It seems impossible for even the smallest charity to ignore social media. With news of George Osbourne’s cap on tax relief on charitable donations ringing in our ears, it’s more important than ever to engage with the public to garner  donations and volunteer support. However, whilst the big charities are able to afford social media strategists to mastermind promotional campaigns and to spearhead engagement across the web, for smaller, local charities it often falls to volunteers or already overstretched employees to man the Twitter account, front the Facebook page and turn out the Tumblr. Yes, the tools are relatively simple but it takes some time and dedication to get to know the particularities of each platform and how to use it effectively. I’ve collated a list  of the most common (and deadly) sins I see on Twitter.

Twitter and Facebook are the basic tools in any charity’s social media arsenal. But it’s surprising how poorly a lot of organisations use them. Take a gander at these classic Tweet-based errors:

  • MISTAKE 1: Using Twitter as a bulletin board.

This one is a heartbreaker. So many charities are missing out on the main purpose of  Twitter: conversation. It’s not enough to simply post updates on events. The novelist William Gibson once compared Twitter to the street and Facebook to the mall and this can be a very useful analogy to bear in mind when you’re tweeting. Think of yourself as manning a stall on the street – it’s not so much about giving out information, it’s about catching the individual’s eye, making idle conversation, establishing that crucial initial connection. Make full use of the @ and reply to your followers as much as possible. If you include them in your conversation, they’ll start to include your work in theirs.

  • MISTAKE 2: Ignoring the Biography

It’s important to establish a human face as quickly as possible, whilst still making your organisation’s goals as clear as can be. The best way to do this is to spend a little time thinking about  the biography that sits atop your Twitter profile. Make it easy for interested people to find you by identifying key words and phrases that encapsulate what your work is about and make sure you include them. Think about the words you’d use to search for your organisation in a search engine – if you have a website, check Google Analytics and see what keywords brought visitors to your site; it may surprise you.

  • MISTAKE 3: Eating up space with URLS.

There are so many websites dedicated to saving you precious characters on Twitter. Enter your desired long form link into a site like bitly or TinyURL and they will shrink the address down into a much shorter version that will still direct the user to your intended destination. Bitly also has some nifty tools that allow you to track the number of click-throughs, enabling you to judge the effectiveness of your tweeting habits.

  • MISTAKE 4: Forgetting to personalise.

It’s not just about the avatar. Twitter offers each user their own page to customise. Whilst it’s important to offer a personalised response, nothing looks less professional than a generic user page. Use your organisation’s branding, colour scheme and artwork to give your page its own cohesive identity.

  • MISTAKE 5: Refusing to be a follower as well as a leader

Take the time to ferret out similar organisations and ‘follow’ them. This will not only help interested users find their way to you but it’s amazing the information you can glean and the contacts you can make. Make use of the strategic ‘retweet’  as a way of sharing and validating your supporters’ activities. Twitter is an excellent place to search for charity vacancies so don’t be afraid to ask for a ‘RT’ – it’s an easy way for your followers to support you and it’s amazing the breadth of reach a single click can have.

Hopefully you didn’t recognise too much of yourself in this list o’ social media sin, but even if you did, the beauty of Twitter is its transitory nature. It’s never too late to turn things around, try something new and experiment. Twitter is one of the most effective ways of consolidating a supporter base and getting the word out. So, go forth and tweet, toot and make it count!

Susan Greene is a technology and social media specialist who blogs on charity vacancies. She is also a total Twitter junkie.