Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Use the Twitter @Reply

It's 2011. We're more than a decade into the 21st Century. Still no flying cars, but Twitter has been around for five years now.

And it's time we all banded together to make sure our friends and family members and followers and followees understand one of the most crucial and oft-misunderstood functions in social media.

The @Reply

I covered the @Reply in my How to Use Twitter post, but, well, I still see it misused rather often so I thought I should dedicate a post to it.

Do you understand the @Reply? Do you? Are you sure? Do you see my skepticism? DO YOU?!

Here's what you need to know.

When you start a Tweet with @Username (whether that Username be @NathanBransford @LadyGaga or @YourMom), not everyone who follows you will see it. Only the people who follow both you and @Username will see it.

In other words, if you want to Tweet about this book that you've read and you want all of your followers to know about it, don't start your tweet with @ReallyGreatAuthorPerson

Example #1:

I want to Tweet about this great post I read by The Rejectionist. Let's say I write this Tweet:
@TheRejectionist wrote a great post! You should totally go read it! http://bit.ly/lxYL9w
WRONG WAY!

See how I started with @TheRejectionist? The only people who are going to see that Tweet already follow The Rejectionist and likely already read (and liked) the post.

Correct way:
Check out this great post by @TheRejectionist! You should totally go read it! http://bit.ly/lxYL9w
CORRECT!! Now everyone who follows me has been exposed to the wonders of The Rejectionist. Also acceptable:
.@TheRejectionist wrote a great post! Check it you must! http://bit.ly/lxYL9w
Notice the period? Anything but starting with @TheRejectionist will expose it to everyone who follows me.

Example #2:

Let's say I want to have a MOST HILARIOUS DIALOGUE with The Rejectionist that may be of interest to those who know both us both but perhaps not others. In that case, we use the @Reply freely

(Note: Conversation made up/wildly improbable)
@TheRejectionist Aren't @replies the most!

@NathanBransford Golly gee they sure are!

@TheRejectionist Isn't it just wild that only the people who follow both of us will see this conversation?

@NathanBransford I'll say!
CORRECT USAGE! We did not annoy/confuse the people who don't follow both of us with our most hilarious banter.

A few other points of note about the @Reply:
  • If someone visits your profile directly they WILL see your @Replies. They will also appear in Tweet boxes like the one on the right side of this page, and may appear to users who use some third party applications like TweetDeck depending on their settings. So don't treat your @Replies as private. They are not. If you want to send a private message, use a Direct Message.
  • @Replies are a great way of engaging with people on Twitter, so reach out and @Reply someone.
  • One more time, this time with even more feeling, cowbell, and the kitchen sink: If you want to broadcast your Tweet widely, don't start with an @Reply!
Understood? Good! Now please spread the @Reply gospel!

Twitter has not heeded my call to set up a Twitter DMV to make sure people have been through Twitter driving school before they hit the road, so please spread the word. Let's make sure we have both flying cars and correct @Reply usage by 2012..






84 comments:

Mr. D said...

I'm still not a twitter type guy. Don't think I ever will be.

Hektor Karl said...

Phew.... I understood. Though I definitely didn't know this when I first encountered Twitter.

Cathy Yardley said...

I've been trying to get into Twitter, but it seems like if you're not able to be on for a block of time to have conversations, it's hard to connect. I like FB better because it's more like a bulletin board -- you can pop on and off as you have time. Twitter's more like a cocktail party. It's been hard for me to "get" it. I'll check out your other post.

Steve Masover said...

Thanks for this, Nathan. Yeah, I'd gotten this info elsewhere, but little thanks to Twitter. In their help page on the topic the difference is only explained deep in the "Things to note" bullets at the bottom. Not nearly as helpful as your post & examples...

Gina said...

for shame - i did NOT know this!! thanks :)

Stephanie {Luxe Boulevard} said...

I don't use Twitter. I'm still getting "liked" on Facebook. But a lot of people I follow use Twitter, but don't really use Twitter, if you know what I mean. LOL! I think I will repost this though, so that those who want to know can KNOW!

