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Survey: Big charities have biggest Twitter power

In spite of social media's much-touted potential for giving small voices a big chance in the nonprofit world, big global charities still have a major edge, according to one survey.

Where on the planet are causes making the biggest impact on Twitter?

One of the most talked-about uses for Twitter has been as a free marketing and outreach mouthpiece for nonprofits, particularly those with otherwise limited resources. But a new survey about the most "engaged" charity organizations and nonprofit foundations on Twitter--meaning how big a following a charity has as well as how much it interacts directly with followers and is talked about by other Twitter users--indicates that it's still big, powerful nonprofits that have the most muscle in social media.

The survey was conducted by Empire Avenue, a start-up that translates social-network activity and following into a "share price" in a virtual stock market of online influence.

Most of the list is made up of nonprofits that already had global reach before social media came into the picture. The most "engaged" nonprofit on Twitter, the results found, is the United Nations' Refugee Agency, which has 1.1 million followers. Second place on Empire Avenue's list is the exception to the rule, Charity Water, a relatively small clean-water nonprofit that we've written about before for its status as a favorite of dot-com successes like Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Bebo founder Michael Birch.

But the rest of the survey's top 10 look far more like big, U.N.-backed charities than smaller ones fueled by dot-com thinkers. Antipoverty group CARE is in third place, followed by celebrity-bolstered HIV and AIDS charity RED and education organization Room to Read. In sixth place is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Microsoft founder's philanthropic venture; in seventh is UNICEF; then People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (which has been known for some fairly creative social-media campaigns); and the CAA Foundation (the talent agency's philanthropic arm). Rounding out the top 10 is Greenpeace, another organization that's been known to craft edgier social-media strategies rather than simply tweet to followers.

Empire Avenue's ranking encompasses 30 organizations in total, and most of them follow the lead of the top 10: big nonprofits that were well-known long before they made Twitter part of the strategy. A notable exception is in 27th place: Malaria No More, which was founded in 2006 and is chaired by Priceline co-founder Scott Case. Like Charity Water, Malaria No More has become closely associated with the dot-com elite, often working with influential Twitter users to get its #endmalaria hashtag distributed across the service's web of chatter.