NOTE: GrowthBeat is less than 2 weeks out! VentureBeat is gathering the best and brightest in modern digital marketing to help declutter the landscape, simplify the functions, clarify the goals, and point the way to success. Get the full scoop here, and buy your tickets while they last.
Twitter has turned into an intense, indispensable hub of information about Hurricane Sandy and the damage it’s doing to the East Coast of the U.S.
The hashtag #sandy collects many of the latest updates about the current hurricane, links to photos and video, and information about where the power is out and where the flooding is happening.
But how do you use Twitter if the power is out — or if you no longer have internet access?
Fortunately, the makers of Twitter have you covered. If you have a phone capable of sending and receiving SMS text messages, you can use Twitter — as long as the cellular network is online, that is.
The key is the Twitter shortcode: 40404.
Fast follow: When you need to start getting updates right away
In fact, you don’t even need a Twitter account to use it. You can simply type “follow [username]” in a text message and send it to 40404, and Twitter will start sending all of that username’s updates to your phone.
Text the word OFF or STOP to 40404 to stop the updates from coming. Want to turn them back on? Text ON to 40404. Learn more about Twitter Fast Follow.
You might want to follow FEMA (@fema), CNN’s breaking news feed (@cnnbrk), NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (@mikebloomberg), or the National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic). You don’t need to include the @ sign in usernames when texting commands to Twitter.)
Connect your existing Twitter account to your phone
If you’ve already got a Twitter account, text the word START to 40404. Twitter will reply and ask you to confirm by texting YES back to it, then texting your Twitter username, then your password. That will link your phone number with your Twitter account.
Getting all of your Twitter feed’s updates as text messages would be insane — your phone would be pinging all day long. But you can start the flow of messages from just one or a handful of accounts pretty easily: just text “ON [username]” to 40404 to start the flow for that user, and “OFF [username]” to turn it off. You’ll still be following the user on Twitter whether or not you’ve turned text notifications on or offer.
You can also follow a new user via SMS with the command “FOLLOW [username]“. That will subscribe you to the user on Twitter and also turn on phone notifications. Instead of tapping out FOLLOW you can also just type “F [username]“.
To stop text notifications and unsubscribe from someone on Twitter, send the command “UNFOLLOW [username].”
To turn all phone notifications from Twitter on or off, just text ON or OFF to 40404.
Learn more about Twitter’s SMS commands.
Use Twitter with caution
Twitter is great for getting rapid-fire updates from the front lines of the storm. But remember that there’s a lot of misinformation on Twitter too. Don’t rely on it as a source of emergency information unless you can confirm the source. The Atlantic Wire is doing a good job of funneling information about the hurricane and dispelling some of the rumors. Of course, that’s only going to be useful to you if you’ve still got internet access.
Remember that Twitter is only as reliable as the phone networks that carry its text messages and the servers that it runs on. Often, text messages can get through even when voice and data networks are over capacity. But if the whole cellular network is completely down, your phone won’t be send or receive anything at all, including SMS.
And don’t try to use Twitter to call for help in a true emergency. Dialing 911 is what you need if you’re really in trouble.
What are the Twitter accounts you find most useful for getting hurricane info? Post their usernames here in the comments.