BP said...

Thank you for saving us from the serious epidemic illiterate-ness of Twitterverse. Seriously. I'm serious; I never knew anything about that. This is sad. I repent and move on to a life of more enlightenment. And possibly flying cars. So...yeah. :D

Larissa Ione said...

Also, people who use Tweetdeck can see @replies from people they follow to people they don't follow...just like on the Twitter website. I can see the @ replies everyone I follow makes, even to people I don't follow in my Tweetdeck (for Mac.) Other users with Tweetdeck can see my @ replies to people they don't follow, as well. This seems to be true for older versions of Tweetdeck.

Melody said...

I've had Twitter for a couple of months and JUST discovered the @mention tab. (Oh, that's why no one was talking to me.) THANK YOU so much for this post - I hadn't realized that the role of the @ changed depending on where in the 'status' it was. And seriously, Twitter needs a handbook. I'm just now beginning to enjoy it, but boy, have I found it confusing! Thanks for doing your part to make the cyber world a better place, Nathan! :)

Leigha Landry said...

I am ashamed to say I did not know this. But they say you learn something new every day. Thanks for starting off my Monday learning.

traceybaptiste said...

Oh The Twitter is so complex! *sighs with hand on forehead*

DeadlyAccurate said...

On a related note, when you talk about someone, it's considered courteous to use their Twitter name in the post if you know it.

Examples:

@NathanBransford What do you think of @LadyGaga's latest song?

or

@NathanBransford Did you see what Lady Gaga was wearing last night at the Grammy's? @LadyGaga

MichelleKCanada said...

Great post. I did not know this Twitter info. I will retweet to spread the word.

Cheers,

Minx Malone said...

Wow, I really needed this. I didn't know the @reply limited who could see the discussion. I thought it just made it show up in the mentions column for the person it was directed to.

Tania Dakka said...

GUILTY!!!! My apologies kind sir! Thank you for the education!

Matthew MacNish said...

I actually knew most of this ... even in my Twitter noobdom, but I did learn something today. I always thought the @mention had to have a space on either side, and not be the very beginning for it to work AND be public. I now know that was but my ignorance.

danielle spears said...

Thank you! I so needed this!

Bryce Daniels said...

Just joined Twitter. Thanks for this info. Very helpful.

Now, can you tell me what this "Wii" is that everyone keeps talking about? (smiles)

Michaela said...

Thanks for the post! I'm new to Twitter and I definitely didn't know this. Thanks for not leaving us in the dark!

Mira said...

This is a very clear and cogent post about something that is incredibly confusing. Does anyone else wonder WHY Twitter makes it so confusing? Is there some secret agenda here?

Regardless, this is also the kind of information that slips out of my head as fast as it enters it. I read this post twice, and if you asked me what it said, all I could really say is it was funny and we don't have flying cars yet.

But I don't have Twitter, and if I get it, you have that handy, dandy blog directory, and I could consult it. Which is very cool!

So, thank you for the clear and cogent explanation of something very confusing!

Sam Webb said...

These are the little details I need! Thank you. I was pleased when I got the hashtag concept and use it endlessly during baseball games. (Still trying to teach my husband.) But truthfully, keeping up with all the different platforming components feels like learning a different foreign language each week.

Tiana Smith said...

This is something that annoys me, since I see the @reply misused so frequently. Granted, it wasn't something I had learned until I had been on Twitter for about a month, so a training course would be great for newbies.

The other thing that annoys me about the @reply? When people hold a loooooooong conversation back and forth without moving the conversation to DMs. Because if I follow both people, I am left with a conversation like the following:

"@PersonA Morning!"
"@PersonB Good morning to you! How was your coffee today?"
"@PersonA Good, how was yours?"
all the way until they're saying goodnight that evening. Gah!

Sean Thomas Fisher said...

Thanks Nathan! By the time I figure all of this stuff out, Twitter will probably be more outdated than the iPad1...

Anonymous said...

Nathan, when you were doing the whole agent thing, did you find it creepy if someone who quiered you suddenly followed you on twitter?

