In August of 2010 Twitter announced via their blog, their fast follow (40404) service:
“We’ve always been big fans of trusty SMS messaging. In fact, sending a text was originally the only way users could tweet. This is why Tweets are 140 characters — they need to fit into a text message. We value SMS because it’s simple, instant and universal. Recently, we’ve added a few new features to make Twitter even more useful with SMS.
Fast Follow. Anyone in the US can receive Tweets on their phone even if they haven’t signed up for Twitter (emphasis added). This is a simple way for people to get information they care about in real-time. For example, let’s say you want to get Tweets from New York City’s office of emergency management (@NotifyNYC). Just text ‘follow NotifyNYC’to 40404 in the US. “
I love how in their announcement, they even mention emergency management. They further explain how to use the service, step-by-step.
Tell Twitter to be quiet. Turn text messages on or off by sending ‘on’ or ‘off’ to Twitter. You can also go to our settings page if you want to turn off text message updates during a certain time period. (The pic on the right shows the message the user receives.)
Keep up with the latest Tweet. If you text ‘Get [username]’, that user’s most recent Tweet will be sent to your phone, even if you don’t follow them. There are a bunch of other fun commands you can use with Twitter on your phone.”
On Twitter’s “SMS Commands” Help Center page they further state:
- Using ON/OFF [username] from your phone only stops notifications coming to your mobile phone; you’ll still collect a person’s updates on the web since you’re still following them.
- Use UNFOLLOW [username] to unfollow a user via SMS.
- Use BLOCK [username] to block a user via SMS.
- The following commands perform the same actions: FOLLOW = ON. And LEAVE = OFF.
- Following someone from a phone for the first time will also cause you to follow them on the web.
- You don’t have to use ON/OFF [username] from your phone, you can also set individual notifications from a person’s profile page on the web, or check your following page and manage all phone notification settings there.
Who uses this?
FEMA really likes this functionality and mentions it often in their communications with impacted communities. For example, in the aftermath of the tornadoes in Alabama in April of 2011, they explain this capability in their blog:
“People can also receive Twitter updates via text message from their respective emergency management agencies. You don’t need your own Twitter account to receive these updates, but keep in mind that standard text messaging rates apply:
- For the Alabama Emergency Management Agency Twitter updates text follow AlabamaEMA to 40404 (this is Twitter’s text message number).
- For the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Twitter updates text follow MSEMA to 40404
- For the Georgia Emergency Management Agency Twitter updates text follow GeorgiaEMA to 40404
- For FEMA Twitter updates text follow FEMA to 40404.”
Educating Your Community
Telling people how to fast follow you after a disaster is good, but educating them on how to use the service before something occurs is even better. For example, if you have a booth at the local county fair, pass out cards with information about how to follow via text message and sweeten the deal: send out a Tweet that includes information about where to receive a prize. You could even have people participate in a county fair scavenger hunt. Once you have them using the service you could let people know if a storm was approaching, for instance, or what streets to avoid when exiting the parking lot. Be sure to let them know how to STOP receiving messages!
Consider: This capability would be quite good for the deaf and hard of hearing community, who, for instance, would be unable to hear announcements over the loud-speaker at the fair.