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The Proper Way to Use the @ and # Functions on Twitter

The Wonderful Tweeting Twitter Bird

The complete guide on how to use the @ and # functions on twitter

As we have discussed earlier in this series, Twitter is primarily a communication tool for opening and maintaining discussions. It allows people to engage in conversations that transcends their immediate social circle. It gives you a soapbox from which to post your messages and your followers can either rebroadcast or they can respond back, either if you are following them or through the @ function. This is a very powerful way to communicate with people that many not be even following you or you may not even be following. It allows their followers to see their conversations with you. In essence, it explodes your sphere of influence. It is better than e-mail because it is episodic. E-mail is completely private. Message is shared but normally completely private and it is a one-to-one discussion whereas this discussion can be followed by a large group of people and can be syndicated and re-tweeted. Not only is the discussion a one-to-one communication, but it can also be communicated to many groups of people with their own spheres of influence.

An Informal Channel

Another great thing about the @ function is that it is not formal. Unlike e-mail that is a formal communication or a series of blog posts and responses or even blog comments, the @ response is very informal. It can be in passing. It can also be directed to many people directing their attention to a specific conversation or response. To some extent, this is more direct than an article because it allows for a very focused form of communication. You nearly need to discuss the actual snippet text or information and communication focuses on that. The # also sets Twitter apart because it allows for tremendous level of dialog organization on Twitter. It is very easy to use and it flows easily with regular usage of Twitter.

Conversing via @

The @ function works in a very simple but direct way. If you are following somebody and they are not following you and you see their updates, you can respond to their update by using the @ function. This message shows up on their feed but their followers will not see it. Only when they respond to you via the @ function will that person’s followers be able to see your Twitter address. This allows for conversations that are very targeted because since the person sending an @ message to does not follow you, their public feed is not cluttered with messages people send them.

Bridging differing spheres of influence

When you send a person with many followers an @ message, your @ tweet will not appear on their public feed. However, if they respond to you, it would appear on their feed. It is a great way of bringing your message, your brand, your cause or your issue to a wider audience. In essence, you are piggybacking off that person’s prestige, celebrity, authority, credibility, legitimacy and influence the moment they respond to you by either re-tweeting your tweet or responding to their general feed in reference to your address. It shows that they consider what you said important and this allows you to expand your sphere of influence especially if this person does it regularly. Indeed many sports figures are constantly bombarded by their fans’ requests to have their tweets re-tweeted to their feed. While this is just ego candy and is the digital version of the sports autograph, it does reflect the power of the @ function and how it can explode the influence of an otherwise obscured person, cause or issue. You name it. The @ function truly expands democracy of influence online.

How to Use the @ Function Responsibly

There are many ways you can use the @ function to get the message across. The most obvious is if this is a direct response or a direct request. You follow many big time celebrities of authorities that have a great number of followers and of course, they would be posting their updates. If you see an update that you have something provocative, interesting, compelling or amusing to say, respond to that tweet from them using the @ function and be very clear with what you want to say. If what you are saying impacts them or catches their attention or moves them enough to either re-tweet what you said or respond to you in their feed, you would have achieved your goal. Your goal, once again, is to ride on their influence and by having them notice your tweet, you can go a long way.

Direct Retweet Request Method

The other approach is through a direct request. The problem with direct response is that your response must be witty, compelling and informative or in other words, it must be useful. It must have a high level of quality, high enough to get the target Twitter account’s attention for them to either re-tweet you or respond to you through their feed. Not everybody can write high-quality @ messages. Not everybody knows how to get the right kind of attention utilizing the @ function.

Ask and you shall sometimes receive

The alternative would be a direct request. There is no secret about this. This is all very blatant and bare faced. You simply request the person that you want a re-tweet from to re-tweet your message. This happens very often with Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and other sports giants. People just say, “Hey, Kobe it is my birthday today. Can you re-tweet this birthday greeting or can you say Hey, Joe Blow to your Twitter fans?” Whatever it is, this is just a direct request specifically and plainly asking for something.

