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Twitter Profile: @hpfoodbank

27 July 2009

Posted by: Jessica Roberts

A Conversation with Zack Wilson
Public Relations/Development, High Plains Food Bank

How did you learn about Twitter?
I first heard about it through word of mouth and all the buzz on the internet, but what really caught our attention, was seeing Capitol Area Food Bank HighPlainsFoodBankLogo[in Austin, TX] really utilizing Twitter.  The response they were getting – connecting with people and media – was incredible.  It was simple concept, it couldn’t hurt us.  

When did your organization set up its (first) Twitter account? September 2008.


Why did your organization choose to engage with the Twitter community? How have your goals changed over time? We started [using Twitter] just to promote events. In the past few months, we’ve begun posting about local/national/regional news items about hunger.  I looked at other good banks as a template/roadmap as what to use for content: testimonials, cross-marketing, updates on what’s happening at food bank on a day-to-day basis.

Describe any resistance you had to overcome to get that first account going?  There was no resistance at all.  The overall opinion was, “Well, if you can do it and you want to do it – go for it! Let’s try it!”

What other social media networks do you engage with? We recently deleted our MySpace account – the upkeep was too much.  I didn’t have time to do html code and we weren’t getting enough of a response. Plus, too much spam.  The account wasn’t advancing the mission. 

We are currently on Facebook and Twitter, and a blog on blogspot is coming.  I decided to start one after speaking with Kerri Qunell, from the Austin Food Bank, at the recent Feeding America conference.  When Hurricanes Ike and Gustaf came through that area, they were able to mobilize people through updates on blogs and Twitter, and keep the media updated on the needs and happenings of the relief effort.

How did you pick the person who manages your Twitter account?  It was my idea, so I led the charge.  We have 20 people on staff; that includes admin, volunteer coordinators, cook, everyone.   We haven’t incorporated [Twittering] into the daily schedule for the rest of the staff because there is already an overwhelming amount of work that people have to do on a daily basis. 

How do you integrate Twitter with your overall marketing/communications plan?

It has fit in nicely; it goes hand in hand. You can’t talk enough.  You have to say something 8-9 times before it sinks in and people listen.  Like the President, you have to stay on message, say it over and over, but in a different way, to get that message out.  Doesn’t help to Tweet once a week and expect results on the other end.  If people don’t want to hear from you, they can un-follow. 

Twitter has really helped our communication plan; it’s an unlimited way to get our message out.  In 2010 it will be the primary communication method of communication to press and community.  Twitter has really allowed us to get into people’s living room or when they are sitting in the doctor’s office and flipping on their Iphone.  People check their Twitter feed more than email, or even picking up the phone. 

Twitter is the most successful form of communication we use.  We really want to be able to feature stories about the food bank and recognize our donors and volunteers.  For example, a gentleman came in recently and gave a check for $2,000.  We want to recognize him immediately.  Twitter has opened an avenue that has never been available until now.  It is just amazing.

What is your organization’s social media policy for employees?  Officially, not as of yet.  It’s just one person, so we don’t have to worry about it.  But if we grow the number of authors, we’d have to begin one.   

How do you let your customers/constituents know who is tweeting for your organization (eg, web site directory)? We wanted it to be generic and have a logo, because it would be easier for someone to locate the food bank, rather than just one person.  I think that [this way] people would be more inclined to connect with the organization.  If we move forward with more people tweeting, I would like to share the same account. 

How often do you tweet and what types of content do you tweet?  My frequency has increased this month, now that I’m that utilizing all these new Twitter tools.  Posting is so much easier, so I can talk more.  TweetDeck has changed my frequency a great deal.  I tweet 3-4 times a day now.  The content ranges from events notifications, what’s going on at the food bank, food updates, donation updates.  But each time, I try to reiterate our mission, whether it is announcing new partnerships with other organizations or sharing news stories. 

How are you planning your Twitter content?  
I plan and schedule tweets, if there is something that I want to focus on more.  I have a list of things here on my desk; ideas that I want to push, not only on Twitter, but strategically planned for the media.

I went to college with the reporters and the assignment people.  I know they check their accounts around 3pm, or 10-10:30 in the morning, and they have news meetings in between. I pay attention to the media tweeting.

How did you develop your Twitter voice? Just organically; looking at people around me. Some trial and error. I had to keep reminding myself, “I’m not writing a press release here.”

How do you balance mission-focused tweets vs. a more casual ‘conversation’? There is more urgency now; people know that there are hard times, but people want to know that they are helping, that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  People want to know that their assistance is helping. 

About how much time each day is devoted to your Twitter account?  20-30 minutes every hour.  3-4 hours, it’s nearing the half-way point.  I see it as time well spent.

What tools do you use to Tweet? And do you tweet from computer/phone/both?  I use Tweetdeck and also my Blackberry.

Which link shortener do you use and why?  Tweetdeck – which is easier to use, and it’s available.  Sometimes, Tiny.

What are your success measures?   Feedback from press, foundation, local media, word-of-mouth: “Hey we saw you on Twitter.”  We’ve never used the number of followers to determine ‘success.’  I’d rather have 500 people who are truly involved in the cause, than 2,000 people who are just doing it because their friends are doing it.

What demographics are you targeting on Twitter? Have you found a ‘generation gap’?  There is no targeted demographic.  I want to find research on who Twitters in the area.  I’m trying to get anyone and everyone who will listen.  A lot of it has been search based and word-of-mouth.  If I hear someone in town has a page, I’ll follow them.  That one person usually causes a chain effect.  30-40 percent of the people I’ve followed have followed right back.

What is something you wish you had known before you started your Twitter account?
I wish I had sat down with others who had used Twitter before and been successful. Maybe some training rather than just learning on one’s own.  Someone to model after their success.

Have you made a mistake on Twitter? If so, how did you address it?
Well, there was a ‘mis-information’ thing – rushing to get the Tweet published.  A radio station was having a radio remote to support us and I misquoted the amount of money people could win.  The radio station sent me a direct message, that the prize was $5,000, not $10,000 as I’d Tweeted.  So, I sent a correction and updated the information.  I look at it like a mis-print in the newspaper.  I wouldn’t have deleted the Tweet, even if I knew you could.  I see it as a matter of ethics.  Being ethical about little things is just as important as being ethical about the big things.

Mistakes happen.

Is there anything else you think should be included in a book of this nature?  Something we haven’t addressed?

I think it is interesting to know the impact that technology has on a community. It would be nice to know what types of non profits are using it and how its changing the environment and who all is using it.

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