How to Make Twitter Less Like Listening to One Side of a Phone Call for Your Followers

Have you ever felt excluded by someone talking on the phone in your presence?

Image by lecercle

We’ve all been there. Out with a friend at a cafe having a good time when their phone rings.

They answer it and proceed to talk to the other person in front of you (usually quite loudly) for the next 10 minutes. You kind of get what they’re talking about – but because you’re only getting half the conversation it quickly becomes annoying.

You feel left out! You feel ignored! You feel like ripping the phone from their hand and showing it down their throat!

Or is that just me???

Twitter can be like that. While it’s a great tool for conversation – at times it can also become a little excluding to some of your followers, if you let it be.

Here is a quick Twitter tip that I think could help a lot of people become more effective, inclusive and engaging users of Twitter.

The Problem of One Sided Conversations

One of the limitations (some might say weaknesses) of Twitter is that while it is possible to have great conversations using it – when you’re interacting with one of your followers publicly it can actually be somewhat alienating for other followers who only get one side of it.

For example when a follower asks me a question and I respond with an @/reply all of my other followers see that reply. While the reply will make sense to the person who asked the question it is likely that 99% of your followers have little idea what you’re talking about (unless they happen to be following both you and the questioner).

While this might be OK (I think most twitter users are used to seeing tweets that they don’t fully understand) if you have a back and forth with the person as a series of public tweets your other followers could become a little frustrated. It is like listening to one half of a phone conversation which for some is quite annoying.

So what’s a Twitter user to do?

Two ’solutions’ come to mind:

1. Take the conversation private

I’m doing this more and more. If a twitter conversation is getting into a back and forth and looks like going beyond just a couple of tweets I’ll quite often reply with a direct message instead of a public reply. The exception to this is when I think the conversation is of interest to a wider group.

2. Reframe the question

What I notice effective Twitter users doing is making their replies more inclusive by including the question in some form so that the tweet becomes understandable and useful to their wider followership.

This is a technique that I’ve learned in doing TV interviews where the interviewers question will not be heard by the audience. It means taking the question and putting it into the start of your answer.

For example – if someone asks me in an interview ‘how do bloggers make money online?’ I would start my answer with ‘Most Bloggers make money by…’. This means when they show your answer viewers immediately know what you’re talking about. The alternative answer ‘Advertising, Affiliate programs and Paid Reviews’ would make little sense to anyone who hadn’t heard the question.

Of course this becomes slightly more challenging when you only have 140 characters to play with on Twitter but it can be achieved.

Reframing tweets to give context to what you’re saying is not always easy and I don’t do it in every case – but when I do, I notice that the conversation spreads beyond the one on one to becoming a little more communal.


  • November 3, 2008

    Fantastic suggestion, I’m going to try that!

  • November 3, 2008

    Congratulations Darren on starting TwiTip. I look forward to your ‘TwiTips’ here.

  • November 3, 2008


    Congrats on the soft launch. If the discussion is engaging enough to generate a back and forth and I feel the topic might be of interest to a number of followers, I sometimes reframe the discussion as blog post.

    John Easton

  • November 3, 2008

    Thank you so much for caring about those of us who are just getting started. Don’t be afraid to go “twitter 101″ because while you are clearly out ahead of the curve and very socially facile, there are great numbers who aren’t. It may seem dull to you, but for those of us drinking in the knowledge, it is extremely important to put it in layman’s terms, to achieve the maximum impact !
    Thanks again,

  • November 3, 2008

    Hmm, well rephrasing a question AND answering it in 140 characters is one way to guarantee short answers. Now if I can only manage make the answers short, succint and effective…

  • November 3, 2008

    thanks all.

    Bean – it’s a challenging thing to make everything fit into 140 characters – but in time it becomes automatic

  • November 3, 2008

    Darren, congratulations on your launch of TwitTip! And nice to see you using Thesis, too.

    Rephrasing the question in the answer is a principle of good listening and good communication. It’s essential to Twitter for all the reasons you suggest. Especially when you’re making a comment on another’s general tweet — sometimes they don’t know what you’re speaking about if part of their communication is not repeated.

