Practical Twitter tips for beginners

Different types of conversations… and who sees them

A general default tweet: this is a statement or conversation that everyone can hear.

@tweet (or @reply if you responding to a tweet): Imagine this as addressing one person in a group conversation. You start your message with @username e.g. '@RichardTaylor_ impressive turnout at today’s open day.' The message only appears in that user’s timeline. However, followers of you and @RichardTaylor_ will see it and can reply. So in the example, followers of you and Richard will see the conversation.

You don’t need to follow someone to @reply them. If you put the @username anywhere else in the tweet other than the start all your followers will see it. This is called an @mention. You may want to do this to give someone public acknowledgement or credit or to promote them or their tweet to your followers .

Note the distinction between mentioning someone by name in a tweet and @mentioning them. For example, tweeting 'Professor Smith came across as really dumb in today’s lecture' is very different to tweeting '@profsmith came across as really dumb in today’s lecture.' He will get to see the second version and it’s likely to be considered abusive.

Direct message: Imagine this as a whisper to one person. This message starts with d username (note: no @) A person must be following you in order to direct message them.

@replies to you: You will see these in your timeline if you follow the person. You can see people who have @mentioned you in the @mentions tab on the Home menu within Twitter.

Twitter concepts

Retweets: (RT) Retweeting is how Twitter users share interesting tweets from the people they’re following. They copy and paste the original tweet and send it out. To give credit to the original person, users usually put “RT” plus the originator’s username at the beginning of the tweet. You might also see HT (heard through) and MT (modified tweet) For example: The Twitter user @uniofleicester tweets: 'Kasabian just announced Leicester homecoming gig at Uni and O2 Academy Sat 23 Oct'. You retweet by posting 'RT @uniofleicester: Kasabian just announced Leicester homecoming gig at Uni and O2 academy Sat 23 Oct.' Twitter also has an inbuilt Retweet option now.

Hashtags: # Hashtags are a way of flagging up a particular subject so that anyone can see all the tweets on a particular subject by doing a search.  "#XFactor" and "#BBCQT" are popular ones.  You tweet something like: "Did he REALLY just make that comment?! #BBCQT" and everyone knows you're referring to something that just happened on Question Time. is a good resource to see if a hashtag is already active before you use it or to see all the tweets on a hashtag.

Adding links to your tweets: If you’re using Twitter directly on your PC, just paste the URL into your message. Twitter now automatically shortens the links to 20 characters. If you’re using an app for Twitter (e.g. on your phone) there will be an option to shrink the link. To add pictures to your tweets within Twitter just click on the icon and add the image. If you’re using an app there will be an add picture icon (usually a camera).

Asterisks are normally used to EMPHASISE – e.g. "this is *superb* fun"... or to show an action about yourself in the 3rd person- e.g. "*goes off sobbing*

Good resources

More detailed information taken directly from “The blog that Peter Wrote” (see link above)

General vs @Tweets

  • There's a distinction between general tweets and tweets directed at a particular person (@tweets OR @replies if your responding to someone). A general tweet is one you just type and that all your followers will see.  Anyone doing a search for any keyword in that tweet will also see it.
  • @tweets, by contrast, start off with the @ symbol plus the name right at the start of the message e.g.  "@HyperbolicGoat Have you eaten many table legs recently?"  This tweet would appear only in HyperbolicGoat's timeline, and would not show in the timeline of the rest of my followers.
  • The exception to 3 is where someone follows both me AND HyperbolicGoat. It enables that "mutual follower" to see the conversation happening between us and join in if s/he wishes.


  • Sometimes you want to publicise an @tweet to someone and make sure all your followers see it.  You can do this my simply not putting the @ right at the start of the message. e.g. ".@HyperbolicGoat is a lovely person, follow him!"
  • Alternatively you could put the name anywhere else in the tweet e.g. "I had a great drink this evening with @HyperbolicGoat and @Dancing_Piglet".
  • There are many ways to keep the @ away from the first position in the tweet - "@ or ,@ or .@ all work just as well.
  • To see if anyone has referred to you in a tweet like this, you have to go to the "@mentions" section of your timeline.
  • Similarly, if someone who you don't follow has interacted with you, the message will not appear in your timeline because you don't follow them.  Instead you need to go to the "@mentions" section to see it.
  • You cannot use the @ symbol followed by any word or it will appear in the @mentions of the person with that username.  If you write "I wanted to laugh @Oscar" - it would have popped up in the mentions of whichever random person has the name "@Oscar". What you actually should have written is "I wanted to laugh at Oscar" or even "I wanted to laugh @ Oscar" with a space in between.

Protected Accounts

  • You can protect your tweets so that only your followers can see them.  This will lead to less spam, although it makes it less likely you will pick up new followers, as people can't see what you're saying.
  • If your account is protected, you cannot be retweeted by use of the "retweet" button. People still can retweet you though by copying and pasting your tweet with the letters "RT" at the start of the tweet.
  • If your account is protected and you reply to someone who is not following you, they cannot see your tweet.  Even experienced Twitter users frequently don't realise this.
  • If someone Google searches your username your tweets will not appear if you have protected them.  Only if you have allowed them to follow you, will the Google search throw up your timeline (sophisticated and quite impressive, eh?)

If you require any advice on setting up and managing a Twitter account, contact Vic Russell (vlh14) ext.1244 in the Marketing Communications Office. She can offer advice to beginners, intermediates or advanced users of social media.

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