The biggest advantage that Twitter has over Facebook is its ability to get information out quicker, and in real time.
Just remember how each service was used during Hurricane Sandy a little over a year ago. Facebook became a key way for people to get in touch with loved ones, but Twitter served as a place to get more real time information regarding what to do in case of an emergency. The two companies serve two vital, but very different, needs.
Twitter wisely decided to harness its advantage in an emergency alert system, which it debuted in the United States, Japan and South Korea in September. And now the system is getting an international expansion, as Twitter announced on Monday that the service will now be available in both the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Already 57 accounts have signed up to be part of the alert system. They include the UK’s 47 police forces, An Garda Síochána, the London Fire Brigade, the Mayor of London’s office, the Foreign Office, CEOP and the Environment Agency.
Here is how this works: when an alert is sent out, it will be done so by SMS, and those who have the Twitter app on either Android or iOS will also get a push notification. They will also be marked with an orange bell.
If a user simply decide to follow an organization, these alters will be posted to their Twitter feed, and appear as they would for any other tweet. To get the notification sent to them directly, a user has to subscribe to the agency in question.
“Getting fast and accurate information to the public in a major incident or terrorist attack really could make a life-saving difference," Commander David Martin, in charge of emergency planning for the Metropolitan Police Service, said in a statement.
“Using social networking sites, including Twitter, gives us additional ways to talk directly to the public. Twitter Alerts means that our messages will stand out when it most matters.”
Organizations that have signed up for service in the United States since its September debut include the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of the Interior, along with numerous local FEMA agencies.
Twitter experimented with emergency services before launching Lifeline in Japan in 2012, in the wake of the Fukushima earthquakes, and nuclear power disasters that followed. The service allowed Japanese citizens to find, and follow, accounts that will give them local information simply by searching their postal code.
It is a wise move for Twitter, which just went public, to highlight its unique abilities. And being the go-to service for people in crisis, which we are seeing more and more of these days, will also help drive up user numbers at this crucial time.
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