  • November 3, 2008

    As always, Darren, great advice for the tweeter, especially with regard to reframing answers. (I’m very much looking forward to reading this new blog, and have already subscribed to the feed.)

    From the reverse perspective, that of the follower, I find that reading intriguing and mysterious @replies prompts me to click on the @name to see what prompted the response. Often, this is my favorite way to discover new people worth following.

  • November 3, 2008

    I try to “reframe” where ever possible (unless it is an “in joke”); including links within a tweet if I am making reference to something specific. Sometimes in this way you’ll answer questions other people haven’t thought to ask yet. Allows you to be more economical in your tweets – not just in number of characters, but also in number of ‘tweets.’

  • November 3, 2008

    Glad to see this site! One thing I’ve done is to use the option in my Twitted settings that allows me to only see @replies that are directed to me or to those I’m following as well. It really keeps me in the conversational loop that way!

  • November 3, 2008

    Call me crazy, but I like the @username conversations – if I want to know what it’s all about I click on the other users name. :) I’ve met more people that way and enjoy Twitter more when it’s interactive instead posts that say what someone is doing without interacting.

    I guess that’s the cool thing about Twitter. If you don’t like the @conversations you can unfollow or even block them. But for those of us who love them it means opening ourselves up to more people, more topics, and more of life.


  • November 3, 2008

    Awesome new blog, Darren! Twitterers, new and old, should get alot out of it.

    Great tips so far. Looking forward to more!

  • November 3, 2008

    There is a Twitter setting so that you only see @replies if you are friends with both parties. If you click this, you will only see full conversations.

  • November 3, 2008

    I agree completely for answering questions and informative replies. I also second Julie’s opinion because I often follow the conversation from the cryptic personal tweets and always find interesting people to follow.

    From a Twitter fanatic, thanks for starting this blog.

  • November 3, 2008

    Congrats on your new launch. I am still new at all of this and it has been overwhelming at times. So thanks for being patient with the newcomers.. Thanks

  • November 3, 2008

    First off – congrats Darren on launching TwiTip! Looks like it will be a great blog for twitter users and wish you the best of luck.

    Regarding your post, I agree and disagree. I’ve been in situations where dialogue extends further than a handful of tweets but I leave it be because there are maybe a few of my followers who will jump in vs. me taking it private.

    I think half the issue lies with Twitter and the lack of threaded conversations, thus having @soandso replies all over the place vs. in one conversation. Whether they do something like that in the future, only time can tell. But, I think taking conversations private limits the possibility (however big or small) of others joining in on the conversation. It all depends on the topic at hand though, I suppose!

  • November 3, 2008

    Thanks for taking up this topic, Darren.

    Twitter is a great tool, but many of the interesting people I have tried to follow send out so many Tweets and @Replies that I could not keep up – let alone understand. So I stop following.

    I am also struggling to find my voice on Twitter. Like a babe new to words, I suppose I will have to babble before I learn to speak clearly.

    Twitter should be about signal, not noise. We are creating a story, 140 characters at a time.

  • November 3, 2008

    I actually went to Settings ->Notices and set it to display only “@replies to the people I’m following” because I found this phenomenon to be so annoying. I suppose I’m cutting myself off from networking opportunities and meeting new people, but it also makes reading my tweets a lot shorter.

  • November 3, 2008

    I often take my conversational tweets to DM’s, but it seems like niche groups form and those tweets go to the public time-line.
    Great Article Darren

  • November 3, 2008

    The reframe question is a good suggestion if you have enough characters. very important if you display twitter feed on another blog too.

  • November 3, 2008

    Along the same lines as reframing the question, I would also add that a valuable Twitter skill to know is to avoid ambiguous words like it, they or here. If you’ve got the characters, use the actual name of what you’re talking about, and especially if you’re writing a few posts in a row about the same thing. This makes each tweet understandable on its own, and someone else can hop into the conversation half way through and still understand what’s going on, even if they’re only listening to one side of it.

    - @coryobrien

  • November 3, 2008

    Tags can be useful to get a multi-Tweeter conversation going. I often find other Twitterers in at a conference by using the conference tag.

