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Diabetes and Twitter: 101.

One of the Friends for Life sessions that I co-lead with my favorite tall guy, Scott Johnson, was about finding diabetes support through social media.  (More on that session this week, but I wanted to get this post up today because there’s a diabetes chat that takes place on Wednesday nights.)  While that session had it’s own discussion points and a broad definition of what social media really is, the same question came up over and over again:

“Twitter?”

It wasn’t even a whole question, more like a word thrown out to the crowd and lingering there, confused about where it should roost.  Twitter is a completely and utterly confusing concept to people who aren’t involved in that method of communication – hell, it’s chaos for those of us who are familiar with it, too.  But aside from questions about how to start a community or blog, and how control sharing on Facebook, some people really wanted to know how to navigate the muddy waters of Twitter.

In efforts to answer some of those questions from the session, I wanted to give a little Diabetes and Twitter 101 here, with links to resources, to help those who want to find people talking about diabetes on Twitter.  Here’s the crash course:

slider image twitter

What is Twitter?  Twitter is a method of online communication where you share status messages in 140 characters – and no more than 140. It’s sharing in snippets; it’s microblogging.  It’s borderline annoying because you end up completely over sharing (“I thought about eating a ham sandwich in the alleyway … but then didn’t.”), but it’s a very unique, very real-time, very insightful way of connecting with people.

  • Why would I want to share these details online?  That’s a really good question.  Some people are very comfortable sharing details of their life, and links to things they think are interesting, which is where Twitter comes in.  It’s like an RSS feed for your brain, and it helps lead you to new info on topics that interest you and from people who do the same.  (If you’re concerned about privacy, you can always keep your account “locked” instead of “public.”)
Hashtag central

Diabetes-related hashtags include word/phrases as obvious as “diabetes” but may also include things like “#ffl11” and “#sweatabetes.”

  • What is a Tweet?  A Tweet is one, single status update from a Twitter account.  Oh, and it’s also the sound that a bird makes.
  • What is an @reply?  When you put the “@” symbol in front of someone’s user name, it tells that person that the Tweet is directed at them.  It’s like sending a 140 character email, in public.  (Also, you know if a Twitter account is shifty when they don’t have any @replies and/or aren’t following anyone.  Twitter is a conversation, not a billboard.)
  • What is a DM?  A DM (or “direct message”) is a 140 character private message that you can send to a fellow Twitterer.  You can only direct message people who are following you back.

How do I join, and what do I do there?  To sign up for a Twitter account, go to Twitter and register.  You’ll sign up, you’ll be shuffled to your homepage, and there you can post your first status update, find people to follow, or just lurk on other people’s accounts.

So I’m on Twitter.  How do I find my fellow PWDs?  Okay, so once you’re on Twitter, now you can dive Tweet-first (?) into the diabetes community there.  Finding your fellow PWDs can seem challenging, but there are tricks to help you sniff out the pancreatically challenged and those who support them.

  • You can use Twitter Search to seek out the diabetes community by searching for specific search terms or hashtags.  Try searching for something as simple as “diabetes,” or something as specific as “Dexcom.”  You can also conduct searches right on the Twitter homepage, like for “diabetes.”
  • You can also use the mother of all diabetes hashtags:  #dsma.  “#dsma” stands for Diabetes Social Media Advocacy, and it’s the brainchild of Ms. Cherise Shockley.  On Wednesday nights at 9 pm EST, hundreds of people with diabetes log on to their Twitter accounts and crowdsource answers to questions asked by the DiabetesSocMed Twitter account.

It’s pretty simple:  The @DiabetesSocMed account asks questions and numbers them, and then when people respond, they just answer with the question number and the #dsma hashtag in their Tweets.  For example:

An example of the #dsma Twitter discussion questions

There’s the question (Q1) and my answer, tagged with both “Q1″ and “#dsma.”  The only trick is that during the actual #dsma chats, there are many participants, so there are many questions and answers streaming at once.  It can be a little overwhelming at first, but after a few run throughs, you’ll be a pro.

  • And even though you’re using Twitter, you aren’t limited to using “just Twitter” to send out or read your Tweets.  There are a lot of third-party applications for Twitter that you can download to your desktop or use a browser for.  Here are a few of the ones I use:
  • Tweetdeck.  This is my favorite application and the one I use most for Twitter.  It’s clean, easy to use, and runs pretty seamlessly on my laptop.
  • Seesmic.  I used to use this one all the time, but I kept blowing out my API.  (What does “API” stand for?  Available Peanut Index?)  Seesmic can also be used to update your Facebook and Twitter status, so it’s kind of handy for all things social media.  (Tweetdeck can, too, actually.)
  • TweetChat.  This is a web application where you can type in the specific hashtag you want to follow (for example: #dsma) and all of the Tweets tagged with that hashtag stream on the TweetChat page.
  • Twitpic.  This app helps you share photos on your Twitter feed.  You can take photos on your phone or upload them from your desktop and ship them straight to your Twitter stream.  (There is also a pile of apps for Twitter using your smartphone, but I know what I know, and I have no idea which ones are good or bad.  Consult your local TechNerd for some details and a cupcake.)

Phew!  Crash course on Twitter and finding your fellow PWDs?  There’s at least a start.  I hope this helps, and if you’re looking to jump right in, you can join the #dsma chat tonight at 9 pm – the only thing we’re missing is YOU.  Join the 140 character conversation … and make sure you have coffee on hand.  It’s the most whirlwind hour of diabetes discussion on the web.

(And I’m adding a diabetes Twitter list to the blogroll page, so if you’re a PWD with an active Twitter account, please email me your Twitter handle and I’ll add you to the list!  You can find me on Twitter at @sixuntilme.)

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