The Adventures of a VolunteerMatch Intern at Social Media Week: How to Recruit a Volunteer in 140 Characters

Embarking on a Twitter adventure?I had no idea that the intersection of my Facebook obsession and commitment to nonprofit work would lead me to getting hired as an intern for VolunteerMatch and attending Social Media Week SF – a conference from Feb. 13-17 dedicated to teaching organizations how to best serve clients through social media.

I’m an avid social media user, but for me it’s always been something that has been confined to my laptop screen when I’m at home or on a break from work. Whenever I went to class, I was old-fashioned. I brought a pen and notebook to take notes and even now, I always make sure I’ve got at least a scrap of paper handy in case I want to write something down.

A Plugged-In Event

At this conference, everything was digital. Everyone was connected—whether on their laptops, phones, or tablets—tweeting, checking email, and multitasking while the speaker was presenting. Even if someone did have a pen and notebook, it was always accompanied by a smart phone. Presenters made sure to throw in clever little witty phrases that people could quickly tweet out within seconds. (One of my favorite sound bites of the day: “You may die, but your tweet never will.”)

It was all so fast that I honestly didn’t know how to process all of it. Thankfully, my supervisor had told me beforehand to bring my laptop, so even if I had no idea what I was doing, I could at least look the part.

Perhaps what summed up my experience the best at the conference was when I was down in San Jose for a panel, I asked one of the facilitators for a wi-fi connection password.

“I sent it to your email,” she said, after I had given her my contact information.

“How do I check my email without wi-fi?” I asked. It felt like this was a stupid question that I should’ve been able to answer.

“Don’t you have a smart phone?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

She looked surprised, as if I had shown up to the conference with a chisel and a stone tablet instead of a computer. It took her an extra couple seconds to find a pen and a napkin to jot down the password.

The speed of social media is a frightening, yet exciting idea. Going on social media isn’t something that you do just for fun anymore. It’s a way to reach out and maintain a closer level of connection with individuals than ever before. It’s the idea that what you say can be tweeted out not even thirty seconds after you say it, that you can always be connected to places like email, Twitter and Facebook even when you’re away from your computer.

The Watchword

The big topic of the day: Twitter. All the panels I attended focused on how companies and organizations can better serve clients via Twitter.

For a long time I was primarily a Facebook user. Prior to becoming an intern at VolunteerMatch, I didn’t quite see the big deal with Twitter, and one of my big goals during this internship is to figure it out.

I used Twitter during the conference. I live-tweeted an event for the first time. Someone even re-tweeted me (that was probably the highlight of my day, not going to lie).

 

Communication travels faster and faster by the day, and it’s so much easier to connect with people now—something that nonprofits can surely take advantage of in order to spread awareness and to recruit. However, with it comes the challenge of standing out amongst all the noise.

Making the Most of Your Twitter Account

The Twitter takeaway point for me during the conference was the importance of listening – that a twitter account shouldn’t just be used for publicity, but for connecting with clients on a human level. How does this particularly apply to nonprofits and volunteer recruitment?

For any organization who wants to make an impact, maintaining a dynamic presence on social media is necessary. Women and minorities in particular are using social media to communicate, and as an organization, going straight to wear the conversations are is the best way to get in touch with the communities you serve and/or the volunteers you want to recruit.

So how can your organization connect to Twitter? Or if your organization already has a Twitter account, how can you make it better? Here are a couple points I learned:

>Keep track of how social media is growing and changing.

Keep up with new uses of social media. Follow people on Twitter that focus on social media marketing strategies. You can also subscribe to lists that focus on social media and check on it regularly.With social media growing and changing literally by the minute, it’s in your best interest to stay on top of what’s cutting edge and figure out how you can ride on those trends for your organization’s success.

In order to recruit volunteers, you have to get yourself where the most people virtually congregate and work from there.Note that different social media outlets each cater to different audiences and have a distinct online culture. This post is primarily dedicated to Twitter, but keep in mind what other social media websites you’re connected with and how you can best use those tools to connect with your audience.

>Take advantage of hashtags specific to recruitment.

Attach hashtags like #VolunTweet to volunteer opportunities. A previous blog post on the effective use of hashtags can be found here.

>Interact with members of the community.

Engage in conversations with potential volunteers. Don’t just tweet out volunteer opportunities and/or general announcements into the Twitter void. Make it a two way street. For example, send out a question to your followers and see how they reply.

 

When someone follows you on Twitter, follow back. Also keep track of searches that mention your organization or any keywords that might pertain to your organization’s mission. If someone tweets something that falls within your organization’s area of expertise, chime in. If a user says something compelling, retweet it.

Get a feel for who your community is. What do they tend to tweet about? Talk to them and get to know what they’re interested in so you can: 1) better serve your community and 2) tailor opportunities to potential volunteers so they are more likely to sign up. Be sure your followers know that you are listening to them.

Use twitter to make your relationship with volunteers a reciprocal one. Twitter clients such as TweetDeck make it easy to sort the people you follow into categories and to keep track of search tags.

However, it’s also important to remember when participating in conversations, keep within the brand and message of your organization.

>Use your account to connect with possible collaborators.

Actively seek out organizations on Twitter that have your similar mission. Follow them to not only keep track of what they’re doing, but to connect with them. Sometimes a retweet or a reply can open doors for a possible collaboration.In creating bonds with other organizations, you not only professionally connect with them, but it also exposes you to a larger volunteer recruitment base — your organization’s as well as your collaborator’s. It’s a win-win for everyone.

>In case of a timely issue like a natural disaster, think of how your organization’s Twitter account can get involved.

One of the more surprising statistics I learned was that Twitter users in West Virginia informed the world of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake a full twenty minutes before the US Geological Survey did. During the 2010 earthquake in Chile, Twitter users were not only the first who made the world aware of the earthquake, but also used Twitter to ask for and offer help. A woman even found her sister-in-law through the Twitter community.

In the event of a disaster, formulate a plan to adapt to what’s going on and how your account can be used to become a possible source of communication, as well as a means to quickly recruit volunteers to help in the most-needed areas.

Additional Resources

Cristopher Bautista is an intern at VolunteerMatch. Email him at cbautista@volunteermatch.org
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