Don’t hold your breath

If you thought that direct response had a high rate of denials, the direct request has an even higher rate of denials. The simple fact of the matter is that the more followers your target celebrity, authority or person has, the more requests that they would get and the more responses that they would get. There are not enough hours in the day for them to possibly respond to all those requests. It is certainly a numbers games in terms of getting a positive response whether you are doing the direct response approach or the direct request approach.

Send a Resource: Quality above all else

This method involves sending an @ tweet with a link to a resource and a short text blur. This is quite effective if the resource that you are sending is actually worth reading. In essence, you are trying to be two things here. You are trying to obviously ride the influence of the person you are sending the @ tweet to and by riding on the authority and value of the link that you are sending. See the genius in that? There is really not much work involved. However, the amount of work that is involved is very focused on brain intensive. What do I mean by that? You have to pick the resource that you are sending very carefully. It must be important or relevant to the celebrity that you are sending the information to or else, they are just going to block you. It is easy to come off as a spammer using this method because spammers do it all the time. The key to pulling this off successfully is to ensure a high level of relevance between the resource that you are sending and the interest to the person that you are responding to.

Pick your content carefully and take your time

The best way to ensure a fit is to read that person’s Twitter feed and figure out exactly what they are interested in, figure out the issues that they are tweeting about. If they tweeted about animal rights recently, then you should find a very succinct and powerful article that talks about animal rights and you send that to the celebrity or authority that you are trying to target. This closeness between their interests and the resource that you send increases your chances that they would re-tweet your resource. The truth about human nature is that most people love to be told that they are right, most people love to be validated. You are validating somebody’s point of view when you do this.

Witty Copywriting Needed: The Blurb

The second part of the equation is that you cannot just send a link without a description or a title. Doing so once again subjects you to the suspicion of being a spammer. To avoid this problem, you must come up with a title or a description. This must be just a short blurb, as the shorter the better, that describes the link that you are sending. What makes this especially difficult is that the blurb that you are sending must be well written. You must be a copywriter or a focused writer to correctly summarize what the link is saying or point out its major point in a very short sentence. To add to the level of difficulty, the most effective descriptions are the ones that grab the reader’s attention. This takes much time and effort, but with enough practice you should be able to do this. The payoff is when the target re-tweets your resource and their whole Twitter feed gets a chance to click through the resource and go to the site. Many influential bloggers use this method to spread their word way beyond their circle of friends.

Hashtag Alerts: Organizing around Topics

The hashtag function going by the symbol # is a very powerful way of getting your message across. Not all messages are direct messages. If you have a specific website or a specific article or a specific tweet that is called a specific message, the message is very clear and targeted. If you are talking about a specific category of content, then the # is great for that type of message because the # categorizes specific tweet discussions. In essence, it works like a tagging mechanism for search engines.

A Better Way to Search?

People can search Twitter using the # and they will be able to retrieve discussions regarding the topic that that # covers. Many @ marketers and users use the @ function to publicize and popularize a specific #. The point being if you get people to follow a # instead of specific Twitter accounts, you are continually branding them because there are many different users talking about that specific topic. The # is excellent if you are branding a cause, a political movement or an idea. It is not so good if you want messages only from a specific account to be broadcast. If you plan to recruit a huge number of people in spreading your brand, the # is the best way to go.

Bottom Line for the @ Feature

This feature allows you to explode your influence by piggybacking on other people’s influence. However, it takes a lot of creativity, time and work to put together an @ messaging campaign that will achieve the results that you are looking for. It is not for the faint hearted. It takes a long time to get the craft going and also it requires people to fine tune their efforts as they go along. Nobody starts out as an expert tweeter or a master communicator in social media. Expect a few stumbles and hiccups here and there. The most important this is that you keep going and you keep learning. The @ function is a very powerful tool. Use it responsibly and ethically. The bottom line is the people who use it to build quality sites and who send out quality tweets win out at the end. That is the good news. Honesty, integrity and quality always win out at the end.

