We’ve been hearing a lot about Twitter lately. At Texting4Health , Podcamp, and on NPR , people have been talking about Twitter as the "hot/new" tool to help you communicate fast and effectively. Just this last weekend, NPR’s Andy Carvin created a StormWire Twitter account to send notifications about the hurricanes and other tropical storms.
Many of our new media colleagues are very active on Twitter, and some of our Federal colleagues are also exploring this new tool. From what we’ve seen, Twitter is not as popular in the HIV/AIDS community, though people have been asking us what Twitter is, how to use it, or how it can be applicable to their work. So let’s get down to the basics – and then we’ll share some of our own experiences and reflections.
What is Twitter?
You can think of Twitter as a "micro-blog." You use your computer or cell phone to broadcast short messages, or "tweets," that are limited to 140 characters. People can sign up to follow your tweets, in much the same way they might subscribe to an RSS feed for a regular blog or website. These are your "followers," and you can choose to follow people, too.
Again, we turn to Common Craft to explain Twitter in Plain English .
Why use Twitter?
We’ve found that if you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 different answers, which makes Twitter very much like any other form of new media! Here are some reasons we’ve heard:
- To share information
- To ask questions
- To connect to people remotely
- To connect people around common interests
- To connect people at conferences/meetings
According to the Twitter website , Twitter is a "service for friends, family, and coworkers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?" If you still think you don’t "get it" – don’t worry. Those same 10 people didn’t get it at first, either.
In time we’ll learn if Twitter will continue to grow. Like all new media tools, use it if it carries forward your mission and lightens your load.
Using Twitter in Response to HIV/AIDS
We asked Doug Weinbrenner, Director of Client Services for the Good Samaritan Project in Kansas City, MO, how he is using Twitter in response to HIV/AIDS. He told us, "Since we were the first organization in Kansas City to respond to the AIDS crisis, we are as old as the epidemic itself. We have the tremendous challenge of adapting our services and messages as quickly as the virus and its realities change–which, in organizational terms, is frequently. Social media tools, such as Twitter, allow AIDS service organizations like ours to effectively respond to those ever-changing needs by providing instant, accurate information about what it’s really like to live with HIV, promoting our services and events, and–most important–by providing a highly accessible place to form a community of support."
At AIDS.gov, we started using Twitter at the International AIDS Conference, and, last week, we twittered during the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Meeting . Miguel Gomez, Director of AIDS.gov, told us, "While we’re still exploring how we can use Twitter, we appreciate that it’s easy to use and helps us provide quick and concise messages to our followers."
Getting Started with Twitter
Sign up for an account at www.twitter.com
- Pick a username and complete your profile
- You can also make your tweets private (go to settings )
- Start tweeting
- Enter short (up to 140 characters) message in the box, "What are you doing now?"
- Ask people to follow you. How? Just tell them to go to twitter.com/YOUR TWITTER NAME (e.g., twitter.com/AIDSgov)