As I research agents, I am finding new, currenly un-followed ones to aubmit to, but would it look odd to start following them? Or do they have so many followers they wouldn't notice?

Ashley said...

I didn't know that first one! Crazy! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Though I use twitter three or four times daily, I don't see why I'd ever use @Replay. I usually just post and move on. I think most people do this, especially when using twitter for promotional reasons.

This is great info for those who use twitter to banter back and forth. But it could also intimidate a lot who would only use it for promotional purposes.

Munk said...

Th@ was gre@ thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

Totally fine to follow agents on twitter. I'd try to follow them before you query because you can get a sense of their personality, but no one is going to think you're weird for following them around the time you query.

The Desert Rocks said...

Nathan, it took me a long time to come around and become a twitter user because 140 characters sounded so limiting. Now that I sort of know how it works I like it--but please be patient with me...your post is very helpful, but certain things take time.

Loree Huebner said...

Thanks, Nathan! I always appreciate good twitter tips.

Nick said...

I'm still not completely clear, are you saying that if the @reply is the very first item in the tweet, it's limited to that person (or people who follow that person?), but if the @reply is anywhere else in the text, people who don't follow the person (but follow you) can still read it?

Nathan Bransford said...

Nick-

Yep, you got it.

magpiewrites said...

Nathan, you are ridiculous in your usefulness. Is there anything you don't know. NO! don't tell me. I won't believe you anyway.

D.G. Hudson said...

Like Mr. D., I'm not a-Twitter yet either, and it doesn't entice me at this point. (but I am a bird lover)

I've expressed my view on inter-connectedness and how much is needed at my blog:

http://dghudson.blogspot.com/2010/11/need-to-stay-e-connected-why.html (or, reality supercedes the web-life)

It's great that you share these HOW-TO posts on various communications, but not everyone is a Bandwagon Jumper, Nathan.

Yes, it's the 21st century and no personal flying vehicles (PFVs) have made it to the market yet, but it's getting awfully noisy out there with all that bird talk. Just IMO.

Richard Mabry said...

Nathan, hate to admit it but I really didn't know this. Thanks for sharing.
Does this mean when I retweet something you said, and it starts "RT @nathanbransford..." that only the people following you and me see it? Or is that RT enough to insulate the address?
Glad you didn't stop posting when you changed occupations.

Nathan Bransford said...

Richard-

Starting with anything other than an @ means all your followers will see it. So if you start with rt everyone sees it. If you start with @username only your followers who also follow @username will see it.

DeadlyAccurate said...

Anon @8:34

If you use Twitter only for promotional purposes, you're likely to get blocked and reported as spam by a good number of folks (including me). Twitter is about interaction, not about talking AT people without listening TO them.

To put it bluntly, it's self-absorbed and self-centered to use Twitter only to talk about yourself and never pay attention to what other people say. If you don't care what I have to say, why should I care what you have to say?

Mira said...

Quick addition -

I agree. That was an amazing post by the Rejectionist.

Gregory K. said...

Good stuff, Nathan. There are all sorts of wrinkles beyond the ones you mentioned (I actually wrote about them in a post called Who Can See Your Tweets - and there's great follow on convo in the comments), but if folks simply follow what you wrote, then the other situations fall waaaay into the ether. More importantly, it'll make folks' Twitter experience that much better.

Hanny said...

Thanks for all the helpful posts! You really make positive a difference to people.

Chris Phillips said...

So after 5 years twitter is still more complicated than good. Gotcha. Didn't fully get @username usage.

Kathryn Paterson said...

I think I've been doing it correctly, but my goofy thing is that sometimes I forget and reply to a reply and then end up tweeting myself. This causes endless laughter to those who know me well. So there's also the not tweeting yourself thing. That, and if someone doesn't follow you, they won't see your tweets, will they, even if you tweet them directly? Or can they click on mentions and see it?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Nathan is saying you should be on twitter; I think he's just saying it's been around awhile, it's not that complicated, for those who are using it, let's get it write, folks!