Uses for the # Function

As defined above, the # is a very powerful and efficient way of organizing conversations regarding a particular topic category. It does not follow a specific user account. Instead it follows a specific topic. This is a very powerful feature of Twitter because people can use Twitter as a search engine just by using #. What is great about using # for search purposes is that searchers get the most up to date information since people interested in the topic would apply the # in their updates are more frequent than search engine updates. It takes sometime to index new content and rank it up to get it to the people who are looking for it. In this respect, Twitter acts as a realtime search engine and the hashtag plays an important role in ensuring Twitter users or people using Twitter as a search engine get the latest updates of discussions regarding topic category.

Marketing Usage of the # Feature: Allows You to Control the Conversation Regarding a Topic

One of the downsides of the internet in regard to brand is that it is very easy for brands to get damaged, slandered or defamed online. Anybody could start a blog. There are no journalist credentials needed. Anybody could go on Twitter and post garbage. That is just a fact of life. Haters abound on the internet. Since you do not see them face to face and there is really no social sanction or social discipline when somebody expresses something shocking, outrageous or offensive, people are embolden to simply hate away or be extremely negative. Twitter’s # feature allows brand managers to mobilize their resources to counteract negative spin on their brand.

For example, if you have a shoe brand that is being unfairly labeled as defective or of inferior quality, you can counteract this trash talk online by creating a # for your band and posting blog updates of happy testimonials from customers. You can even recruit your base of satisfied customers to tweet about their happy experiences and use the #. The end result would be to drown out the negative tweets using the #. Of course, this all proceeds from an honor system and it is truly only as effective as your integrity. If you certainly have a defective or a substandard product and you use this # method to counteract truthful yet negative reports on Twitter, you are not really dealing with the core problem. Sure your reputation on Twitter is preserved, but people do talk in the real world so it does not actually fix the issues. You may have done a good job putting out the fire on Twitter, but who knows where the fire will range? Hopefully it does not end up in product liability law suit. Therefore, the real solution would be to address any issues that negative Twitter posts are saying and turn it to your advantage by making your product better. In that sense, by listening to social media, manufacturers, marketers, retailers and business firms in general can use it as a market feedback mechanism to include your product.

Marketing Usage of the # Feature: Easy Tracking

It is hard to get a pulse on an issue. With the use of #, it is much faster. You can get feedback regarding a specific topic much faster just by people’s reaction and contribution to that #. In essence, they are building a community around the topic instead of a particular user or a particular brand. Twitter users can build a community around that specific topic and this is a very powerful marketing tool, especially if you own a brand or if you manage a brand. You can grow the community so the community of tweeters by default becomes your marketers. The key is to keep the community happy. Many businesses do this by holding promotions using #. They give out incentives or there is free content available online. There undoubtedly are no limits regarding how you can market to a community using the # feature. The only limit really is your imagination. Of course such promotional campaigns still need to be assessed using cost-benefit analysis.

The Bottom Line Regarding Hashtag Marketing

The bottom line regarding hashtag marketing is that it is a very effective way to manage a particular theme or to ride a particular trend. If you see a trend regarding a specific hashtag, you can actually help control the direction of the discussion regarding that topic by tweeting extensively using that hashtag. Your voice in that topic community grows. Of course, your voice is only as credible as the content you are sharing. This does not mean that you have to abdicate the responsibility of putting together high-quality content. This means ethical content do not lie, do not misrepresent and do not exaggerate. Make sure that the information that you are sharing is accurate. Most importantly if you are sharing links, make sure that the links do not go to spyware sites or they do not go to pages that are just a massive collection of ads or any other spamming techniques. Remember that you are selling your credibility here. When you are participating in a hashtag community, ascertain that you contribute value to your community.

The Bottom Line Regarding @ and # Functions

The @ and # functions are effective tools in communicating over Twitter and can be used to explode your influence. Use them very carefully and put in a lot of thinking before you sent out an @ message or a # message. Your credibility is on the line and your credibility will be damaged if you send out spam, if you send out unresponsive material, if you insult people, if you take shortcuts or act in any other way cheaply. Display a lot of class and integrity in using these tools and you can be assured that your efforts will be rewarded down the road. These tools do not provide instant results. They are just part of your arsenal and the marathon that is called Twitter. Remember that it is a marathon and not a sprint.

Part 4: The Death of Twitter Direct Message and Why It is a Good Thing