Marketing + Web

So, What’s a Hashtag Again?

August 8, 2011

A few posts back, we talked in broad terms about the emergence of Twitter, its relevance and influence on public opinion and customer engagement. Today we want to dive a little deeper into the weeds and talk through some of the technical and practical terms that will help you take your Twitter-fu from beginner to advanced.  We will begin with a vocabulary lesson of critical terms and conclude on Thursday with some practical strategies to help you get started.


Twitter Basics: Terms and Definitions

Tweet – A tweet is a message communicated in 140 characters or less using the online social media platform Twitter.  A Twitter user will enter their Tweet in the “What’s Happening” box at the top of their Twitter feed. Tweets are sometimes referred to as “status updates” but that term originated with Facebook, not Twitter.


Twitter User Name/Handle – Every user on Twitter has a unique user name, also referred to as a handle. This is how others identify you on Twitter.  Every Twitter user’s handle is also the direct URL for their Twitter page.  For example Bob Smith’s handle is @trevorr and can be found on Twitter at (this is also referred to as a user’s profile page).  Handles are unique; two people cannot have the same handle.


Followers – Twitter users who want to receive your Tweets will “follow” you on Twitter.  Every user’s profile page has a “follow button” at the top. To follow someone just click the button and their Tweets will automatically show up in your Twitter feed. You can see a list of the users you follow and who follow you on your Twitter profile page.


Retweet – When you see a Tweet you like and want to share with your own Twitter followers, the way to do this is to Retweet the original Tweet.  This allows the original person to get “credit” for the thought and helps connect the author of the original Tweet with new followers.  For example, if I follow @bobsmith on Twitter and he Tweets a link to a new product I find interesting, I would Retweet @bobsmith’s original Tweet to help spread his message and allow my followers to identify @bobsmith’s Twitter handle so that my followers may also choose to follow @bobsmith and get future Tweets directly from him. Retweeting is the most viral aspect of Twitter.  This is how messages and ideas spread fast.


@reply – Spoken as “at reply,” this function allows you to mention another Twitter user in your Tweet.  There are two main ways to use the @reply: reply directly to another user’s Tweet using the reply feature or start a new tweet and mention a user anywhere in the message using the @ symbol next to their user name (i.e. @bobsmith).  You do not necessarily have to be replying to someone else’s Tweet when using an @reply, it may be that you simply want to “tag” the person in your Tweet to make sure they take notice.


Direct Message –  A Direct Message (aka DM) in Twitter is the only way to communicate a message privately with another user.  In order to send a Direct Message, both you and the user you want to Direct Message must be following each other.  For example, if I want to send @bobsmith a Direct Message, he must be following me and I must be following him.  Twitter will not allow you to send a Direct Message to someone you don’t follow or who doesn’t follow you.  Most Twitter users don’t like the Direct Message function because it goes against the principal of social networking when messages are private.  Most Twitter users are there to “see and be seen” or “follow and be followed” as the case may be.  So don’t count on using the Direct Message function except in certain special circumstances.  And most importantly, if you are going to send a Direct Message make sure you do it right or the message could be accidentally published to your Twitter feed.


Hashtag – Using a hashtag (#) is somewhat like an @reply in that it allows you to “tag” a topic in your tweet. For example, if @bobsmith wanted to tweet about the latest Harry Potter film and have his Tweet appear the search results or contribute to the popularity of a trending topic, he would use the # symbol to tag a word or words in his tweet.  It would look something like this @bobsmith: “I saw the latest #harrypotterfilm and it was great!”


Trending Topic – Twitter publicizes regional, national and global “trending topics.” These topics are usually hashtags used by millions of Twitter users. For example, during the World Cup #worldcup was a trending topic globally on Twitter because of the volume of people Tweeting about the games.  Brands often want a celebrity to Tweet about their product so that the celebrity’s followers will see and retweet what the celebrity tweeted, thus producing a trending topic.  Twitter uses unique, proprietary algorithms to determine trending topics, click here to read more on this from Twitter’s help center.


A working understanding and application of these basic Twitter terms will get you started and quickly on your way to becoming a Twitter-pro.  Now that you know how to use Twitter and what all the terms and functions mean, in our next post we will help you begin crafting Tweets and understanding how to have your Tweets be heard in a sea of millions. Follow us at @cacpro

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