How Twitter Is Making Me a Better Advocate for Change: The Basics

I frequently get asked why I like Twitter. With so much information already available online, how is it any different from the plethora of websites, news feeds and email alerts already out there?

First of all, by using key words or by following organizations or people, I choose what shows up onscreen. If I want to know what my favorite advocacy organizations are saying about a vote in Congress, I go right to their feeds to see their reactions. Or I can check for postings from the writers and news outlets I respect the most, whether they are large media outlets or a one-person shop.

I can also use keywords to see what any Twitter users are saying about a topic. For example, say I want information about the upcoming Copenhagen summit on climate change. When I search for “Copenhagen,” here's what I learn from the first 10 results, without even clicking on their links:

1. Lots of people are supporting Al Gore's call for President Obama to go to Copenhagen.
2. An organization called ePals is hosting a contest for kids to submit ideas for Copenhagen.
3. A Manchester Guardian newspaper story is getting picked up by lots of Twitter users who follow climate change issues.

What does Google bring up in its first 10 results?
1. Maps of the city of Copenhagen
2. Travel sites
3. Copenhagen Tobacco sites
4. A grouping of three news articles about the summit.

So while Google brings up some useful information, I had to dig to find it, and it was all from major news outlets. If I want to find more about advocacy initiatives or see what is resonating with people concerned about the environment, Twitter is the better choice.

One of my favorite Twitter moments was the outpouring from British users defending their National Health Service from attacks in the US healthcare reform debate. The flood of messages with the tag #WeLoveNHS continued for hours, with one person after another giving describing how their or their loved ones' lives had been saved by NHS. Some people posted links to articles in the UK that I would have otherwise missed. The messages gave me some really useful talking points when speaking to Americans about their system and ours, and many of the stories were quite moving.

So while Twitter can feel like still more information when we're already overloaded, it's often better information than what I find elsewhere.

What has been useful for you on Twitter?

Next time: How Twitter can take you into the halls of Congress.