    A little suggestion for this blog: Leaving a comment, we fill in a little autoform with name, email and website, but what about our Twitter names? Follow me at

  • November 3, 2008

    Am I the only one who can’t resist eavesdropping on conversations? Sometimes you hear the most interesting stuff that way, often getting information that you didn’t even know you wanted.

    Thanks for spearheading the Twitter Blog trend, I’m sure that many “flatterers” will soon follow suit, but I’m only subscribing to the best!

    BTW – Looking forward to also getting ideas on tweaking Thesis!

  • November 3, 2008

    Nice new site Darren, I’ll be keeping watch. Helping me very much with my new site, as I have quickly discovered the power of twittering. I’m very curious as what you’ll have to say about mixing personal twittering with business twittering. I find the two VERY different and are aimed at a very different audience. I hope you cover it!


  • November 3, 2008

    Great tips Darren.

    re: The Problem of One Sided Conversations

    Here’s a bookmark you can use to see both sides of a Twitter conversation. You don’t need to feel left out again. ;-) TwitterScope

  • November 3, 2008

    Hi Darren, you are again a leader and a pioneer!! Way to go, quick question, how can I use Twitter to promote a blog about sheds? Ah…
    Great job anyways!

  • November 3, 2008

    Saw your launch on twitter, then put you right in my G Reader. We’ll be watching…

  • November 3, 2008

    There used to be a good way to follow Twitter conversations: Except now it’s shut down. Sigh. I hope Twitter takes a similar project up itself.

  • November 3, 2008

    Thanks for the Twitter about your new site Darren. It looks like it is off to a great start. I was just like you a few months ago. I started using Twitter with a big questionmark over my head, “I don’t get it!” But, it grows on you over time and you eventually figure it out. It’s like Instant Messenging people you don’t know :)

    I have noticed that certain people are on in the morning and others at night. I also noticed that the conversations kind of die down during certain times of the day. But, each person has their own meaning of daytime and nighttime depending on their timezone. So you also have to take that into account.

    I am also learning that there are all kinds of things to be aware of like DM (direct message), #hashtags, and @problogger (sending a Twitter directly to someone and everyone sees it) and others that I haven’t learned about yet but hope you cover here as you learn them.

    That’s enough for my first comment. Tweet with your later.


    Oh, why not follow me on Twitter too :)

  • November 3, 2008

    Loving the new site – but not sure I agree with this.
    If it hadn’t been for my desire to “hear” the other side of the phone call early on when I first was poking around Twitter, I wouldn’t have stayed.
    I had followed Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) and it was seeing his half of the phone call that made me want to hear the whole thing… so I’d click thru and follow whomever was on the other end… Which drew me in deeper and deeper. Suddenly, one day, I realized I wasn’t just ‘eavesdropping’ on phone calls – I had met the most amazing people.

    I guess it depends on your personality.

  • November 3, 2008

    Thank you! I am still very new to Twitter and have a lot to learn!

  • November 3, 2008

    I started using twitter when I saw on TV that someones life was saved over seas…
    Keep it up Darren! The launch is looking good with 30 comments… Enjoy the Day off tomorrow.


  • November 3, 2008

    I kinda expected each post to be 140 characters in length. ;)

  • November 3, 2008

    Wow. I have been looking for a blog like this for ages. Who could find a better person than Darren. I’m an avid Twitter user and would love to write some posts.

    Check me out at

    Oh and I know I have set a bad example but please guys refrain from advertising your Twitter account to often here :P

    Keep up the great work!

  • November 3, 2008

    Great site, thanks! I can follow along as others chat, over here, about issues/Twitter uses that echo mine.

  • November 3, 2008

    This is one of the reasons I use Plurk also. It’s impossible (well, hard) for conversations to go off track, plus everybody can view the conversation if they know the person who started it. I do hope Twitter does something to address this “problem” sometime.

  • November 3, 2008

    Congrats on the new website.

    I look forward to the posts that will follow, I wish more people I knew used Twitter, people I know don’t seem to understand the concept of it.

    Keep up the awesome work

  • November 3, 2008

    Gary – yes setting your twitter account so you only see replies of others to people you’re following is good for monitoring what others are saying – however I doubt most people use this and I guess this post is more about using Twitter to benefit your followers.

