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Giving back at Twitter

twitter-badgeBy Stephen Rhodes

In the late 90s I was a daily newspaper publisher and head of new media for two other dailies in Southwestern Ontario, when new media was all the rage. Newspapers were still struggling with the notion of free content and many set up websites simply because … they didn’t really know.

Last week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped printing the newspaper in favor of its online version. It wasn’t a strategic decision. The newspaper lost $14 million and couldn’t find a buyer.

Newspapers around the world have survived on the strength of the social capital they build within the community they serve.  Good newspapers serve their communities well and not just providing local news and  information. They are catalysts for change and reviewers of local fare. They also give back.

In September I set up a Twitter account. I had read a little about micro-blogging but remained skeptical about its business application. The idea of following thousands of people who text in 140 word bites seemed inane to me. I searched a few friends and added them to my list. Nothing happened.

In March, I read a piece on community building through Twitter. I  searched online for more information and discovered a whole world, literally, of people out there who were talking to each other in 140 word increments about emerging trends in marketing, public relations, media and social media. I found some interesting blogs and realized all of these people had Twitter accounts. I added them to my follow list. Within a few days I had 50 people who wanted to follow me.  Go figure.

I watched quietly the exchange of dialogue, discovered some tools to make my new-found voyerism easier, and learned a lot. Twitter is interesting because you can follow, for the most part, anyone you want. You can build your own community. If you don’t like someone, you can simply stop following. I started to participate.

What hooked me was a campaign called the  12for12k Challenge,  a 12for12k-banner3-1Twitter Tweetathon that raised  more than $14,500 in 12 hours to support Share our Strength, an organization that helps hungry children. 12for12k seeks to raise $12,000 per month to support a different charity each time.

It’s the brainchild of Danny Brown of Mississauga, or @dannybrown in Twitter lingo. The March campaign yesterday was organized by Toronto’s Scott Stratten at @unmarketing.

I gather this isn’t the first charitable venture on Twitter.  What is striking to me is how  this simple online tool has matured into full-blown community status. Twitter is about sharing. To be successful on Twitter, and you can define that any way you want, you need to give back.

Yesterday Danny and Scott and friends helped Twitter come of age as a community.

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