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Why you Shouldn’t Start a Tweet with an @

You shouldn't ever start a Tweet with an @ (username) unless you only want that person to see it. We explain why that happens and how to avoid it.

This problem is as old as the hills Twitter itself, but it’s still a doozy that many get wrong, and the results are really not what you’d think. In fact, it can be almost the opposite effect than you’re planning.

When you send a Tweet, how you start that Tweet is kind of a big deal – basically because depending on how you start it, will demonstrably influence who sees it.

Normal Tweets

A normal Tweet is one that you’ve clicked the new tweet button The Twitter New Tweet Button and typed in what you want the Twitterverse to know. It is of course, as you know, a great way to promote what’s happening. You can use this to talk to your community as a whole, promote something of interest, or just ask a question; for example –Which tool’s secrets do you wish you could unlock?

Mentions

A mention is when you write a Tweet (as above), but tag a Twitter user into that Tweet. You do this by typing the “@” symbol and then type the intended tag-ee’s username (for example @HypeStar or @JamesLaneMe). Twitter converts this ‘tag’ into a clickable link for anyone to click and navigate to that user’s profile – it also sends the tag-ee a notification to tell them that they have been mentioned in your Tweet.

Replies

A reply is normally created in response to you clicking on the reply button The Twitter Reply Tweet Button and responding to someone. In a similar way that you would reply to an email. But, just with an email, if you only click reply – not everyone will see it – only the recipient will.

This is often fine, because you’re wanting only the recipient to see your message.

We like to welcome new followers and let them know that they can further engage with our helpful hints and tips by signing up via email. The followers of HypeStar’s Twitter account probably aren’t interested that we’ve written to the web design team at 808 – it’s a conversation that is taking place between two parties (in this case, @HypeStarUK and @808DigitalMedia). So we’re fine…with this.

This is where it becomes a little bit more common – as a mistake. What if we want to reference an account (see ‘mention’ above), but grammatically, it makes sense for that tag to appear at the beginning of the sentence.

Here, the awesome team at @EastDurhamNews Tweeted an article that references HypeStar. The headline reads –

HypeStar set to launch businesses into the stratosphere

So it makes sense to change the reference to HypeStar to a tag so we’d be notified that they’re talking about us. Or does it?

Twitter reads the Tweet as a reply, because the @ appears at the start, just like with a reply. It can’t distinguish between the two (even though the intent is different), so it treats them the same way. In the case of a reply, that means that the sender sees it (as they’re the author), the recipient sees it (as they’re the intended audience) and any account that mutually follows both the sender and the recipient.

So, if you think about giving that great client, business or friend a shoutout – starting the Tweet with their username ensures that you see it (but you know them), they see it (but they know themselves) and anyone who follows both you and them (but they know both of you).  In fact, the only type of person who would not see the Tweet, is the user who follows you…but doesn’t follow them. Which is pretty much the only person who you actually need to see it.

To address this, you can use the tag elsewhere in the Tweet.

Or, if you don’t want to reword (or haven’t got the space to), simply “break the reply”. This name is given to any Tweet that would be a reply, but has something…anything…any other character apart from the @ symbol at the start of that Tweet. Commonly (but not exclusively), this is a full stop/period.

Adding this character prevents the Tweet from beginning with an @ symbol, and therefore being treated as a reply. Hence we call it ‘breaking the reply’.

Here’s a quick summary of who sees different kinds of Tweets –

Tweet Type How you write your Tweet Who can see your Tweet
The normal Tweet I’ve enjoyed learning with @HypeStarUK
  • You
  • Your followers
  • HypeStar
The reply @HypeStarUK workshops are awesome!
  • You
  • Your followers who also follow HypeStar
  • HypeStar
The broken reply .@HypeStarUK workshops are awesome!
  • You
  • Your followers
  • HypeStar
The mention I’ve been on a great workshop with @HypeStarUK
  • You
  • Your followers
  • HypeStar
*The different types of Tweets and who sees them

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