    Cory – nice point, I think ambiguous words can definitely be problematic.

    Jill – yes, Tags can work well. Would make a good topic to write about.

    Adam – got that topic on my list of things to cover.

    To those who disagreed with this post. Thanks for that. I think you all make some good points. I wonder though whether it partly depends upon the personality and experience level of those who follow you.

    For example – a new person to twitter hearing only half the conversation might not really understand to click the username of the person being talked to to see the other half of the conversation. Also I suspect that those of you who like listening into conversations may (or may not) be a certain kind of twitter user – but there could be others who get frustrated by it.

    I also wonder whether this post applies more to those who engage in longer ongoing conversations with single other Twitter users. For example – I don’t have a problem with someone doing one or two tweets that I don’t really understand but when it dominates their timeline I start to feel disengaged after a while if they don’t say something that I can understand without knowing the full conversation – but maybe that’s just me?

  • November 3, 2008

    Conversations should be taken to DM in certain circumstances. Going to DM cuts down on the confusion making it private. This allows you to be a little freer with certain twitterers that you’ve gotten closer with- maybe be a little off character and share more of a hidden part of your personality. Times when conversations should not be taken to DM is when the overarching theme/point/idea can benefit the rest of your followers. This is when it especially needs to be reframed.

    Conversations should always be reframed. I find myself following other people’s conversations looking for bits of knowledge and new interesting people to add to my twittstream. Its very disconcerting for someone to stop reading their stream and try to figure out what a partially interesting conversation is all about. As far as the character count is concerned with reframing, people understand that certain words will be shortened to abbreviations, shorthand, slang & character standins. This is the new lingua franca of the visual language economy we live with in the twitterverse.

    The one thing that I would add here is that if you are a business twitterer its okay to show a bit of your personal side- just remember exactly why you are using this medium. Don’t ever let that get away from you. Credibility/integrity is extremely important in this fast paced conversation ecosystem. Once you lose it, word spreads like wildfire and you may never gain it back. It is probably safe to say that the good ol 80/20 rule applies here as well: 80% business, 20% personal. People want to interact with a human not a branding machine.

    Discuss with your followers. Ask questions. Put up polls. Track metrics of topics you post about often to see which ones are received the best by your audience. Retweet certain important ones at separate times (and possibly with different trimmed urls) to find out what works. Inquire in to your followers lives as to the things that are important to them ESPECIALLY if you have a large following. Make it a point to take an interest in the ones who stand out. Remember and care about crucial details, this way you can forge amazing relationships and ingratiate yourself in the minds and hearts of your followers.

    I tweet about where business and technology intersect in web 3.0 and how it affects design/user interface. I’d be most humbled if you chose to follow me at

  • November 3, 2008

    Seems so obvious, but you explained it so well! I find myself rephrasing questions in tweets too, it really does help keep your community of followers interested – and hopefully interacting as well.

    With regard to the TV interviews, another positive of paraphrasing questions in your answers is that you don’t get the interviewer recording questions afterward and editing heavily! :)

  • November 3, 2008

    Awesome. I am a newcomer from Thailand, have to learn a lot more.

  • November 3, 2008

    I am less than one old twitter user… this post very useful for me. I wish you will make more interesting topics on twitter and its apps.

  • November 3, 2008

    I love the phone call analogy, it’s one of my pet hates.. listening to half of a conversation!

    Great tip, I look forward to reading lots more.

  • November 3, 2008

    Congratulations on launching TwiTip, Darren! I get a lot of questions all the time about how to make the most of Twitter. I’m glad to be able to provide people with a one-stop destination for their Twitter needs.

    Not to mention I suffer from “talking on my cellphone and alienating people” syndrome on Twitter. Can’t wait to put some of what I have learned to use. You’re excellent and I look forward to more content from you here and at Problogger–you figured prominently in a recent post of mine about the perils of not thinking your domain name through before getting it!

  • November 3, 2008

    Hi Darren,

    Re-framing the question, as you call it, is a great idea. I teach languages and I always push my students to do exactly that when we’re practicing their spoken language skills, so that they demonstrate understanding and help themselves to communicate better by setting up an intelligible reply.

