How Twitter Replies Work

Twitter is a fantastic medium for communicating one-on-one or en masse, but how that communication works (or doesn’t) is sometimes confusing. I think the thing that trips people up more than anything else is the reply function; when you @username somebody. When people want to reply directly to just one person, they often share the tweet with everybody who follows them.  Conversely, when they want to mention another user on Twitter but share it with everybody, they often only send their message to that person. So how are you supposed to understand this syntax? How do Twitter replies work?

It all comes down to this: if your tweet starts with a username (e.g. @mattsingley) then it will only be seen by that person and anybody who follows both you and them. If your tweets starts with any character or symbol other than the @ symbol, it will be potentially* seen by everybody that follows you, whether or not they also follow the person mentioned.

This can be confusing, so let me show you a couple of examples.

Example 1: Direct Reply

In the tweet above, you’ll see that I started with @ and Adam’s username. Since there is nothing else before the @ symbol, only Adam and those who follow me AND Adam will see this in their timeline. Note that they can still go directly to my Twitter page, look through my history of tweets and see this. Starting a tweet with @ doesn’t block this tweet from public viewing (that is what Direct Messages are for), but it won’t be included in timelines as people look at their feed on their desktop or mobile. This method is my favorite aspect of Twitter; the conversation. You can tweet back and forth with a person (or several people) without overwhelming every person that follows you with your personal conversation. 

Examaple 2: Username Mention

This tweet is different from the first tweet in that it has a period before the @ symbol in the tweet.  This means that everybody that follows me will potentially see this, whether or not they also follow Adam.  Don’t get hung up on the period, I only use that because it’s subtle and doesn’t visually take away from the sentence. It could be a quotation mark, a comma or even a full word. The point that you need to understand is that something has to come before the @ symbol in the tweet. A lot of people like to start with a word so it feels like it is part of the comment.  For example, when griping about a brand online, people love to start with “Hey”. They’ll tweet “Hey @gianttelco, just wanted to let you know your customer service is terrible…”.  A note here: just mentioning a user later in your Tweet doesn’t mean you have to put a “.” at the start of your tweet. It’s not necessary as long as your tweet starts with anything other than a @username.

Summary: if you want to have a conversation with just one person, start your tweet with their username, making sure that the @ symbol in their name is the very first character you use.  If you want to mention another Twitter user, but be sure that those that follow you see it, put any symbol (like a period) at the beginning of the tweet before their user name.

*”Potentially seen by everybody that follows you” means that it isn’t guaranteed to be seen by everybody.  In fact, the very nature of Twitter insures that most people that follow you won’t see your tweet unless they happen to be logged in when you post your tweet.  Remember that Twitter is chronological (for now, that will change soon) and unlike Facebook, doesn’t sort tweet with an algorithm. If you have an important tweet that really should be seen my a lot of people, post it a few times throughout the course of the day, or spend money on a promoted campaign


The Myth of Social Media Strategy

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing strategy with different groups this week, so it’s fresh in my mind . Good thing, as my title is Senior Director of Social Media Strategy. I’ve also been looking at a lot of requests from potential clients and outside groups that all want a response that includes a “Social Media Strategy”.  The thing is, 99% of the time, they really don’t want a strategy…they want operations and tactics, and we can’t even give those to them because they don’t have goals in place.

Strategy is one of the most overused and misunderstood words in all of marketing, perhaps in all of business.

  • “Build a Facebook sweepstakes application that lets users share and win” is not a strategy…it’s a tactic.
  • “Be the best widget company in the social space” is not a strategy…it’s a mission.
  • “Get 100,000 Twitter followers by the Holiday season” is not a strategy…it’s a goal.

The big short circuit, of course, is that many people aren’t working off of the same page.  They’re not even working out of the same book, because clear and measurable goals have not been set.  If somebody approaches you with a mission to accomplish, and you answer with a lot of tactics, more times than not both sides will be frustated with the outcome because Goals and Strategies have been left out of the process.  The frustration won’t be evident right away, it takes time to realize that the different expectations are worlds apart. Without measurable goals, how do you know if your work will be judged as a victory or a failure?

The big problem with social media strategy, or any strategy for that matter,  is not that it doesn’t exist…it’s that it cannot exist as a stand-alone; it needs other pieces to work.

A social media strategy is not the victory itself, it is the path to victory. But if you don’t know where you are going, how can you plan a way to get there?

Working With Influencers and Enthusiasts For Your Brand

As somebody that develops strategy for large corporate brands, I often work with different types of brand advocates in various social media channels.  A common tactic of many marketers and PR professionals is to try to go after “influencers” to get them to talk about their product.  Sometimes these influencers are individuals, sometimes they are communities, but a common denominator is that they have substantial audience sizes. The typical way of approaching these people or groups is to ship them a sample of your product and include a note that says something like, “Hope you enjoy this, please blog about it”.  I think this is a good shotgun approach to communities, it’s a good step up from a press release and it gets your product information out to a lot of people very quickly.  For individuals, I think we have to look at a more measured and personal approach.

Influencers and Enthusiasts in Social MediaTo truly be effective in social media with influencers, I think you need to build a relationship, not ship a press package. You also have to recognize and understand the different groups that exist in social media, so you know how to develop and target brand programs and exposure.  In case you fear that I’m starting to sound a little too professional and polished in this approach, I submit for your approval a hand drawn diagram in the picture to the left.  Fancy, isn’t it? I put this beauty up on our office white board this morning while talking through the concept with a client.

Before we discuss what to do with these various groups, let’s start by defining them.

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