Twitter 101: Replies vs. Mentions

Replies. Mentions. Hashtags. Trending topics. We know the words, and that they’re fundamentals of Twitter. But how well do we really understand them?

Well, you may be surprised.

Let’s do a quick exercise in Twitter mentions. Say you wanted to send a tweet about someone (let’s pretend it’s @eZangaInc). How would you start that tweet? What you decide determines what kind of tweet you’re sending.

If the Twitter handle you’re including in the tweet is the first thing typed into the “Tweet” box, it’s actually not a mention at all; it’s a reply.

This may seem like a small detail, and it is. I know plenty of great social media managers that use the two types of tweets interchangeably, thinking that there’s no difference between the two. But the real difference has more of an impact than you’d think.

Let’s start by defining mentions and replies

Before we start going into the differences between the two types of tweets and which is best for different situations, let’s look at how Twitter defines each:

  • A @reply is any tweet that begins with your username. One can be posted by pressing the “Reply” button on a tweet, the “Compose” button from a user’s profile on the mobile apps, or by beginning a tweet with another user’s handle. Replies will show up in a user’s “Mentions” tab on web and mobile.
  • A @mention is any post that contains a certain username anywhere in the tweet. These will also show up in a user’s “Mentions” tab. You can @mention more than one user in a tweet, and they will all see a notification in their “Mentions” tab.

Basically, it’s like fingers and thumbs (all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs). All @replies are @mentions, but not all @mentions are @replies.

Why it matters

The biggest and most important difference between @replies and @mentions is who sees the tweet in their home page timelines. If a tweet is a @reply, it will only show up in a user’s timeline if that user is following both the person sending the tweet and the person they’re replying to. If a tweet is a @mention, it will show up in the timeline of anyone who follows the user sending the tweet. They don’t need to follow the user being @mentioned for it to show up.

However, that does not mean that if you @reply to someone, only people that follow both of you can see it. If someone visits your profile ([yourhandle]) or a hashtag or search stream, it will show up there. It just doesn’t appear on the home timeline, where many users spend most of their time on Twitter.

How to decide

So, how do you decide whether to format your next tweet as a @reply or a @mention? Think about who you want to see your tweet. If the tweet is directed at a specific handle (i.e. “Thanks for stopping by our store today, Marie!”), you’re good with a reply along the lines of “@MariesTwitterHandle Thanks for stopping by our store today, Marie!”.

However, if you’re including a Twitter handle because your tweet is about the person rather than to the person, you’ll want to mention them. Let’s look at a real-life example:

Last week, our CEO was presenting at a press briefing at the trade show we were attending. We want to tweet about it. We could write:

“@RichKahn is announcing our new advertising platform at #adtechSF today!”

But that would only be seen in the timelines of people that follow both @eZangaInc and @RichKahn. To make sure more people see it in their timelines, we would want to switch the words around so that the included handle wasn’t the first thing in the tweet, like:

“Today at #adtechSF, @RichKahn is announcing our new advertising platform!”

It all boils down to who you’re talking to in each individual tweet. There are some people that “game” things by adding a “.” before every reply so that more people see it, but I personally find that somewhat annoying, since I’m being shown private conversations I don’t have any stake in.

Think about whether or not your entire following wants to see that reply or mention. The answer you come up with will tell you how to write the tweet.

How do you use replies and mentions differently on Twitter? Comment with your uses below!