The Must-Know Basics of @Twitter

Written by  on Jun 03, 2013

Twitter has become very popular in recent years which has led to an increased use for both personal and business use. Unfortunately, there are some specific ways to correctly use Twitter (more so than on Facebook) that many people don't seem to understand.

This post won't make you a great Twitter user, but it will make you a Twitter user who uses the site correctly.

Twitter is one of the most popular social networking sites, but more specifically it is a microblogging site due to the fact that updates (called 'tweets') are limited to 140 characters. Tweeting via text message, the website, or an array of mobile apps, users can post new content and communicate with or share tweets from other users.

There are no 'friends' on Twitter, a concept that can be difficult to understand for social media users who have been limited to sites where relationships between users are mutual (like Facebook*). Instead, a user 'follows' other users, subscribing to their tweets which then show up in a feed. The user that was followed can, but doesn't have to "follow-back" which means that each user can tailor their feed based on their own interests, not based on who they're connected to. Just because you love getting all the updates from @JustinBieber doesn't mean he has to follow you back. Because let's be honest... he's way too busy for you.

Every Twitter user has their own personal username and an actual name that accompanies it. Think of it in terms of caller ID on your cell phone: the phone number (username) is the piece required to contact a person, but their name is what you see on the caller ID. The only difference is that, while you add contacts to your phone and can name them whatever you want, Twitter users choose their own names.

*In a recent Facebook update, users can now "subscribe" to other uses. This is used most prevalently for celebrities, though any time you ignore a friend request that person will still be subscribed to your updates with limited access. It is likely that this model was inspired by the follow functionality on Twitter.

The Many Different Tweets

The Normal Tweet

A Normal Tweet is be a plain ol' update that might contain text, links, or hashtags, but doesn't mention any other users.

normal tweet

Who can see it?

Anyone that follows you can see this tweet in their own feed, and anyone–whether they are a Twitter user or not–can see all of your tweets by visiting your profile.


The Mention

On Twitter, @ symbols are used to communicate with and link to the profiles of other Twitter users by placing them in front of their username. When you draft a tweet and include @[username], that's called a mention; once you send the tweet the other user will get a notification or email alerting them to the fact that you mentioned them in a tweet.

One of the lesser-understood quirks of Twitter: where the username is placed in the tweet has an effect on who can see it in their feeds.

At the Beginning of the Tweet

mention tweet

Who can see it?

Because the tweet begins with @[username], the user you mentioned and anyone who follows both you AND them will see it in their feed. Your friends that follow you and Bieber will be able to see you tweeted at him, but those who don't would have to navigate to your profile (because anyone, even unregistered users, can see all of your tweets on your profile).

Inside the Tweet

mention tweet2

Who can see it?

Whether they follow J.Biebs or not, this tweet will show up in the feeds of all your follows, as the mention is inside the message, not at the beginning.

The "." Trick

mention tweet3

This workaround is a fairly new trick that has developed as Twitter has grown. By simply placing a period in front of the @, it accomplishes the same thing as the above tweet without forcing you to fit the username in naturally. This can also be nice because of Twitter's 140 character limit per tweet.


The Reply

Whether you're just a random Joe or a major corporation, Twitter is all about conversation. On every tweet there is a link to 'Reply' to it. When clicked, a text box automatically including the @[username] of the original Tweeter opens for you to draft a new tweet in reply. Replying to tweets creates a conversation that can be viewed by clicking on any of the tweets involved. Were you to draft a brand new tweet and mention the other user instead of replying, it would not be tied to the original tweet and you would not be able to see the conversation.

reply tweet

Who can see it?

The same basic mention rules apply here. Because the first tweet begins with the @, only Justin and any of our followers who also follow him will see it in their feeds.
Because Justin preceded the @ with text in his reply, all of his followers will be able to see it in their feeds. That's awesome... because he has 39.8 million followers and counting and we want to be famous too.


The Retweet

Twitter allows users to repost tweets by other users (whether you follow them or not, depending on their privacy settings) by what is called 'retweeting.' There are two ways to retweet something: automatically using the button underneath every tweet, or manually, allowing the retweeting user to comment on the tweet.

The Automatic Retweet

When you automatically retweet something, the original tweet shows up on your profile–as would your own original tweets–with a message underneath stating that you retweeted it. In your own feed, you'll see retweets from the accounts you follow with a note telling you who it was that shared it.

automatic retweet

Who can see it?

Anyone that follows you will see the tweet in their feeds–they don't have to be following the account that first tweeted it–along with the same note beneath that you are the one who shared it.

The Manual Retweet

Manually retweeting something allows users to share content from other people while giving them the ability to comment and add their own take on it. There are some generally held rules for this kind of retweet and how it's crafted: Your message goes first, followed by "RT @[username]" and then the original tweet. Your message goes in front because the colored username link serves as a natural visual break between the different pieces. If you just tacked on words to the end, it would become unclear what was original and what was added.

manual retweet

Who can see it?

As with automatic retweets, anyone who follows you can see your "RT" in their feed even if they don't follow the account you're retweeting. (This is essentially just a Mention, but the RT before the username lets people know that you're quoting someone else)


The Modified Tweet

Manually retweeting things and adding your own comment can be tough if the original message was very close to 140 characters to start, or maybe only part of the tweet is relevant to what you're commenting on. In this case, MT replaces RT. Like a retweet, it let's people know that you're quoting someone else, but this indicates that you've modified the original message.

modified tweet

Who can see it?

See the Manual RT above. Same rules apply

As a note, none of these tweets (aside from Bieber's retweet of Will.I.Am) are real. We don't follow, listen to, or tweet at Justin Bieber... please don't judge us.

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