    I join the others in congratulating you on your new blog.

  • November 3, 2008

    I’m so glad to find this blog. I’ve been stumbling around trying to learn to use Twitter effectively, and this information helps me tremendously. Thank you.

  • November 3, 2008
    Terry Free

    Brilliant! Reframe the question is such a good idea and make perfect sense. great post

  • November 4, 2008

    I am new to Twitter. I look forward to some great work from you.

  • November 4, 2008

    I reframe the question as much for the person I’m replying to. Often, they may have tweeted something hours ago, so I want them to know what I’m replying to. And, like you said, it helps other followers.

    Often I see one side of the conversation that intrigues me, so I go to the other tweeter’s page to see the other side. Found several good people to follow that way.

    BTW, for new tweeters (of which I’m one, I’m still figuring things out) your default setting will be to only see replies to you, not all replies someone you’re following is making. You can change that in settings.

  • November 4, 2008

    Twitips is a smart move, and of course the Twitter name “Twitip” is taken as well…when will you integrate them? Follow me too if you are into social networking in Toronto with trendy women…

  • November 4, 2008

    Thank you very much for the tips! I’ve only been on twitter for a week and I find all the conversation scrolling right by me. I can’t keep up!

    Your suggestions will help me out alot!

  • November 4, 2008

    Darren – Love your avatar in your comments here. You should use it on other places for a while. Kind of funny. I smiled immediately when I saw it. :)

  • November 4, 2008

    Reframing is great, but it’s already hard enough getting your point across in 140 characters! or is that just because I’m too wordy? LOL

    Check out our Twitter feed for Engineer a Debt Free Life at
    for lots of frugal tips, freebies, and bargains!

    P.S. We’re having a giveaway right now to celebrate getting our own domain! woot!

  • November 4, 2008

    Hello Darren.

    Its a great blog for twitter tips. Now you can tell your reader more about twitter. Great work and nice domain.

  • November 4, 2008
    Jason Weaver

    I agree that Plurk is much, much better for generating conversations. The sad thing is, nobody’s using it!

  • November 4, 2008

    Darren….LOVE TWITIPS!
    Hi Darren, your entry on how to tweet for a blind audience is excellent! As a veteran tv news producer/exec who produces stories everyday where the questions can’t be heard, you’re right on!!! Now, of course, I’m immersing myself in all things ‘new world’…if you ever need more on interviewing or crossing over, let me know.

    Also, the ‘less is more entry’ is great. Twitter has huge, REAL value. It’s all about strategic placement, in my opinion…. glad to see my gut is being backed up by the pros!
    Charlene Bert

  • November 4, 2008

    I have a Twitter account but seldom use it, have started using it quite a bit now, glad to find this new site Darren!

  • November 4, 2008

    Great advice, as always!

    And, I thought I was the only one who wanted to do that with someone’s phone (and them on it ) :-)

  • November 4, 2008

    Congrats Darren!! I like this concept of providing tips to Twitter users.. great start.. :)

  • November 4, 2008

    Another important thing to remember is to use @replies often.

    I know taking the conversation private works as well, but by sending out @replies, your personal twittersphere will see that you do respond to people; this involves you in a conversation with one person while still impacting the whole.

    Yes, there are times for D Messages, but the @Reply will often pertain to many people, and will usually end up constituting new followers for your followers.

    Obviously, the infamous RT is a personal complement as well; be sure to recognize the @username of the person you are RT. If you ever refer to anyone on twitter, be sure to use @username so that they know you are there for them as well.

    From a professional standpoint, Twitter is definitely taking off. An article on my personal blog talks a bit about this.

  • November 4, 2008

    Congratulation Darren for your new blog and I think it will be the great place to be for learning and getting tips on twitter.
    Same as many of us I am following you on twitter.

  • November 5, 2008

    Darren, Love Twitip and I have been as well one of the followers who just doesn’t get the conversation unless it’s made general. I agree if you have specifics to talk about with a follower, “in private is appropriate” and when it’s great tips or news everybody can enjoy reading. Thanks for your expertise. We would be lost without you.

