The mechanics of tweeting

When it comes to gadget type things or electronic type things, I like to learn how they work. I don’t want to just use a device, I like to know the mechanics of it so if and when it goes wrong I can at least have an idea of why it’s happened.

Twitter is no different. Tweeting itself is enjoyable, and I like the social aspect it brings. But the actual mechanics of tweeting is of interest too. And because I’m such a prolific user, you start to learn how best to use it for your purposes.

The first thing a person will do is to send a general tweet to the world along the lines of ‘hello world’. From there on you find people to follow and hopefully get followed back. And you get to a stage where you actively start to ‘@’ people. That is, you want to engage with others and send them a message. And surprisingly this is where it gets complicated.

Twitter 101 tells us that when you ‘@’ or mention someone, they will see it appear in their ‘mentions’. This much we know. So, if I tweet ‘@Bob hope your presentation goes well today’, Bob, will see this appear in his mentions.

What if Bob isn’t following me? Does he see the tweet in his public timeline? He will only see it in his public timeline if he follows me back. If he doesn’t follow me, he will only see it in his mentions.

What if Brian is a mutual friend, will he see my tweet to Bob? Only if Brian is following both Bob and me. If he only follows me, he will only see tweets I send that are general. If he only follows Bob, he will only see tweets from Bob sent in general. If he follows us both, he can see tweets sent to both of us.

What if I want everyone to know I’m about to ‘@’ Bob? Now, this is where it gets really complicated. The way Twitter works, it will recognise when you ‘@’ someone and depending on where the actual ‘@’ sign occurs, will treat your tweet itself differently. If the ‘@’ is at the beginning of a tweet, only the person being mentioned will see it, and anyone mutually following you both. If the ‘@’ is in the middle of a tweet, Twitter will recognise it as a general tweet and everyone following you will see it. If you want to begin the tweet by mentioning someone, and want it to be a general tweet, you have to add a character before the ‘@’ in order for it to be treated as a general tweet.

@Bob hope your presentation goes well today – will be seen by Bob himself, and anyone mutually following us both

I hope your presentation goes well today @Bob – will be treated as a general tweet, and will be seen by everyone following me. You don’t have to follow Bob in order to see that tweet. Bob will see it appear in his mentions.

.@Bob hope your presentation goes well today – will be treated as a general tweet because you’re not directing it at Bob himself, you’re making it known to your followers that it’s only for Bob, but worth a wider audience knowing about it.

It’s when you start following mutual Twitter users that conversations start to happen in your public timeline. Without this piece of the pie, it just ends up being a broadcast of updates from the people you follow. That’s fine, but there is so much more richness in the conversations that happen.

What does it mean when you ‘favourite’ a tweet? Essentially, you’ve seen a tweet being sent and it’s resonated enough with you that you want to keep it for future reference. At least that’s what you might assume it’s there for. It also gets used by your followers because they don’t want to miss reading what you’ve posted – such as a link to a blog/article/etc – and keeping it, on file as such, for later reading. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve favourite it because it’s a favourite tweet. It might, but it’s probably not.

What about when I see a tweet being favourite in my public timeline that I didn’t favourite? That often means the person you’re following has favourited that tweet, and Twitter wants you to know they’ve done this when they’ve Retweeted that tweet.

Can everyone see a message I send to someone else? No. This is Twitter’s way of keeping some conversations private and only the person you are sending a message too will see it. The other person has to be following you though in order for you to message them. You can provide links and even mention people with their proper Twitter name with the ‘@’, and it will remain private. Not even the person being mentioned will see it.

Please be careful though that if you intend to message someone privately, it is actually a message. Some Twitter clients preface a message with a ‘d’ (Tweetdeck does this for example). There *must* be a ‘space’ after the d, otherwise your message ends up going into your public timeline for all to see. There have been some very embarrassing messages sent this way.

How does it work if someone has a private profile? If someone has a private profile, it basically means that they’re trying to keep their tweets from the general public at large. Having a Twitter account is a very public affair, and anything you tweet can be seen by anyone. A private profile partly guarantees that only those you accept as following you can see your tweets. In general, if you tweet something, it can’t be Retweeted in the traditional sense, and the official Twitter apps won’t allow it. But with a bit of copy and pasting, or using a Twitter client, you can still RT something from a private account.

Also, if someone has a private profile and they try to mention you, unless you follow them back, you won’t see this either in your public timeline or your mentions.

There’s more I could talk about – hashtags, links, spamming, PR, abbreviations – but that can all wait for another day. I decided to write the above, because I don’t think it’s that well explained on Twitter’s own 101 service, and there may be other people who have posted something like this, I’ve just not really looked.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

One thought on “The mechanics of tweeting”

  1. This is brilliant. I really, really wish I had this when I started on Twitter last year!! Great guide, Suhk – but I warn you what you’ve done, now if there’s anything I don’t understand I want you to explain it to me. Thanks 🙂

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