If you start a Tweet with a @username, few people will see it

There is a little-known rule on Twitter that stops some of your Tweets from being seen by all your followers.

If you start a Tweet by mentioning another user (your Tweet begins with the @ symbol) only a fraction of your followers will see this Tweet. Only the people who follow both you and the account you mention will be able to see this Tweet in their home timeline. For example, let’s say @bradfordmdc Tweeted this:

“@CityParkBD will be plunged into semi-darkness tonight as BBC Stargazing Live comes to Bradford. “

Approximately one third of @bradfordmdc’s Twitter followers also follow @CityParkBD. It is only those mutual followers who would be able to see the above Tweet in their timeline. In other instances (comparing two accounts that are not so closely related) this figure could be much lower.

Comparison of Twitter followers

Why does this happen?

I’ll use an offline scenario to explain what happens and why. Let’s say there are 4 Bradfordians: Harry, Lily, Pharrell and Jessie. Harry knows Lily and Pharrell, but Harry does not know Jessie. Lily knows everybody else.

Monday lunchtime:

Harry is walking through City Park and spots Lily talking to Pharrell. Harry stops to say hello to his friends, and joins in the conversation for a while.

Tuesday lunchtime:

Harry is walking through City Park and spots Lily talking to Jessie. Because Harry does not know who Jessie is, he just walks on by, casually waving at Lily as he does so.

Essentially, Twitter is overlaying the above relationship scenarios on your home timeline. Twitter assumes that any Tweet starting with a mention is conversational and will only show you conversations between people you know. If, during lunch on Monday, Lily and Pharrell were chatting on Twitter, Harry would see this in his timeline. However, on Tuesday, if Lily was chatting to Jessie on Twitter, Harry would not see this in his timeline.

The Tweets are still all public, and if Harry was to actually look at Lily’s profile he would see all her Tweets. He just wouldn’t see the Tweets in his home timeline.

How do I get round this rule?

Taking the example about City Park, all @bradfordmdc would have to do is rephrase the Tweet so that it does not start with “@CityParkBD”. So, for instance:

“Tonight @CityParkBD will be plunged into semi-darkness as BBC Stargazing Live comes to Bradford.”

If rephrasing the tweet is really going to upset the flow, you could simply add an unobtrusive character at the start, like a full stop. It has become quite common to see a full stop used for this reason at the start of a Tweet. For instance:

“.@CityParkBD will be plunged into semi-darkness tonight as BBC Stargazing Live comes to Bradford.”

In both of the above examples, the Tweet has the potential to be seen by all of @bradfordmdc’s followers regardless of whether or not they are also following @CityParkBD.

When can I use this rule to my advantage?

There are times when as an individual, or as an organisation, you will benefit from this rule. If you are replying to a large volume of customer service issues via Twitter, you don’t have to worry that you are swamping all your followers with replies about other people’s issues. Your replies starting with a @username will be absent from most of your followers’ timelines.

However, there might actually be times when you want your reply to be visible to all followers. In which case, you can use the above tips to rephrase your reply, moving the @username away from the start. For instance, in replying to a Tweet about seasonal bin collections, you could say:

“Yes @username, our website has details about changes to bin collection dates over Christmas. [link]”

This post was originally published on Bradford Council’s intranet. However, I decided it was worth making public. Twitter don’t make this rule clear, so it is little wonder so many people don’t know about it.

Analysis screenshot taken from Followerwonk.

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Published by

albfreeman

I am a digital communications and marketing officer for Bradford Council and a musician.

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