Mind your @s and #s

For those of you who aren’t Twitter-literate, the English translation of the title is “Mind your mentions and your hashtags.” It’s a play on “mind your Ps and Qs.”

I’ve noticed a trend where “@” gets used instead of “#” which suggests to me that even some Twitter users don’t understand the difference or if they do, they just don’t take enough care to use them differently.

@mention

I think the problem lies in people being unclear about how to use @, so let’s review it.

In Twitterese, “@username” signals either a reply or a mention. If it is at the very start of a tweet, that shows that it is a reply. Pretty simple and straight forward. Putting @ at the beginning of a tweet is also a good way to send a tweet, perhaps with a question, directly to someone so that you know they’ll see it.

An important side note is that only the person who receives the reply, sends it or people who follow both of you can see it since Twitter assumes that those are the people who would be most interested in the conversation. It is still public though and searchable such as by a key word or a hashtag.

When “@username” is inside a tweet, it is referred to as a mention. It is essentially a shout out to the user you’ve included. You’re letting that person know that you’re talking about them. Maybe you’re looking for a reaction to your tweet or you’re letting your followers know where to follow that person. If you’re not trying to get the person’s attention or share their Twitter feed, it’s not necessary to use an @ mention.

Avoid using @ when a hashtag is a better choice.

#hashtag

I’ve written about hashtags before so I won’t go into too much detail here. I’ll just give a quick definition: A hashtag is a way to follow a conversation on a topic by anyone on Twitter whether you are following them or not. It’s one or more words (without spaces) or an acronym that helps to collect tweets so that they are easily searchable.

Hashtags help you contribute to a larger conversation

So the uses of these two characters is distinctly different. Yet I have been at events or seen tweets where someone is clearly trying to contribute to a wider discussion and they use @username. For example, if someone at the @Marketplace Conference used @marketplaceconf (used to tweet about the conference) instead of a hashtag such as #marketplace11. I can tell the difference because there is no hashtag when one would make sense.

This means that the only people who will see the the tweet are your followers and the username you have mentioned. Other people who are attending the event will not and so you’re not contributing to the wider conversation. Chances are you’re also not seeing the tweets of others who are part of the larger conversation and so you miss out on making new connections and learning from others.

If you click on the links of the two examples above, you’ll see two different sets of results. It’s that difference that I’m pointing out.

Sure you could search for @username but then you’d also see tweets that are replies, questions or shout outs. What you are most interested in is part of the mix instead of being 100% of what you see.

Sometimes the confusion is understandable when the hashtag is the same as the username. For example, Social Media Breakfast: Waterloo Region is @smbWR and the hashtag we use at our events is #smbWR. But if you search the two, you’ll again see two different sets of results.

So remember that there is a difference between using @ and # in a tweet. And if you want your tweet to be part of a larger conversation, make sure it includes a hashtag.