May 09, 2012

Follow me on Twitter, use #erintown hashtag

As published in The Erin Advocate

I promise I will never tweet about what I'm having for dinner, what I'm buying at the store or my views on the Maple Leafs, even if they were to make the playoffs. For better or worse, my tweets will always be connected to Erin, just like this column.

This is an invitation to follow me on Twitter. It's a way for me to publish brief bits of information, plus photos and interesting links.

I am a latecomer to Twitter, having just signed up during the winter while I was laid off from my regular job. I'm back to work now, but just three days a week, so I still have lots of time to poke around town looking for things to write about.

Twitter is free, easy to use and helps build up bonds of common interest. You just sign up at, register yourself with a brief profile, and start sending tweets - blurbs of text limited to 140 characters.

This creates a feed of messages that will be available to people who have chosen to "follow" you.

Your Twitter page will have three main lists: your tweets, an ongoing stream of tweets from people or organizations that you are following, and the people who are following you.

If you get tired of someone's tweets (even mine), just click "unfollow" and they stop coming. That's what I've done with people who treat Twitter as a diary of their mundane daily activities.

You don't actually have to tweet anything if you don't feel like it - you could use the site just to read tweets from those you are following.

If you receive a tweet that you think others would enjoy, you can "re-tweet" it out to your followers. You can also send a tweet reply directly back to the sender.

A word of warning: tweets are much more public than emails. They are more like a broadcast. Unless you make your account private with a password, you can't control who follows you, or how they might re-tweet your messages. If you say nasty things about other people, the messages could be traced back to you and land you in legal hot water.

It's not very private. People who follow you can look at your home page and see all your tweets, followers and who you've chosen to follow. It's a social network, a crowded place, with 140 million active users sending 340 million tweets and 1.6 billion search queries every day.

Like anything else on the internet, some of the content can be considered offensive, slanted or boring.

But if you are interested in Erin issues, please consider following me. I only tweet a few times per week, and I promise accuracy, fairness and a reasonable attempt at interesting, just as with the column.

The other suggestion I have is a "hashtag", which is enabled by the search-ability of the system.
If Twitter users in Erin want their messages to be easily found by others in Erin, it is as easy as using the same unique word in every tweet, starting with the # symbol.

I suggest that the hashtag be #erintown. I have started putting it into my tweets.

If you click on the term, or put it into the Twitter search field, you will get a listing not only of my tweets, but the tweets of anyone else who uses the term.

You can use #erintown in your text, instead of the word Erin, or just tag it on at the end. The effect will be like a community bulletin board or forum.

It is important to note that I am not in charge of it. I have only suggested a hashtag, something that anyone could do. Apart from my own tweets, I cannot moderate or control the content in any way. People are fully responsible for what they put in their own tweets. If I don't like what's on this resulting list of tweets, I will simply stop using the hashtag.

Looking at the positive possibilities, though, it could be a way to promote Erin events and businesses, and a way for people to make comments about local issues of interest.

Of course, if you want to write more than 140 characters, you could start your own blog or plaster the town with posters, but a traditional Letter to the Editor is still the best option.

I will also be using my Twitter account to promote this column, and to link people with my blog, where I re-publish my writing after it appears in the paper.

The technology for building a stronger community is out there, and it's free. Let's use it.