There were green alligators, some red neck geese..’ well, not quite, but wicked wasps, curious cats and barking dogs all made guest appearances at STEPS Twitter Training last week. The warm summer’s evening and the buzz of voices wafting through the open kitchen window proved quite the draw for the creatures of Draperstown.

STEPS ( Suicide, Talking, Educating, Preventing and Support) is a community led group run by volunteers, based in the Draperstown area of south Derry, whose aim is to raise awareness and address stigma about suicide and mental health. 

STEPS volunteers are not known for letting the grass grow under their feet, and, after a busy summer which included a hugely successful Spin off event for the national Cycle Against Suicide, Karen and the gang decided it was time to push out the boundaries of social media.

The group already uses Facebook very effectively as a communication tool – a quick glance at their page indicates just how incredibly busy they are! The group were aware however that they might be missing a trick by not being able to also use twitter as a communication/campaign tool, so they decided that rather than talk about it they’d get it sorted.

STEPS have been involved in a number of human rights based campaigns for mental health under the umbrella of the Mental Health Rights Campaign, supported by the Participation and Practice of Rights organisation ( PPR were more than happy to help organise training for the group on using Twitter as a campaigning tool.  

The Arab Spring Uprising is perhaps the most powerful demonstration at a global level of how the digital revolution and the emergence of social media including twitter can be used for human rights campaigning work. Closer to home many innovative human rights campaigns make effective use of twitter, for example the Cycle Against Suicide @CASuicide across the island of Ireland.

Fast forward to Tuesday 23 June and a kitchen full of women talking about hot spots, hashtags, tooty wee characters and doubledee up arrows.  Sharon Whittaker, or @whittontwitt who delivered the training, used all of the motivational tricks in the book, promising an entire tub of Celebrations for the best student. The lure of chocolate and mugs of hot tea proved a winning combination, and within 10 minutes all 8 participants were participating in a Sweet Tweet Off. The winning, inaugural tweet from @steps_mh:

The group quickly got the hang of tweeting, retweeting, hashtags, tagging and adding photos to tweets.  Strange sounding twitter advice shared included: don’t be a stalker, people don’t engage with eggs and don’t reply to yourself!

The group began to identify who it would be useful for them to follow, including other local and regional organisations, political representatives and media outlets, and were delighted to gain quite a few followers even before the end of the training session. They also spent some time thinking about how twitter could be used as a tool in their campaign to improve GP services for mental health.

The evening finished with @whittontwitt giving the group homework, and a warning that she’d be checking on it – the homework being to make sure to tweet at least once a day. A quick check on their twitter account this afternoon confirmed that homework’s been done, with a great photo tweeted from session on raising awareness of suicide and mental health that STEPS ran with Bellaghy GAC on 27 August. Thumbs up all round for the STEPS tweeters!