Twitter broadens officials communication horizons

computer keyboard
Author:  Anthony Sibillin
Issue: Volume 8 Number 1

Twitter.com is the latest United States website to cause a stir in Australia. If you have a mobile phone, it is akin to text messaging in public. If you use Facebook, it is like a dedicated service for updating your 'status’.

Launched in San Francisco, California, in August 2006, Twitter lets you broadcast to an audience of 'followers' your answer to the question - 'What are you doing?'. Followers can reply publicly to your 'tweets' (which are limited to 140 characters) or send messages for your eyes only.

How to Twitter

If you have a computer and an internet connection, you have all you need to start 'twittering'. Simply point your web browser to Twitter.com, click the 'Get Started - Join' button, type in your name, email address and password, and you're away. Later you can add more personal information, such as your location and a picture (by clicking 'Settings' in the top navigation bar of your Twitter home page).

If you have an iPhone, Blackberry or another mobile phone with web access, you can send and receive messages on the move. While the Twitter service itself is free, your mobile service provider will charge for accessing the web, unless it is included in your plan.

Even if you a basic mobile phone, you can send (but not receive) messages for the cost of an international SMS (usually around 50 cents, but it varies between mobile service providers). Click 'settings', then the 'devices' tab, where you can enter and register your mobile phone number.

If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the barrage of updates, there are a growing number of software applications you can download to your computer to manage the 'twitter stream'. For instance, a free application called TweetDeck groups messages into categories (such as friends and conversation topics) which you can follow in separate windows. For a small fee you can also use a similar application on your iPhone called TweetStack.

Why Twitter?

Twitter began as a way for groups of friends to coordinate their movements ('In the city. Does anyone want to meet for coffee?'). But it is now widely used by celebrities, politicians and businesses to communicate with fans, voters and customers.

It is also making inroads into sport. United States cyclist Lance Armstrong is one of the world's popular - and prolific - twitterers. The seven-times winner of the Tour de France has almost 1.5 million followers. 'Had a great 6 hour ride today. Lots of climbing and the weather in Aspen is amazing,' is one of his recent tweets.

Armstrong himself follows a number of sport coaches on Twitter, including his own, Chris Carmichael. Carmichael makes use of a related service, Twitpic, to share pictures of three multi-sport training centres operated by his coaching business.

So far, sports officials have more often been the object of angry tweets by clubs and players, rather than twittering themselves. In March, the US National Basketball Association fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban US$25,000 for complaining about game officials on Twitter.

But it is only a matter of time before officials’ associations in particular begin using the service to alert members to new information on their websites, such as the following weekend’s match appointments, and to remind them of recent rule changes.

Twitter etiquette

Do:

  • keep it short
  • share things of value
  • use symbols, such as > (more than) = (equals) and @ (at) but minimise teen-style abbreviations such as l8 and LOL.

Don't:

  • over do it, especially with trivial information
  • use Twitter to sell something or push an agenda
  • post anything you wouldn’t be prepared to say in person.

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