UTW Tip #3: Connecting to Special Needs Resources Through Twitter

I have to admit, I have been rather resistant to Twitter, and it isn’t MY favorite way to connect with information. Bu,t for some, it really is a simple, fast, and fun way to explore real-time news. I’m warming up to it . :) Are you using Twitter right now, but you just don’t know how to connect with the special needs related information that you want? Or maybe you have no idea what on earth a Tweet is and you keep wondering what all the fuss is about? In this post, let’s explore what Twitter is, how it works, and how you can get what you need from it when it comes to special needs resources. 

In my last post on Connecting with Special Needs Resources Through Blogs, I tried to paint a picture of what a blog is and what characteristics about blogs make them an attractive tool for staying in the special needs loop. Keeping with that blog theme, let’s think of Twitter as a microblog, a smaller version of a blog-smaller in a few, figurative and literal ways. Straight from “the bird’s” mouth: “Twittter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions, and news about what you find interesting” (Twitter.com). So like blogs, Twitter is focused on topics, and like blogs, twitter brings information to you without you having to visit individual sites when content is updated (i.e., “real-time). So what makes Twitter different form the other social media tools we have discussed so far this week (i.e., Facebook, Blogs)? Twitter brings you a smaller snapshot (a “Tweet”) of a news story than a blog. Again from the Twitter bird’s mouth “At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called ‘Tweets’. Each Tweet is 140 characters long, but don’t let the small size fool you- you can discover a lot in a little space. You can see photos, videos, and conversations directly in Tweets to get the whole story at a glance, and all in one place” (Twitter.com). This relatively smaller scale makes Twitter a nice way to receive small bits of information at one time and then decide which bits to explore further. For those of you in a time crunch, this could be just the ticket. So how does it work and how can you connect with the topics you’re interested in? 

  Here are a few tips:
  • First thing, if you haven’t already, open a Twitter account. Like Facebook, it is completely free of change and only takes a moment. Once you have an account, you will have to teach Twitter what you’re interested in. 
  • You can share a bit about yourself and your interests in your Twitter profile so that others know what you want to know about. However, this isn’t required to explore Twitter and connect with others, so you can always choose to keep these details private. 
  • Everyone in Twitter has a username that is preceded by the @ symbol. For example, the username for SNEAK outside the box on Twitter is @sneakotb. Look for Twitter usernames on many of the printed resources you receive from special needs organizations already. Like with Facebook, most companies, organizations, and even blogs have Twitter accounts that they use to share information. Once you know their usernames, you can “Follow” them on Twitter to stay connected. “Following” someone on Twitter makes you are part of their Twitter conversation. Much like subscribing to an RSS feed (discussed in my previous post), this means that you will see the updates of those you are following right on your Twitter page, making it faster and easier for you to receive information, join in a discussion, or ask a question. Here are a few ways to Follow people who talk about things you are interested in: 
  • Click on the Twitter icon on the home page of your favorite special needs websites and blogs to follow the sites/blogs on Twitter. 
  • Search for the Twitter username of the organization/etc... you want to follow. To do this, click on the “@Connect” link t the top of your Twitter profile and then type the name you are searching for in the search box on the right. Keep in mind that Twitter usernames don’t have spaces in between words. :) 
  • Twitter will also suggest who you should follow based on what it knows about you so far. If you have already started following a few Tweeters, Twitter may suggest some of their followers (the Followers of the Tweeter you are Following-phew, another mouthful :). You can see these suggestions on your Twitter home page each time you sign on. Read the profiles of these Tweeters and see if they are talking about what you’re interested in. If so, Follow them and check out who they are Following, you might want to connect with them as well. These branches are a lot like exploring a Blog Roll on the home page of your favorite blogs, or the “liked” pages of your Facebook connections (see my previous posts on Facebook and Blogs for more details:). 
  • As with Facebook and Blogs, you can also search for keywords on Twitter to connect with relevant special needs information. In Twitter, keywords are called “hashtags” and they are preceded by a pound symbol (#). For example, the keyword “AAC” would look like this on Twitter “#AAC”. Hashtags are used by Tweeters to put their Tweets into categories and help other Tweeters find their information. To search for keywords from your Twitter homepage, click on the “#Discover” link and type in your search term in the search box on the right. When you are searching, you don’t have to include the hashtag, but doing so may limit your results to those more specifically related to your keyword. Your search results will include Tweets that were marked with the keyword (hashtag) you searched for. Your results will also include photos and videos that are tagged by this term and a list of People who write write Tweets marked with this topic. This could be a nice way to find People on Twitter who are talking about the keywords you are interested in and Follow them. 
  • Twitter also lets you browse categories from your homepage to find information on broader topics like Technology, Family, and Education. If searching for specifics is too overwhelming at first, try to connect with general Tweets by browsing categories first, and then go from there. Save your favorite 
  • Twitter searches so you can search those terms often without having to re-enter the keywords. You can save your searches after you search by clicking on the gear icon (or it might look like a sun :) and clicking “Save search”. You can re-visit your saved searches later by clicking on the #Discover link and clicking in the search box. Your saved searches will appear in a list underneath so you can just click on the term you want to search. 
Staying Connected with Twitter on the Go

Now that you have started “following the conversation” on the special needs topics you are interested in, it’s time to figure out the best way(s) to keep yourself connected to your Twitter home page so you can get your information quickly, easily, and frequently! You will always be able to access your information by signing in to your Twitter account on Twitter.com. But, if you are using an iPhone, Android phone, iPad, or mobile tablet, you can also use mobile Apps to get your Twitter feed anywhere. These apps are free and easy to use, check them out here.

Twitter also has a service called Fast Follow which lets you receive notifications and Tweets through text messages (SMS) on your cell phone. You can set this feature up in your Twitter account settings. This will not send you a text message for every Tweet, only those Tweets and other notifications that you specify in the settings.

Visit SNEAK on Twitter to follow posts on technology for special kids and also link to other professionals and parents discussing special needs topics. You can explore the Tweeters SNEAK is following and see if you want to join their conversations. :)

Check out these helpful links for more in-depth information on Twitter:

What is Twitter? Wikipedia

Twitter.com-About Twitter
How To Use Twitter (You Tube Video of the Basics)

How do you use Twitter to find special needs resources?

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