Concise Guide to Understanding Replies, Mentions and Direct Messages on Twitter – Part 1 of 2

TwiTip • by Lara Kulpa

by Robert Dwyer of The Wellesley Wine Press – Follow him @RobertDwyer


A subtly confusing aspect of Twitter, even for people who have been using the service for a while, is understanding the differences between replies, mentions and direct messages. These concepts are confusing because they’re different than E-mail and aren’t necessarily the same as on other social networks like Facebook. The goal of this piece is to help well-meaning people from inadvertently annoying others on Twitter, or worse, accidentally sharing private information publicly.

This piece describes replies, mentions and direct messages in terms of how they’re used from the Twitter web interface. Once you understand how things work on Twitter’s website it’s easy to map these things to use within Twitter clients like TweetDeck or TwitterBerry.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Today we’ll talk about replies:


In it’s simplest form, a reply occurs when you see something that another user has tweeted and you want to respond to it in a public way. A reply is any tweet that starts with “@” followed by a user name.

For example, if I wanted to respond to the following tweet I’d click on the reply button:


…and then the Twitter “What are you doing?” box changes to a “Reply to” box and the text is populated with “@makerstable:


I’d then fill out my reply and click the reply button to send the tweet:


@makerstable would then see this tweet appear in her Twitter feed -and- it would also appear in her list of “Tweets mentioning @makerstable”. This last point is important because “Tweets mentioning” or “mentions” for short provide a way for users to notice the tweets that are most important to them- tweets about themselves!

A reply doesn’t necessarily need to be a response to a specific tweet. It can be simply a message to a specific Twitter user. For example, if I simply wanted to ask someone on Twitter a question I could say “@BostonTweet Who makes the best burrito in Boston?” Further, the person you’re targeting with the reply doesn’t even need to be someone you follow on Twitter. You can reply to anyone and it doesn’t even need to be a response to something specific they’ve said recently.

When you reply to a user, that tweet is viewable to everyone on Twitter. However, it will only appear on other users’ Twitter feeds if they are following the person that the tweet starts with. Say for example you follow @makerstable in the example above. You would see my tweet that was a reply to her in your Twitter feed. If you weren’t following @makerstable, you would not. Either way, if you viewed all of my tweets (by clicking on my username in Twitter) you’d see this tweet.

How to use replies:

Replies are a great way to engage people on Twitter. It lets people know that you’re listening to what they’re saying and not just following their updates. It’s also a great way to respond to people who aren’t following you but have asked a question that you might be able to help with. Say you own a wine shop and you sell a particular wine. You could create a Twitter search for that wine and when you noticed someone tweet “Does anyone know of a wine store in Boston that sells Cakebread?” You could reply to them and let them know that you do. Using Twitter as a lazyweb can be powerful.

How not to use replies:

It’s not really that useful to frequently reply “ha!” “lol!” or “so true!” to something someone has said. This can be annoying when a group of people with similar interests follow each other and your well intentioned tweets begin to fill up someone’s Twitter feed. Also, it’s not a good idea to reply without providing context. Twitter has a notion of threaded conversations, but it also moves pretty fast so it’s a good idea to reply with context as to which tweet you’re responding to. Instead of “lol!” say “@mnik That’s hilarious! Whenever I hear the word ‘webinar’ I cringe too.”

Important points to remember about replies:

  • Replies don’t necessarily need to be responses to something specific someone has said
  • Replies are public so be careful what you say
  • You can reply to someone even if you’re not following them
  • Limit the use of inconsequential replies. Some people don’t like it when Twitter is used as a chat room.

Question of the Day: What other nuances about about replies weren’t obvious to you when you first started using Twitter?

[Part 2 of this post will be put up tomorrow!]

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