This post is an attempt to unravel the mystery that is Twitter for the youth organizing community. While Twitter is pervasive amongst the early adopter crowd, it is just now beginning to gain traction with regular internet users.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service that consists of 140 character “tweets” that are broadcasted to a person’s subscribers. Think Facebook status updates but not constrained by Facebook. The question you are probably asking yourself is “if this is essentially the same thing as Facebook status updates, why is it even useful?” Well, here are a few reasons:

  • With Facebook status updates, only your friends see them. With Twitter, anyone can subscribe to your updates.
  • Facebook updates are more one-way than Twitter. Twitter users can direct message or reply to tweets, creating two-way communication.
  • For the most part only people that go to your profile will see your status updates. Twitter updates are sent directly to subscribers.
  • Twitter works with text messages (SMS), instant messages, and online.

Here is a video from Common Craft that explains the concept:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddO9idmax0o]

Getting started with Twitter

The first thing that you need to do is go to Twitter.com and set up an account. You can set up your cell phone, AOL Instant Messenger, and/or Google Talk to send/receive tweets. Once you have an account, start sending updates and find people to follow. You can start with me.

Enough about the basics, now it’s time to see how you can use Twitter as an effective tool for your organization.

Applied Twitter

There are a number of ways that you can use Twitter for the benefit of your organization. The first is as a general SMS communication tool. SMS short codes are extremely expensive, which rules them out as an option for most organizations. Twitter provides a free alternative. You can set up a Twitter account for your organization and encourage people to subscribe to it. Use it to send announcements about upcoming events, rapid response items, to share links, etc. While it is true that currently most Twitter users are technology early adopters, those people tend to be online influentials, those who help get your message out there. As more and more users sign up for Twitter, the more effective a tool it is.

My favorite idea for using Twitter involves intra-group communication. Though Twitter does not currently support group functionality, using the free GroupTweet service gives you that power. Let’s say for example that your group is at a conference and wants to be able to easily communicate with one another during it. I’ll use the Young Democrats of Arizona and the upcoming YDA conference in Nashville as an example. I create a Twitter account named YDAZNashville. I register the Twitter account on GroupTweet. I make sure everyone in the delegation signs up for a Twitter account and follows YDAZNashville and I as YDAZNashville follows them back. I now have the equivalent of an SMS Google Group to coordinate the delegation during the conference. Whenever someone in the delegation sends a direct message to YDAZNashville, like (d YDAZNashville Everyone needs to head to Room A for welcome reception at 7), everyone in the group will get it.

I am sure there are a number of creative ways that you could use such a service in your organization.

Tips and Tools

If you have mobile internet on your phone, you can access Twitter at m.twitter.com.

To direct message someone you send “D username message” and to reply “@username message.”

To share links easily without worrying about length you can use short-url services like TinyURL.

There are a number of Twitter desktop applications you can use. My favorite is Twhirl.

If you have a Blackberry, Twitterberry is a solid application.

The Twitter Facebook application allows you to use your tweets as status updates.

Links to Twitter Resources

Ultimate Guide to Twitter Tools

101 Must-See Twitter Resources

Twitter Tools, Tweaks and Theories

Newbie’s Guide to Twitter

Big Juicy Twitter Guide

What the Web Strategist Should Know About Twitter

I hope that this helps. Now go sign up for a Twitter account and think of ways you can use this tool for your organization. Don’t forget to follow me.