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Although it’s only been in recent years that Twitter has taken over the top spot as my favourite social media network, I’ve been active on the platform for long enough to have witnessed it evolve. And they still refuse to fix this flaw.
It’s the Simple Things
What’s wonderful about Twitter is its simplicity. It’s truly a major differentiating factor that separates it from the rest. From its inception, it set out to be a place that evoked direct connection. Twitter also influences clearer communication, by forcing users to be concise.
Like Facebook, but just the status updates. Rather than having to break through technical barriers before a connection can be felt, Twitter paves a shorter path to travel than Facebook ever has.
Sure, there have been innovations along the way. An increased maximum word count; the star is now a heart; and, becoming verified is no longer an easy feat. However, despite an evolved look, Twitter’s feel has remained the same.
With that said, as much as I appreciate the simplicity it wants to maintain at its core, progress doesn’t have to elicit complexity. Especially if a fix corrects something that clearly needs to be addressed. It could elevate everyone’s experience.
An Error That Evades Most
Most don’t even know of this problem. They tweet away without realizing that they are losing out on potential exposure because of it. And it’s all a result of this very simplistic flaw that could so easily stop being one. Perhaps you unknowingly do this, too.
Let’s see if you notice the subtle difference between these two tweets:
There’s no trickery there. It’s exactly as you see it. Take another moment, just to be sure, and read Tweet #1 again. Then, go straight to Tweet #2, below, so the difference is that much more apparent.
Did you catch it?
Here, try this. On the image below, scroll the up/down arrows to compare Tweet #1 and Tweet #2. (Hint: Focus on the first line.)
There is a clear timestamp on both tweets, which illustrates that these were sent one right after the other (within the same minute, actually). This is not a result of marketing magic or image editing. What you see is what you get. So, if that’s the case, why then does only one of these show up on my actual profile for all to see? It’s true.
While Tweet #1 ends up in my “Tweets” feed, Tweet #2 reserves its own spot under “Tweets & replies”. What difference does that make, you ask? Great question and that’s why we’re here, after all. I’ll get into that more shortly.
If it’s still not yet clear, the only difference between those two tweets is that one starts with the @ and the other does not. As minor as that sounds, it makes a major difference in the potential audience for any given tweet you think you’re putting out for the world to see.
What Exactly Is Happening?
Not to create complexity by answering a question with a question, but that’s a relevant place to start. When you reply to a tweet, have you noticed that Twitter automatically includes respective usernames already involved before you even start typing anything?
Between Alexandra’s original tweet and where “Tweet your reply” sits as a placeholder in my message box, you can see that Twitter already included the “Replying to @thelittleblogca” line.
Maybe you’ve realized that or maybe you haven’t. At the very least, you’ve seen it occur and just accepted it, in that it makes sense for Twitter to add the names of those you’re responding to. It’s a logical efficiency.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s dig a little deeper into the issue at hand. It’s one thing for this social juggernaut to strongarm their structure for your replies. While it’s a completely different scenario when they mistake an independent message, being crafted as its own thought, as though it’s not. That’s what’s happening here.
When you start your tweet with someone’s username as the first word, like what’s illustrated in Tweet #2, Twitter’s programming defaults to making it a reply. Again, that’s how they’ve always assumed a response should appear, with a username starting the message. So they force that into practice even if it’s not what you think you’re doing.
Clearly, it’s not malicious. They are generally a user-friendly platform. Yet, it is annoying. You’d think it’s an easy fix on their end, too. Almost as though a stubbornness to maintain simplicity is prohibiting this advancement.
Tweets & Replies
Still not following the issue? Let’s revisit our “Tweets & replies” sections. That pillar of content lands to the right of the “Tweets” area, which justifiably garners most of the focus by default.
Wait, those areas are different? Yes, very.
When you send out an independent tweet, as opposed to a reply to one, your followers will have a greater chance of being exposed to that original message. Whereas to see your contributions within an existing conversation, your connections would need to dig further into your profile. Hence, what you send as its own thought lands in the “Tweets” section and a reply ends up piled into “Tweets & replies”.
I recognize that the tweets you start with an @username as their own message are intended to be just that. The problem is that Twitter doesn’t. They have (and seemingly will) always treat them like replies, which means only those they assume you are replying to will be more prone to actually seeing that message.
Let me go over that again, from a different angle. It doesn’t matter what you are saying or who are you are directing it towards. If you start a tweet with a username as the first word then Twitter automatically categorizes it as a reply and it ends up in the “Tweets & replies” section, not with your “Tweets”. As such, that message also avoids hitting your public timeline as only your “Tweets” make it there for all to see.
Always An Exception
There is one exception to all of this, though. Now, I wouldn’t rely on it to solve this problem, but it’s still relevant nonetheless. This could seem like it overcomplicates things, but it does add up.
If you begin a tweet with a username, any common followers that are connected with both you and the account you mention will have a chance to see it in their timeline. It’s an odd loophole, but it’s there.
For instance, if you start your tweet with @mralwayswrite and your best friend (who also follows) me scrolls their socials soon thereafter, they’ll likely see it. However, that other acquaintance you barely ever talk to anymore (because they refuse to be read my work) can’t notice it in the same manner, as it won’t appear in their main feed.
Think of it this way. Our networks often share common interests. I follow @TSN_Sports and a good portion of my connections do, as well. So, if TSN’s username is what starts my next tweet, those I’m connected with who also follow TSN will see it in their timeline. On the other hand, colleagues who are not interested in sports, and therefore don’t follow that account, won’t see it in the same way. They’d have to check my replies section to find that tweet, as opposed to it being in front of them on their timeline.
Again, that is an exception, not a solution. Stay focused on what will fix this potential problem, instead.
Avoid This Easy Error
You’ve likely seen others implement their own strategy to bypass this annoyance without realizing that’s what they’re doing. Have you ever noticed a tweet that started with a period for some reason? Well, this is why.
As I illustrated earlier, that tweet is now treated as its own message as opposed to seeming like a reply to @TwitterCanada. Adding anything before the @username is a sure-fire way to push your content into the lane you intend it to be, while avoiding the congestion of your reply section.
Simply stated, stop starting tweets with a username. When you do, a major portion of your network is then far less likely to see what you are saying. Placement matters. Just include their name anywhere else in the message and the crisis can be averted.
Avoiding this oddity will help maximize your exposure and your content will be visible to the audience you intend it to be. You deserve to be heard. And your engagement rates will thank me.