Twitter 101: Hastags, Mentions, and Retweets

Categories: Twitter Tips

Mentions TwitterI have discussions with many people each week regarding Twitter. I begin hearing a lot of the same questions about Twitter and see a lot of similar mistakes that people make while using Twitter. This post covers the main features of Twitter and how to effectively use these features.

I always like to think of Twitter as a natural extension of a person. If you were to go to an event, how would you behave? First, you’d find people who were talking about topics for which you had an interest. Next, you would listen in to what they were talking about. Finally, you would join into the conversation. In this example, there are two main components of the conversation:

  1. Topic
  2. People

Twitter allows you to also make these two components important by linking them. This is where we get the hashtag (#) and the mention sign (@):

  1. #Topic
  2. @People

When creating a Tweet, a hashtag (#) is used before topics. An at sign (@) is used before people, organizations, companies, etc. An @ is only used before a Twitter username. A hashtag should never be used before a Twitter username. When using a # or @, that immediately makes the word right after turn into a link. For a hashtag, the word after the hashtag can then be clicked to see what others are Tweeting about the same topic. For an at sign (@), the word after the @ can be clicked to learn more about that person, organization, or company.

Types of Tweets
1. Normal Tweet

A normal tweet is a simple statement without using a # or @. It is usually used to provide an update or just make a statement. Normal tweets are fine but don’t make them a habit because you miss out on connecting the tweet around topics or people using # and @.

Normal Tweet Example

2. Direct Message

Let’s say that Bob wants to send a message to Jane and he doesn’t want anyone else to see this message. Bob can send this message by sending a direct message.

Twitter Direct Message

There are two ways to send a direct message. The first is to sign into Twitter and type a direct message into the area you would usually compose a Tweet. Start the tweet with a “d” then add the other person’s username (without placing an @ in front of the name), and then type your message. The message must be within 140 characters in total.

Composing a Direct MessageSending Direct Messages

The second way to send a direct message is to click on the settings icon in the upper right corner of Twitter. Right under the main area, you will see an option for Direct Messages. Click on that and you will be taken to an area for composing direct messages.

Direct messages are a useful way to communicate with one other person. You must follow the person and the other person must follow you back in order to send a direct message. The user will receive an email once you have direct messaged them. The person may be more likely to respond because they know your message will be short (140 characters or less) and their reply will also be short.

3. Reply or Addressed Message

To reply to or address a Tweet at a particular person, Twitter has a a great option for that type of communication. Say that Bob wants to address a message to Jane and only wants a particular group of people to see that message. Bob can send a message directed to Jane. Likewise, Jane could reply to Bob’s original message. If Bob and Jane start their tweets with “@username,” their tweets will only be visible to each other and anyone who follows both Bob and Jane.

Replies and Addressed Messages

To send an addressed message, simply start the tweet with @username like this example below:

Addressed Message

To send a reply to a tweet that someone has addressed to you, simply click “Reply” below a tweet and Twitter will automatically start the tweet with “@username” to the user who originally addressed you.

4. Mentions

In this scenario, Bob wants to send a message to Jane and he wants everyone in the Twitter universe to have access to this tweet. Bob’s followers will see his tweet and Jane will be notified of the tweet by email. What happens most of the time is that Jane will then Retweet (to be covered next) Bob’s tweet to her follower list.

Twitter Mentions

Mentions are a great way to highlight or congratulate someone through Twitter because multiple people will see the tweet. I also use this when I think one particular person would enjoy an article but that the rest of my followers would also benefit from seeing the article.

The way to send a mention is to start out the tweet with text and then have the @username be somewhere within the body or even at the end of a tweet.

Twitter Mention Example

There is also a little trick where you can address a tweet towards a @user but open it up for everyone to see. Simply place a period (.) before the username.

Twitter Mention trick


A retweet is when you repost something that someone said. Say that Joe has a brilliant tweet. Jane sees that tweet and wants to repost it to her follower list. Jane would simply retweet what Joe wrote. Joe would in turn receive an email notifying him that Jane had just retweeted his message to her number of followers.


Retweets are a great way to highlight a particular message and show a particular twitter user that you are following what he or she says. Retweets can also be an effective way to provide excellent content to your follower list. You may be following someone that the rest of your followers are not following. This will highlight that person in front of your user list.

URL Shortening Options

Since you only have 140 characters, highlighting a long link in your Tweet can end up taking up half of your allotted characters. In this case, you’ll want to use a URL shortening program. If you use Twitter on a computer and you paste a link into the tweet composition box, Twitter will automatically shorten that URL. Where Twitter falls short is if you want to know how many people then clicked on that link. To shorten a link and then have the capability to track how many people click the link and where they click it from, I recommend two different programs:

If you already have a Google account, is a great option because you can easily access that and check in on your data any time you are signed into your account. also creates a QR code for that URL that you can use on different printed material.

Research Before Tweeting

How do you know what hashtag to use or what the person’s twitter name is when you are composing a new tweet? You will need to do a little research before you tweet. Only the word immediately after a # will be linked. If you have a two-word key phrase or topic, you will want to do a search to see how other people are referring to that topic. They may be writing the word together or shortening it by some means.

The best way to search for hashtags and people is in Twitter itself. Desktop, tablet, and mobile versions of Twitter all allow for robust searches. Do a search for a keyword or key phrase and then use the hashtags being used by others. This will help you join the conversation happening around that topic. Likewise, if you are going to mention a person in your tweet, don’t assume that their twitter name is their first and last name together. Look them up before you mention them.

If you are in charge of an event, it is always best to create a hashtag in advance of the event and then make that hashtag visible as people enter the event. That way, people aren’t using a multitude of hashtags but are using one hashtag for the meeting.

The content above is from a presentation given at the Metro Atlanta Chamber on Monday, February 11, 2013 by @ErikRostad

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