Twitter – How to Reply

December 18, 2009 · 15 comments

Replies are what conversations are made of on twitter. They can’t be complicated can they? Well there are some subtleties you should know about. Here’s some tips to get you started. Lets take a look at twitter.com to see how they look.

1. Tweeting from your Home Page

Lets make some tweets from the ‘Home’ page. This is the page you see when you log in to http://twitter.com. It’s where you see all the tweets of people you follow in a stream – well not all. You won’t see their Direct Messages (DM) of course. But you also won’t see some of their public tweets there. Let me explain.

This is a tweet without anyone’s @handle in it that I wrote on my homepage:

HowtoReply.1.simpletweet

When I hit the ‘update’ button the tweet is sent to the streams of all the people who follow me.

Tip: A @handle is your username – its what people use to send you a public message. My handle for this blog’s twitter account is @justprofs. You’ll notice that people’s @handles are blue on twitter – click on the handle and you’ll see that person’s profile.

2. Standard Replies – select followers see the tweet

When you hover over the stream of tweets in your homepage you can see a ‘reply’ and a ‘retweet’ button. If I click the ‘reply’ button I can reply to the person who sent the tweet.

HowtoReply.2.replybutton

Below is a tweet reply I made by pressing the ‘reply’ button. When I hit reply, Twitter puts the person’s @handle at the front and I can type in after it to send James (@projectbook) a message. I call this a Standard Reply, with the @handle at the front:

HowtoReply.3.standardreply

Now, though I tweeted a reply to James from my account, everyone who follows me won’t see my reply. Only the people who follow us both will. For example, I don’t follow James with my @architectleague account (because I only follow architects there). So @architectleague can’t see my Standard Reply to James in its stream. This is because I put his @handle right at the front of my tweet.

There are advantages to people not seeing your tweets to everyone. If you follow someone who replies a lot it can fill up your stream! For example, if you follow me, you’ll see all the tweets I send, except the Standard Replies (with the @handle at the front) to people you do not follow. And as I follow over 2000 people, this could save you some irrelevant reading!

If you want to see all my tweets, you need to go to my profile page, by clicking my @handle or visiting http://twittercom/username where you replace ‘username’ with the handle (no @).

Tip: If you want to see people’s replies to you, visit the Mentions page (the @Username link on the right hand margin of your homepage at twitter.com)

3. Open Replies – Making sure everyone who follows you sees your tweet.

Sometimes you want everyone to see your tweets, not just the person you are replying to and his followers. Perhaps you want to share the comment with everyone, but still want to make sure the message goes to the ‘mentions’ stream of the person you’re replying to.

Here’s an open reply from my home page stream:

HowtoReply.4.OpenReply

Note how @mikebutcher has credited the originator of the message (by using ‘via’) and copied in someone else (cc @evarley). But everyone who follows him will see this message, because it doesn’t have someone’s @handle right at the front.

So if you want everyone to see your tweet reply, you can use the reply button if you like, but type something IN FRONT of the @handle. Whatever it is, type something. Then everyone will see the tweet.

The downside of typing in front of someone’s @handle in a reply is that it may break the thread of connections you can see by clicking ‘in reply to’ below a tweet, or those you can see when you use search.twitter.com. But it’s a small price to pay sometimes. Don’t you think?

Postscript

One of the reasons people like to follow me is that I ‘find such interesting stuff’ – and one of the reasons for this is that I follow a wide range of people. If I didn’t follow them I wouldn’t see their tweets, but also because I follow quite a lot I see more tweets between them – because of the ‘Standard Replies’ phenomenon. Its one good reason for following a large number of people – but that’s for another post.

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