After hurricane Sandy hit the east coast and we lost power for a week in Weston, I mentioned to some of my mommy friends how useful Twitter had been to get critical information during the storm. For seven days I had no heat, no television, and very little data service on my cell phone. Emails didn’t come through, Facebook took forever, but Twitter gave me minute to minute accounts of everything from CL&P status, to public health information, state resources, and the town’s road situation. My sister, who lives in Brooklyn, even read minute-by-minute accounts of flooding in New York City during the storm.
Twitter, I realized, is critical in natural disasters and following other news events. For example, it provided the first immediate details on the Newtown school shooting. But when I spoke with my friends about it, this was their response:
“Oh, I don’t really understand what that is,” said one.
“I don’t use it,” said another.
Twitter is like Times Square
These conversations made me realize that many people, suburban moms included, still have misperceptions about why and how to use Twitter. Until last year, I did too. The chief reason? It’s home to overwhelming streams of information from an insane amount of people. Kind of like visiting Times Square for the first time. If you know where you want to go and have directions, the blaring sights and sounds become less daunting. In other words, having a purpose will help you on your adventure into Twitterland.
Additionally, many people feel they need to share, promote, or squawk (otherwise known as Tweeting) to use it. Given that you have no control over who follows you on Twitter and your posts or Tweets are public, it’s no surprise that some people still shy away from the service. And they’re not alone: only 20% of the population blogs or comments on web sites. The majority of people aren’t comfortable putting their thoughts out in public.
But here’s the point: You don’t have to share to make Twitter incredibly useful to you. And given that another natural disaster is likely, it’s important to have a service that requires the least amount of bandwidth and delivers the most critical and up to date information. Enter Twitter.
Reasons to Use Twitter
Here, in a nutshell, are the top three reasons to use Twitter:
- Get immediate information on breaking news from the most relevant, including local, sources.
- Get ongoing information from experts, gurus, and personalities on topics important to you such as your profession and hobbies.
- Promote your brand and/or participation in a profession or hobby.
You’ll notice that the first two reasons are passive approaches to Twitter. Only the third – promoting yourself, your business, or dialoging with people involved in your business and hobbies – requires actual Tweeting. There are many guides, articles, and blogs devoted to how to use Twitter for marketing purposes so I won’t cover them here. (And if that’s your goal, I hope you’re already using it!). Instead, let’s cover how to get valuable and various types of information for your specific purpose.
Immediate, relevant news & information
You can follow many local news services on Twitter and they do a great job posting frequent updates during emergencies. Yes, there were many false reports immediately after the Newtown shooting but the Connecticut Post and Hartford Courant were particularly up to date in the moments following the event. For hyper local news, Weston-Redding-Easton Patch is great with everything from school closings to other emergencies that affect our town. And I’m not just saying that because I’m blogging here. I really like that I can trust Patch to send important Weston-related news fast. They also don’t send junk – another hallmark of a good news source.
Outside of emergencies, several of these sources post helpful information such as road closings, flu statistics, etc. throughout the day so it doesn’t hurt to check your Twitter stream when you have downtime (my favorite is while waiting in the school pickup line). Here’s a sample post from the Fairfield Police Department:
Fairfield PD Black Rock Turnpike CLOSED at Tunxis Hill Road due to a water main brake. Repair is expected to take several...
Check out Connecticut's latest #flu update: http://1.usa.gov/YpaJAi
List of Local News Sources on Twitter
To begin, visit twitter.com, create a free account, search for the sources listed below (or the equivalent for your town), and click Follow.
- Weston-Redding-Easton Patch
- Moms in Weston (local news, not just for moms)
- The Weston Forum
- Weston Daily
- Town of Weston
- Weston Public Schools
- Governor Dan Malloy (very helpful before, during and after the hurricane)
- Connecticut Post
- Hartford Courant
- News 12 CT
- CT Public Health
- NASA Goddard Images (had great tracking on the hurricane)
- Craig Fugate (FEMA Adminstrator)
- CNN, etc.
Follow Topics, Too
In addition to following specific people and news sources, you can also follow topics. For example, #sandy and #ctsandy were very helpful for storm-related information. Simply search for a topic instead of a person/source or browse the # Discover link. Topic streams can quickly fill up with junk that may or may not interest you since anyone can post an update with the # topic in it.
In other words, if you want to read personal stories about an event (as my sister did), follow the topic. For events in other locales (e.g. Haiti) or broader current events (e.g. politics, Golden Globe awards), follow the topic to find immediate news plus relevant people and sources to follow such as #tsunami, #haiti, #election2012, etc.
This list is just a start. Based on the nature of an impending natural disaster or one that’s occurred, you can add relevant sources for the most pertinent news.
Once you’ve set up Twitter for local news, you may want to add experts on topics of interest to you. I follow experts and sources on parenting, publishing, and technology. Here are some of the parenting sources I follow:
- Moms in Weston
- Dr. Michele Borba (parenting expert and author who tweets often with tips and had very helpful info for talking to children after the Newtown tragedy)
- Village Pediatrics (my local pediatrician)
- Motherlode (New York Times blog)
Whatever your passion, try searching for your favorite source and you’ll quickly discover many related sources to give you interesting and enlightening news and information. For example:
Cooking: Try Food Network
Running: Your favorite magazine or runner’s club
Education: US Dept of Education
Thought Provoking ideas: Try Brain Pickings and The New Yorker
Hopefully, these lists will get you started and you’ll find Twitter to be useful not only in emergencies, but for useful and practical tips all the time. If you have success, comment here with your tips and ideas of who to follow!