Make the most of the online Autism community, Part 1 – Twitter

The Autism community is global, there’s no race or group of people that Autism does not affect. The problem of the past was in bringing these people together to compare notes and support each other but these days we have a lot of ways to find each other. In the next few articles, I’d like to bring up a few of them but each one has it’s own distinct group of people and features to use. To begin with, I’d like to discuss the micro-blogging site Twitter.

TwitterIf you’re already familiar with Twitter, skip this paragraph, if not, then here’s the basic concept. Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ site in that all you get is a small box that accommodates 140 characters (numbers, letters, symbols) to share information with others that ‘follow’ you. You can follow anyone and anyone can follow you but you also have the choice of blocking people or making your entries (called Tweets) protected, so that only people you hand select can read them. That’s Twitter in a nutshell.

Twitter is a great place to help encourage each other and share small pieces of advice/wisdom with other like minded people, in this case, Autism. But first you have to accomplish two goals:

  1. Find people to follow, preferably people that you’re actually interested in.
  2. Get people to follow you, again, people that actually share your interests.

When you first join, this can seem like a very daunting task and for most, the numbers do not rise very quickly. I am going to share a few tips I’ve learned in getting your foot into the online Autism community.

1. Your bio – Settings

Far too often I find people following me that have a genuine interest in Autism, maybe even are Autistic themselves or having a family member who is Autistic but they do not put it in their bio. That’s great if they feel it’s not that important or not who they are but you know what? I feel no great need to follow them back as they do not fit my interest, which is raising Autism awareness.

If you’re reading this, I am assuming that being an Autism advocate and raising awareness is on your mind so add a little something to your bio. Doesn’t have to be a lot, you can write 3 lines on things you enjoy and tack on “Autism Advocate” to the very end and that will be enough to ensure that anyone involved in Autism will hit that follow button and include you into the community.

It’s a simple thing but often overlooked.

2. There’s more to you than your cause

It’s great that you feel passionately about something but you have to realize, we all do. It is the ‘Autism Community’ after all, and we all have our various issues we feel strongly about. That being said, we would love to hear about you and yours and support you as best we can however we also want to get to know you, and that means you’re going to have to tell us a little more than just what your cause is.

You don’t have to get personal, just share jokes, links to sites you find interesting, tell us something funny that just happened in your house. It’s a little unnerving at first sharing things with people you don’t know but if you want people to relate to you and feel for you… you’re going to have to let us in and not overwhelm us with your passion, or else it will just sound like a chant to us.

3. Conversations – Simple, but sometimes we forget

Twitter is a micro-blogging site and in that, sometimes we feel we should just be making a statement and leaving… but it is also a bunch of human beings on the other end of those tweets that you’re trying to reach. And those people are sharing things with you, what they’re eating, what they’re reading, the funny thing their kids just did… if you want those people to be interested in you, you’re going to have to be interested in them.

Most of the time when we read something funny, we chuckle to ourselves and then move away. In this case, don’t move away, actually hit that reply button and put “That’s funny, thanks for sharing” and before you know it, you’ll have a new follower, maybe even a new friend.

And the next time you share something funny, you’ll be getting responses as well… and that person that responded has their own followers and they’ll want to see what was so funny and then.. their followers will find you!

4. Retweet!

If you find that someone links to some brand new research just released, or some great advice or even just something generally interesting to most people, retweet it. It only takes 2 clicks… and you just know that you really want those people to retweet your stuff. So in this case, you’re going to have to give a little to get a little.

On top of that, you’ll be sharing stuff that others will find interesting and want to retweet themselves. Before long, they’ll think of you as an information source even though you didn’t go get that information yourself. Retweeting is a great way to show that you do your homework, that you care, that you share and that you’re someone valuable to follow.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with retweeting something that you know very few will like besides you, because it shows who you are, but you have to realize that this won’t be something to entice new followers your way. Sometimes keeping things in your bookmarks is a better way to go.

