There is a rule that most of us learn sooner or later, and often painfully. The rule is: If you’re going to put something in writing, make sure it’s something you wouldn’t mind your worst enemy reading.
Every week, the newspapers are filled with yet another politician, another company, another movie star who sent something in an email, tweet or Facebook post that came back to embarrass them in a big way.
Anytime you write to someone, they can make your message public. And on Twitter, they can do it with just one click.
Say goodbye to privacy in this digital age: If it can come back to haunt you, it will. Always be positive on social media, and never be rude, no matter how much you are provoked.
With that reality in mind, Twitter does offer users the choice of just how ‘public’ their tweets should be. If you want to send a message that’s mainly aimed at one Twitter account only, you can start your tweet with their username. This does not mean it’s a private message, but it does mean that relatively few of your followers will ever see it. For example, our introductory article to Twitter featured the tweet you see on the left.
The reply could be just like you see here.
That means the user @SteveInBangkok would receive a notification via Twitter, but nobody else would see our message in their newsfeed – unless they happened to ‘follow’ both @LexiconThailand and @SteveInBangkok, or unless someone (probably @SteveInBangkok) decided to retweet our response.
Replies aren’t completely private, however. In the 2014 movie Chef, the main character gets on Twitter … before he understands Twitter. He writes something nasty to one of his critics, who retweets it, and … suddenly everyone can see it and his reputation is damaged. The lesson is to be careful.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to make your replies more public. For example, perhaps another user will ask a good question, and you want everyone to see your answer.
If you start a tweet with someone else’s Twitter username, it won’t appear in most people’s newsfeeds. But if you start a tweet with any other character, it will. So Twitter users normally add a ‘.’ at the beginning when they want to make a reply more public. Like this:
[email protected] Yes, we’ll include that. Send it over! 🙂
The ‘.’ in front makes sure that all of your followers see it. And if you want to make a tweet even more public than that, add a relevant hashtag to it, using the ‘#’ symbol. Anyone who then searches for that hashtag has a chance of seeing your tweet. (Careless use of hashtags can create problems for you, however, as we’ll see in Part 3.)
If, on the other hand, you want to exchange private information with a user, there is a special way to do that.
DM = Direct message. This is a bit like Twitter’s version of email, and the messages here are private. The one problem is, you can only DM people who are already following your Twitter account. (Otherwise, inboxes would be full of spam.) So if we wanted to talk more in detail with @SteveInBangkok, we would write:
@SteveInBangkok Thanks for your question. Follow us so we can DM.
N.B.: As of today (August 13, 2015), there is a brand new rule about direct messages. DM’s used to be limited to 140 characters also, but can now be up to 10,000 characters long. (That’s much longer than this entire blog post.)
Now that you know the basic tools of Twitter, stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll list some of the mistakes you need to avoid when tweeting — and some amazing examples of companies that made those mistakes. In Part 4, we’ll show you how to take all of this knowledge and turn it into a big win for your company.