  • November 5, 2008

    this is a great tip. I am using Twitter to promote my business~ where do people find the time to just chit-chat! :-) I also like to be able to help others, so tips on inclusiveness are always great,

  • November 6, 2008

    Hi there,

    I’m new to all the twitter stuff. I’m In the process of reading up about it and watching some youtube clips before I actually sign-up with it.
    But I have found this very informative.

  • November 8, 2008

    I’m so delighted to see this! I joined Twitter about six weeks ago and it’s still a mystery to me. Please keep us absolute beginners in mind Darren because try as I might, I can’t even navigate the help well or find how you find people that like the things you do. Most I’m following I just found after hours of flailing around. I’ve barely been back because it seemed so hard to navigate to me. I was about to give up on it but will hang in there now I know you’re doing this. :)

    Yep, this is what you’re up against! You’re a brave soul. :) I wish you every success.

  • November 10, 2008

    While I do like the tips and as a newbie in Twitter have found them useful, the section on private/public conversations is not something I necessarily agree with. I might be alone in this assessment, or maybe just very laid-back, but when someone I follow is having a private conversation publicly, it doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes, I find it fascinating & do a little digging (I’m nosy that way) to find out more and usually end up following the other person.

    Generally, this is only for topics I’m interested in. For instance, someone I followed tweeted about Santana to another woman. I love Santana and it sparked my interest. So, I tracked the conversation down to see if I could learn anything about Santana and ended up thinking the other twitter was so interesting that I followed her too.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that if you unfollow someone because they are having a nice conversation with someone on Twitter then you might be a little uptight and missing out on meeting someone else you would also have a lot in common with. And personally, if someone is that uptight they generally aren’t someone I am going to worry about if I lose.

  • November 11, 2008

    Awesome tip! Amazing how just a little “tweak” to something makes all the difference. Thanks for creating this new blog.

  • November 21, 2008
    Juli Korneychuk

    Thanks for your new blog! It’s helping this 50-something learn to use twitter.

  • December 23, 2008

    The best conversationalists have always been those that listen and are interested in you.

  • December 23, 2008

    Actually, the setting to only see @replies from people you follow that are directed toward other people that you also follow is the default setting. So, Darren, it’s not true when you @ someone that “all your other followers see that reply.” It’s more likely that a large percentage of them won’t see it at all. You said to Gary that you doubt most people use this setting, but it is the default for anyone who joined Twitter after these settings went into effect.

    Jonathan Cutrell says “Another important thing to remember is to use @replies often.” I have to disagree. Tis is a pet twitter peeve of mine and is a sure-fire thing that will ensure I won’t follow you. Remember, I (and many people) will use the default – we ONLY see @ replies to people if we follow both sides! So if you @ a lot – I won’t see much of what you say… and when I look at your page I will wonder why you never seem to _start_ a conversation!

    That said, I do agree with reframing the question. Twitter is, after all, a stream. The original tweet and the reply may be separated by many intervening messages from other people. Context is always helpful. Even if I may not see it. :-)

  • February 4, 2009

    Great tips on how to make your Twitter conversations more inclusive to reach a wider audience! Dulcita Love @dulcitalove

  • February 5, 2009
    Gillian Brouse

    When following twitterstreams in tweetdeck, I only see the @ replies when I am also following the person that was replied to. I think this may be a settings thing.

    Still, a good suggestion for twitterers who have lots of followers.

  • April 13, 2009

    It’s not like hearing one side of a phonecall, because the option to look at the other person’s tweets are right there with one click. As others have said, click on the other username, and decide if you want to follow them for a while – i have found a lot of excellent new people to follow that way.

    However, if you’re trying to be retweeted, then including enough info for your post to make sense (without their side) is an obvious way of making it easy for your followers. If you’re aiming for that, remember to leave space for your username to go in the ReTweet (lol – good lord, i never think about these things when i’m using Twitter)

  • April 16, 2009

    Actually, you can set up your account to not recieve the @replies from the people you are following! I learned that the other day… Just go to Settings then Notices. :)

  • November 6, 2009

    i like the second tip, although i already was aware of it as it is seen a lot on tv, it never occured to me to try doing it on twitter. and it’s completely true, using twitter can be like a one sided telephone conversation

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.