5. Search + hashtags

Hashtags are keywords with a # in front of them. Basically, it’s just a way of flagging a word such that it becomes very easy to find in the search. For example, searching for #Autism in the search box will return a huge list of people that are sharing great information and advice right now! Find the ones that look to be sharing the best stuff and follow them. Chances are they’ll follow you back. If not, no big loss, they’re providing you with great information to retweet or use in your life.

Conversely, if you tweet about something important, such as Autism, put a # in front of it to ensure that others are finding it. It takes a little practice to know when to use it, what words to use them on… but if you have a few conversations and browse enough, you’ll get the hang of it pretty quick. Think ‘topics’ when you think of what to hashtag. Some examples: #Autsim, #ASD, #ADHD, #parenting

6. FollowFriday

Now that I’ve mentioned hashtags, one hashtag is extremely popular on Fridays called #FollowFriday. This tag is not really used for searching but for 2 other reasons. One is to give a shout out to people they follow that they enjoy reading and two is to recommend those people to the rest of their followers.

For example, if I find your tweets to be very informative and/or entertaining, I may put your name into a tweet with a #FollowFriday hashtag which tells others that you have something valuable to offer and that they should consider following you as well.

If you follow steps 1 – 5 (and throw in your own personal brand of personality), then people will be compelled to recommend you the next Friday that rolls around and gain you more followers.

But keep in mind, this also goes both ways. If you never recommend anyone, chances are you won’t be getting many mentions yourself. Most people won’t take it personally but they still won’t be as keen no recommending people to their followers that don’t share the kindness.

8. Remember, we’re all human.

Seems a little silly but often we forget that the weird names with weird tweets are real human beings out there, with real lives, with real issues of their own. Those people sharing their lives and issues are what draws you into reading about them and you sharing yours will be what draws them into yours.

Try not to offend, we all share something in common in the Autism community but we all also have our own view points on various things. Agree to disagree, try to keep an open mind and read what they have to say as something they believe. Right or wrong, your opinion or not, real people have their reasons for thinking how they do. And if you want them to respect you, you have to keep that in mind.

Conclusion

Twitter is a great way to become part of the community, get and share information, advice, knowledge, experiences and so much more. It can be slow going at first but keep in mind that when you get higher in numbers, the speed also picks up. If you treat people well and share (to and from), then before you know it, you’ll be struggling to keep up with it all and loving every minute of it.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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4 Responses to Make the most of the online Autism community, Part 1 – Twitter

  1. outoutout September 24, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    Great tips, especially #3. Unless you’re a big celebrity, you’re not going to get many followers unless you actively engage other Twitter users. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers, and reply to anyone who sends you a tweet. (unless it’s a spambot, of course..)

    There are some great ‘how-to’ guides out there for people just getting started on Twitter. This is my favourite one:
    http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/03/the-ultimate-guide-for-everything-twitter/

    And here are some recommended people in the autism community to follow:
    @AmandaBroadfoot
    @thinkingautism
    @AutismAtHome
    @AweInAutism
    @myautisticson
    @RainBowProject

  2. Cara September 25, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    I just changed my bio- I didn’t think of that. I’m just starting to post on twitter about autism. I was afraid of being attacked before, but the internet seems to be much kinder than I expected it to be 🙂

  3. MahinaMK September 25, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    Excellent twitter tips. I’ve started talking about my PDD on twitter. I was hesitant before, but now I’m more comfortable with it.

    I just found your blog and I’m enjoying it a lot. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. We Love The Online Autism community! - September 30, 2010

    […] The team at Dannys wish is always browsing the internet for great info to share with our online community and today we would like to highlight a blog piece done by Stuart Duncan who runs the awesome blog “Stuart Duncan Autism from a Father’s Point of View”.  He also talks about the importance of getting involved with the online community.  In this particle blog post he talks about twitter and how to use it.  Below we highlight some of our favorite parts but you can find the entire blog post HERE […]

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