Twitter is a lot like a dinner with a large group of friends at a big table in a busy restaurant. Everyone is chatting, thereâ€™s a lot being said, and if youâ€™re not focused on a particular conversation, it sounds downright noisy. So just like a large group setting in real life, there are some conventions about how people tune in to listen and the most effective ways to be sociable.
Whispering: The Direct Message
Sending a direct message is like quietly chatting with the person next to you at the table. In group settings, we instinctively do this by leaning in closer when what weâ€™re talking about is something that doesnâ€™t really mesh with the conversation at large.
On Twitter, you should lean in with a direct message when the discussion is private or if it just wonâ€™t be of interest to others within earshot. This helps keep the noise to a minimum.
Talking Normally: An @ Reply to Begin the Tweet
Tweets that start with an @ reply are like overheard parts of a ongoing conversation at the table, bits of dialogue spoken in a normal speaking voice. In noisy conversations, we typically focus our attention and tune out these snippets when we’re not involved, and on Twitter, people do the same thing.
These Tweets will be overheard by some, but many people will just gloss over them, assuming that you are already engaged in a separate conversation. In fact, many people have set up their accounts so that they donâ€™t even see messages that start with an @ reply unless they are directed to them specifically in an effort to reduce the noise level.
Beginning a message with an @ reply means that it will go unnoticed by many, but itâ€™s a friendly way to talk with an individual while leaving open the possibility of someone overhearing you and joining in.
Telling Everyone: An @ Reply Inside of the Tweet
An @ reply anywhere other than the start of your message, on the other hand, is the equivalent of speaking up to share something interesting about that person with the entire group at the table. At social gatherings, we do this when someone nearby says something funny or if we hear news that needs to be passed along, for example.
People pay more attention to these because by following you they have indicated an interest in what you decide to share, so that makes it relevant to them. Use this option when you want to point your followers to something or someone they will find interesting or to promote something or someone. All of your followers will see it, and the person to which you are sending the @ reply will get far more attention as a result.
By keeping in mind the dynamics of a dinner conversation, it becomes easier to decide when and how to use each type of response on Twitter. Continuing with that analogy, what sort of bad tweeting manners have you witnessed? By contrast, who do you know thatâ€™s mastered these nuances to become a Twitter socialite?