by Ronald E. Milliman
The following information is based upon the PR committee's open conference call held Nov. 18. The topic was: "Using Social Media to Support the Goals and Objectives of Your ACB Affiliate and Chapter." Participants discussed numerous social networking sites, with emphasis on Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook is currently the most popular social media site on the Internet. But it is especially challenging for screen-reader users to navigate because it is very graphic. One of the challenges is that it changes quite frequently, requiring users to re-learn how to access and navigate its pages.
The first step in using Facebook is to establish a Facebook account. To do this, you need to go to www.facebook.com and fill out the basic information, such as name, e-mail address, and the password you'd like to use. You also must solve an audio or visual captcha. Most participants reported that the mobile version was much more accessible using a screen-reading program; the mobile version is m.facebook.com.
Participants highly recommended Freedom Scientific's free webinars about Facebook; the site is www.freedomscientific.com/training/Free-Webinar-Archives.asp. While these tutorials are mainly use JAWS and MAGIC, they should be useful to any blind or low-vision user.
One of the major questions that came up during our conference call discussion was "what is the difference between a Facebook page and a group page?" To better answer this question, the following is paraphrased from Nick Pineda's Facebook Tips on Facebook.
Like a friend's profile, Facebook pages enable public figures, businesses, organizations and other entities to create an authentic and public presence on Facebook. Facebook pages are visible to everyone on the Internet by default. You, and every person on Facebook, can connect with these pages by becoming a fan and then receive their updates in your news feed and interact with them.
Authenticity is at the core of Facebook. Just as profiles should represent real people and real names, so should pages for entities or organizations. Only the official representatives of a public figure, business or organization should create a Facebook page.
While pages were designed to be the official profiles for entities, such as celebrities, brands or businesses, Facebook Groups are the place for small group communication and for people to share their common interests and express their opinion. Groups allow people to come together around a common cause, issue or activity to organize, express objectives, and discuss issues, post photos and share related content.
When you create a group, you can decide whether to make it publicly available for anyone to join, require administrator approval for members to join or keep it private and by invitation only. Like with pages, new posts by a group are included in the news feeds of its members and members can interact and share with one another from the group.
Groups range widely, from members of a church group or athletic team organizing activities to serious topics on politics and world events or even more lighthearted themes.
Say that you and your friends have a favorite celebrity or cause you want to rally around, but you are not the official representative of either. You can either become a fan of the official Facebook page for the celebrity or cause and show your support there or create your own group on Facebook around the common interest.
How Facebook Can Be Used Effectively by ACB
ACB does not have an official Facebook presence, though most participants widely supported the idea that ACB should have a presence there. It would be ideal for ACB to have a Facebook presence with a person responsible for keeping it up-to-date, posting the official news, media releases, and other information from ACB headquarters. Then, if each affiliate and each chapter also had a Facebook presence, information could be effectively and efficiently exchanged from the top down and the bottom up throughout ACB and to all of our Facebook friends. Imagine the impact we could have!
Twitter is an unbelievably popular microblogging service which allows you to post notes of no more than 140 text characters to the web at a time and have these updates, or tweets, as they are called, read by your followers. If you don't currently have a Twitter account, you may create one at www.twitter.com/signup.
However, since Twitter is not very accessible with a screen-reading program, it is useful to use an interface program that makes Twitter accessible to screen-reader users.
Qwitter is a program created to make using the Twitter system as easy and efficient as possible. There are many advantages to using Qwitter. Here are just a few: 1) using a client allows for easy and fast response to new tweets; and 2) you don't have to go to the web page just to check if you've gotten a new tweet. It automatically alerts you when something new comes in. Also, you can limit what you see to certain types of tweets, such as mentions, direct messages, and sent messages, along with your regular full messages list. Qwitter is very easy and intuitive to use. For more information, go to www.qwitter-client.net/.
John McCann recommended another program that is very similar to Qwitter, called the Qube. Unlike Qwitter, the Qube is being kept up-to-date by Quartizer Projects. For Windows, the Qube is an accessible Twitter client. It is quite similar to Qwitter; the key commands are the same. To obtain a copy of the Qube, go to www.quartzprojects.co.uk.
McTwit is a free, open-source desktop client for Twitter. It is designed to be accessible to screen readers and for keyboard users. Additionally, if a screen reader is active, some information is conveyed through direct speech messages. Such messages are also displayed on the status line for visual users. McTwit works on almost any version of Windows, including 64-bit versions. Its flexible, direct access to Twitter features makes it convenient to explore and communicate interactively. You can select a user either by pointing to a list item or entering a screen name. For more information, go to www.empowermentzone.com/McTwit.htm#A1. To help you get started on Twitter, Lisa Brooks recommended two sites with excellent tutorials. They are Blind Families' Tutorials at www.blindfamilies.com/tutorials.php#main and the tutorials from Freedom Scientific mentioned above.
What Are Hash Tags?