Anonymous said...

er, right.

Hopefully in this crowd that mistake will be forgiven!

Other Lisa said...

Yes, the prolonged conversation I'm having with two friends about Vibram Five Fingers is definitely better off starting with @ (fascinating as we may personally find it)

abc said...

Yay!

But I have a question, Nathan. As a celebrity, do you ever get annoyed by having a bunch of @NathanBransfords pop up in your tweeter feed from people who don't know you but are desperately trying to engage you? I have to wonder how much I might be bugging @winbutler, @albertbrooks, and @rogerebert in my attempts to connect with greatness (and @nathanbransford, too, of course!)

CageFightingBlogger said...

Ohhhhh I get it now. Shouldn't Twitter tell us this in a help page or something?

Steph said...

It took me awhile to figure this out...trial and error and all that...glad you made this helpful post!

Anonymous said...

Yes, how bold or afraid should you be about @tweeting someone famous?

CageFightingBlogger said...

ABC- the mentions appear in a separate column on the page, so you can choose to look at them if you want. I don't get notified of mentions through hotmail like I do when someone new follows me. That annoys me, but I can see it would be favorable to celebs followed by millions.

Jericho Ambrose said...

*PHEW*
The Ego-centric part of me was afraid this was posted because I was an idiot and did it wrong!

Glad I posted my tweet correctly when I mentioned your Week in Books post!

Anonymous said...

It's good to see this. So, I've been doing it right and this way from the start. It would always irritate me when I saw @tweets the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining. I am not a Twitter, prefer FB.

Nathan Bransford said...

I think it's greet to @reply people with large followings. They might not always be able to reply, but then again if you write a funny reply they might retweet you, or they might reply back.

Speaking personally, I wish I could respond to everyone but I always appreciate people reaching out to me.

abc said...

Thank you, Nathan (and CafeFightingBlogger). That makes me feel better. One day I hope to be retweeted by Anderson Cooper. I have big dreams.

Sheila Cull said...

Nathan, now, I need to know how important tweeting is for my writing business (and I've finally begun working with larger markets/money, still much rejection, but the thousands of hours with b.i.c., benefits me).

Alan Rinzler recently wrote about the needed twittering.

Here's the but - between working, writing, reading and sleeping and eating when I remember, how do I make time to tweet? Seriously? So, is tweeting for a writer, essential?

It seems like too much communication, too quickly, no?

Anonymous said...

Always informative , starting with "It's 2011" . Which got me thinking - Is it ? ( long pause ) oh yeah , it is ! Thanks again , Nathan .

Crazy Cat Lady said...

It has always amazed me how people don't read site FAQs. Really, it's all in there. But then again, I'm the only one in my family to read the user manual for new home appliances and electronics. I should probably realise there are a lot of people out there who are not like me...

Anonymous said...

"To put it bluntly, it's self-absorbed and self-centered to use Twitter only to talk about yourself and never pay attention to what other people say. If you don't care what I have to say, why should I care what you have to say?"

That was my basic point. It's twitter, not Dr. Phil.

anon @8:34

Sheila Cull said...

Crazy Cat Lady, what is a site FAQ?

Jan Markley said...

Thanks for clearing that up, I think I almost @ get it. I'm still waiting for the flying car as well ... have been waiting since the 70s.

MAClarkeScott said...

Thanks so much for that Nathan! I'm veeeeery slowly getting comfortable with Twitter but still don't understand so much. You totally clarified one aspect for me today. Even though I don't know anyone well enough to have a semi-private conversation with. Oh well. Thanks again for being so cyber savvy.

Gabriel said...

I feel like a Luddite.

I can't use any of these social platforms in an attempt to publicize my inconsequential life.

googledisappointsme.blogspot.com

Delorfinde said...

I'm so disappointed by the lack of flying cars. If we're ever going to match up to 2015 in Back To The Future II ... I mean, we're already totally behind schedule if you're following Do androids dream of electric sheep? - we should have had robots by 1992...

