Twitter Basics: @, # and RT

For people just joining Twitter and looking around, the feed looks reads like it’s in a foreign language – symbols being tossed about carelessly, links everywhere, people using “u” when they clearly meant to use “you” – how can you make sense of it all?

Allow me to try and help just a little bit. I’m not going to write a full essay on how to use twitter, but I will do my best to help you understand that funky language better so you can get in there and tweet with the best of ‘em! I kinda wrote a post about this already so let me just sum that up and be a bit more explicit here. For the sake of this post, let’s view Twitter as a giant social gathering. When you walk into the room, you hear a din made up of the several conversations happening around the room. It’s very difficult to follow one of them let alone all of them. Twitter’s language allows you to navigate that din and find what and who you’re looking for. Here’s are three of the biggies:


1. “@ replies/mentions”: If you want someone’s attention in a loud room, you might have to shout their name loud enough for them to hear it – that way they won’t miss whatever it is you’re trying to tell them. That’s where the @ symbol comes in. Placing the @ symbol before someone’s username accomplishes two things:

– Creates a link to that person’s twitter profile in your tweet; and

– Ensures that person will see the tweet, because twitter allows you to see when someone “mentions” you.

Furthermore, clicking the “reply” button under a tweet automatically starts your next tweet addressing whoever sent it. It also will allow you to follow a conversational string – in the image below, look for the words “in reply to” – clicking on that would take you to the previous tweet in the conversation:

2. RT or ReTweeting: You’ll also notice the ReTweet button above. Retweeting is the act of sharing somebody’s tweets with your followers. You can either share it as is or add your own comments (NOTE: adding your own comments is function you get with desktop apps like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck – the Twitter website just retweets without additional comments.)

3. Hashtags: Are you confused when you see something like this on Twitter?

Enjoying the #phillies game #mlb #openingday

Fear not! Those are just hashtags, a way of organizing discussion topics to make them easier to find. Putting that pound sign in front of a term makes that term an easily searchable topic. When you’re at a convention, using a hashtag for that convention makes it easy for you to see what’s happening in the sessions you can’t attend, find friends and colleagues, or even follow the convention remotely if you can’t attend. Hashtags also unite conversations about a single topic, like #phillies (My beloved Philadelphia Phillies) #mlb (Major League Baseball) and #openingday (Baseball’s Opening Day. Maybe that one was kind of obvious. Hashtags might also cover trending topics in the news, like #healthcare, #tigerwoods or #americanidol. If you go to Twitter search you can actually see which hashtags are currently popular (note that some are hashtags, some are not – hashtags are not a necessity, but make it easier to find what you’re looking for/talking about):

Now go forth, my friends. Go forth and conquer the Twitter frontier. Realize that these weird symbols are just ways of doing things you already know how to do.

I’ll be here if you need me.