The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages or tweets by keywords. People use the hashtag symbol (the number or pound sign) before a relevant keyword or phrase, but without any spaces, in their tweet to categorize those tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter searches. Clicking on a tagged word in any message shows you all other tweets marked with that keyword or phrase. Contrary to what some people believe, hashtags can actually occur anywhere in the tweet – at the beginning, middle, or end. In the case of ACB and its affiliates, you might see such hashtags as #quietcars, #holidayauction, #FIAShowcase, or #ACBConvention. You should not use more than two hashtags per tweet, and only use hashtags on tweets relevant to the topic. For more information, visit www.hashtags.org.
Other Social Media Networks Discussed
Foursquare is a free app that helps you and your friends make the most of where you are. When you are out and about, you can use Foursquare to share and save the places you visit. And, when you're looking for inspiration for what to do next, Foursquare will give you personalized recommendations and deals based on where you, your friends, and people with your tastes have been. To get Foursquare, go to www.foursquare.com.
Andrea Damitio recommended a site similar to Foursquare, called BlindSquare. This is a new solution that combines the latest technology to help the daily life of the blind. It has been developed together with blind people and carefully field tested. BlindSquare is available on App Store for iPhone and iPad. It works by using GPS and compass to locate you. You can ask BlindSquare such things as, "What is the most popular café within 200 meters radius? Where is the post office or the library?" BlindSquare will assist you to a place you like whenever you mark it. Shake the device and listen to information about your location: address, nearest crossing, compass direction, etc. You can share information about places with your friends. For more information, go to www.blindsquare.com/.
LinkedIn is almost exclusively professionally based. According to LinkedIn, it is "the world's largest professional network with over 175 million members and growing rapidly. LinkedIn connects you to your trusted contacts and helps you exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals." You can create your professional profile, e.g. education, professional experiences, your expertise, and various professional skills. You can find other people with similar professional backgrounds and interests and people you want to connect with in your profession when looking to make a career change. You can also connect with groups and organizations that share your professional background and interests. For more information, go to www.linkedin.com/.
Pinterest is a bookmarking site organized around what are called "pinboards." When you find interesting things, such as web sites, resources, recipes, hobbies, travel locations, or anything of interest, you pin them to your board. You can create pinboards, or categories, and pin images and videos to those boards. You can create boards that can be managed by several people, allowing a group of people to add to and grow your boards. You can follow other people's pinboards, multiple boards, or just single boards created by other people. When you do, their pins will show up in the home page when you log in. You can even add a "Pin It" button to your browser, making it easy for you to pin any web page you like while you are surfing the web, and to your web pages, encouraging your users to pin your content to their boards.
However, Pinterest is very visual and graphic-oriented. Before your content can be promoted on Pinterest, it needs to have images (or embedded video). When you pin a page to Pinterest, it looks for images in the page. If it can't find images or video, it will not let you pin the content. For this reason, while Pinterest can be accessed using a screen-reading program, it is difficult to gain maximum value from it if you are blind. For more information, go to www.pinterest.com/.
Andrea Damitio says, "Change.org is a site where you can begin or sign a petition for change. Their motto is: Change.org - Start, Join, and Win Campaigns for Change. I could see ACB and its affiliates using this site to get the attention of large corporations, such as Amazon, as a part of ACB's efforts to get them to make the Kindle more accessible, or in legislative issues such as putting sounds onto quiet cars. It is a great way to get our cause into a much larger audience that could help us effect change for a more accessible future!" This site is quite blind-user friendly. For more information, visit www.change.org/html.
Causes is similar to Change.org. It is built to create change. If you've ever thought about organizing a boycott, creating a petition, or raising money for a good cause, you can do it with Causes. It is a free online social media network that provides easy-to-use tools for driving change. It helps passionate people share ideas, find supporters, raise money, and make an impact. 153 million people are involved with Causes.com; 1 billion actions have been taken across 142 countries. Create or take action to support the things you believe in. This site is screen-reader friendly. For more information, or to create a Causes account, go to www.causes.com/?utm_campaign=home.
Chris Ward, another call participant, reported, "There is an iPhone app that allows you to view up to 16 social networking sites within just one app. It is called iSocial Connect. It works quite well as a way to view your different social networking accounts at a glance. Naturally there are some limitations to having all these programs contained within this app; but to get a quick overview of one's multiple social networking accounts it works quite well." (Author's Note: I know nothing about the accessibility of this app; I am only sharing with you what Chris shared with me.)
ACB's Social Networking List
Finally, I want to encourage you to join the social networking list. Jenine Stanley states, "If your affiliate or state/local chapter has a Facebook or Twitter page, or if you have been considering setting one up but aren't sure what kinds of information to post, ACB's Social Networking list has been established by the board of publications (BOP) to promote accessible social networking, share ideas and strategies for using social networking to increase awareness of our organization, its affiliates and related issues, and to assist those interested in starting social networking sites representing their chapters or affiliates. Who is welcome? ACB leadership from state and local chapters, special-interest affiliates and committees and task forces wishing to learn about the use of social networking sites. However, we regret that we cannot offer assistance to individuals with personal use of social networking sites, such as technical support with screen readers, etc." To join ACB's social networking list, go to www.acb.org/mailman/listinfo/social-networking.
We also discussed YouTube, Tumblr, Digg, StumbleUpon, NewsVine, and Plurk. If you want to know more about these sites, visit www.ask.com and type into the edit box "what is Tumblr.com?" or "what is Digg.com?