On a serious note, thanks! I didn't know that, although I'm trying to become more twitter-savvy. This is VERY helpful :)

DeadlyAccurate said...

@Sheila Cull: While I think everyone should only do the social networking they have time for and are comfortable with (I personally hate Facebook), probably about 75% of the books I buy these days come initially from a Twitter mention.

Dorothy L. Abrams said...

You are so helpful! thanks. I wasn't using @ incorrectly because I wasn't using it at all. Now I understand.

Nancy Lauzon said...

Thank you! For some reason this was never explained when I joined Twitter. Or maybe I was too lazy to read it.

Ishta Mercurio said...

LOL! Awesome post. Why doesn't Twitter do a better job of educating people on how to use it? Everything I know about Twitter, I either learned from you, or figured out myself through experimentation.

Now I'm wondering how many people use Twitter, exactly... I know it's a lot, but HOW MANY?

Crazy Cat Lady said...

@Sheila Cull: Just about every website has a "Help" section or an "FAQ" to guide new (and old) users. It is usually situated in the site header or footer menu, next to things like "Terms of Service" and "About us".

When I sign up for a new web site, I always read the terms of service (at least the sections about account termination, privacy and copyright) and I always take a glance at the Help/FAQ. If I come across something that I don't understand while using the website, I consult the Help/FAQ again. Apparently this is an unusual practice – something which surprises me! =)

For Twitter, the Help/FAQ link is situated in the footer of the right hand side bar (new layout) or the top menu to the right (old layout) and points to http://support.twitter.com/

Caitlin said...

Not gonna lie, I had no idea that was how it worked! Thanks for explaining it.

Rebecca T. Little said...

Looks like we're both trying to educate tweeps about @reply :) GMTA!

Did you know there is a follow limit? Do you know the formula? Twitter veterans and newbies will both find some other little-known Twitter goodies here:

http://rebeccatlittle.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-ive-learned-about-twitter.html

Thalea said...

Thanks Nathan! Just reposted this to FB, since I know I am not the only one confused by Twitter. One small step for man...one giant step for mankind?

azarimba said...

You should be writing instruction manuals for stuff! I finally understand how replying works, and more than just in the sense of the @reply you started out by explaining. (Relatively new to Twitter.) Thanks!

Renee Miller said...

I did not know this. Thanks, Nathan. I shall @Reply properly from now on.

As for using Twitter only for promotion, that usually backfires as someone else mentioned. Twitter is a marketing tool, but only if you use it properly. Tweeting links or promos about your "product" and nothing else annoys people. Showing a bit of yourself now and then is more appealing to potential readers. No, they don't care what you had for dinner or how long you sat on the toilet this morning, but sharing an article here and there, RT'g something interesting posted by another person--basically something that is NOT about you or your book, shows you're a real person and not trying to sell something they probably don't want.

It's called social networking. That means you have to be a tiny bit social now and then. I know, it hurts.

Anonymous said...

Hi why dont my replies show on the other persons timeline, even though others replies show and they are not followed by the sender?

Anonymous said...

Oops i meant not followed by the recipient?

Anonymous said...

can i replay someone who doesnt follow me?

Keisha said...

OMG THIS IS SO USEFUL this solves everything I want to know :) thanksss

Karen lee Hallam said...

Wow, all this time on twitter. Now I know Thanks @Nathan

Valerie said...

now i know why i haven't had much response to some things - no one could see anything. oy vey! still very new to twitter, so thank you for the very helpful information.

Grace said...

Love this post and agree it would be a great idea to have a Twitter DMV. I've been trying to figure out what all the Twitter tags are but haven't been able to find them in one place, so this is great. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is dumb, you left a piece of info that is vital:
"if you post an @reply your account will be suspended" Why? You need to address the suspension of a twitter account because of an @reply!
Google brought me here to this post..... and it has nothing of use at all about why an account get's suspended because of an @reply

Kadal Mesir said...

I like FB better because it's more like a bulletin board -- you can pop on and off as you have time. Twitter's more like a cocktail party. It's been hard for me to "get" it. I'll check out your other post.
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