a deciding factor in whether or not your influencers are interested in helping out.
  • Be relevant and consistent. Post meaningful, relevant and timely content that adds value to your (and their!) community

Find influencers

Run a Twitter advanced search to find influencers.

Twitter Advanced SearchSearch for the things your influencers are likely to be Tweeting about, rather than searching for terms like “nonprofit”. Start following people. If you’re followed back, open up dialogue by thanking them for connecting. A good place to start your influencer shortlist is to include the leaders of organizations in your field, members of media and journalists who write about your nonprofit’s issue area, other nonprofits in your field and think-tanks or policy institutions in your field. Pay close attention to and elevate the individuals who are active and post regularly on Twitter.

In addition to your industry knowledge, you can also identify influencers with programs like Klout, Simplymeasured, Followerwonk, and SocialBro.

Create lists

Under settings, click “lists”.

Create a Twitter List

Not only does this help you keep track of who’s who, but it’ll show your influencers that you value them. Don’t name your list something like “influencers”, though —when somebody adds you to a list, you get a notification about it, so pick a name that won’t make it look like you’re after something. You can also create a private list by checking the private option and then only you can see people on that list.


Out of all the social networks, it’s probably easiest to participate in conversations on Twitter. There are thousands of discussions going on at any time, and you’re completely open (even encouraged) to join in. Here’s how to get started:

  • Retweet posts that may be of interest to your followers. This shows your influencers that you’re willing to give as well as take.
  • Start meaningful conversations. @mention your influencers to ask their opinion on current events that affect them in some way. If they share a blog or an article, ask questions or share resources on that topic. Don’t just give compliments, but engage in a meaningful conversation, even if it is challenging their position in a polite and professional manner.
  • Chat. You don’t always have to be serious, and if you’ve been talking to your influencers on a friendly level, they’ll be more likely to retweet and share your information if you need them to.
  • Follow and engage with the people behind the accounts. Usually, if a business account is managed by an individual, it will say who it is in the bio.
  • Join in discussions. Don’t be nervous — you don’t need to be invited. The more you talk to people on Twitter, the easier it will be to continue talking to them.

Reach out

Need something retweeting? Need a comment for your blog, or assistance growing your presence on a different social network? Send a PM, and ask for an email address. Taking the relationship outside of Twitter makes it stronger and more “real”. If you’ve been engaging with these people for a while, they’ll be much more inclined to help out than if you contacted them from nowhere. Start identifying and cultivating relationships on a regular basis, and not just right before an ask or during an event.

Readers: have you used Twitter for engaging influencers? Share your tips and stories in the comments!

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