Comments from a Twitter executive about its @replies and hashtags worried many users this week. Would Twitter be Twitter without these critical elements?
I use Twitter for both my personal brand, @patricksplace and professionally at the workplace where I manage, supervise or otherwise monitor an array of accounts.
What all of those accounts have in common is a serious dependence on @replies and hashtags.
Twitter users were caught off guard by a tweet from BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, which quoted Twitter’s Vivian Schiller, the head of news at the social media giant:
It’s that scaffolding that makes Twitter so valuable to those of us who are trying to use it to actually connect with people rather than to simply watch a stream of constant undirected messages go buy, second by second.
After the initial furor, Vivian tweeted out this:
If they don’t make any changes that eradicates the features that allow the platform to connect users in conversation, I’m open to nearly any change they want to try.
What’s the big deal with @replies and hashtags?
The @reply is the method by which someone directs a tweet to a specific person. Others may be able to see that tweet, based on a largely misunderstood array of rules.
For example, if I send a tweet to my pal Carly, whose Twitter handle is @ondinemonet (and who is definitely worth following if you enjoy beautiful photography like you’ll find on her blog), I can write out something like this:
@ondinemonet I think you should do a book of your autumn photos. I’d buy!
If you follow both Carly and me, you’ll see that tweet in your timeline. If you don’t follow both of us, you won’t.
But Carly will see it when she checks in at Twitter under the Interactions tab, because the tweet uses that @reply right off the top.
If I add a character — most people just use a period — before the tweet, then the tweet is fully public. Everyone who follows me will see my tweet in their timeline whether they follow Carly or not:
.@ondinemonet I think you should do a book of your autumn photos. I’d buy!
Likewise, if I retweet something someone tweets, which involves placing an RT before the @ symbol, you’ll also see my tweet as long as you follow me:
RT @ondinemonet “You can’t compare our two experiences. Its like apples and spaceships.”
Yes, an @reply doesn’t have to be an actual reply to anything. I can use it to reply to a previous tweet or start a new conversation.
But it’s about conversation…which would seem to be the point of social media.
Hashtags, on the other hand, help you narrow the mass of tweets to certain topics or communities within Twitter.
Every Tuesday night, I host a Twitter chat called #Bloggab. Any Twitter user may participate, as long as they want to talk about blogging, and they do so by adding the hashtag #Bloggab to their tweet. It can be at the beginning, middle or end. Any other Twitter user who either searches for that hashtag or uses a specific website designed to facilitate live Twitter chats will see all tweets with that particular hashtag.
Some hashtags unite fans of a particular movie or television show, like #StarWars or #BigBangTheory. Others help people who like certain subjects, like #gardening or #fitness, find more tweets about their favorite hobbies.
Other hashtags are whimsical, like #JustSayin, which is often used after a particularly wry statement.
What would we do without them?
Fortunately, after the dust began to settle, it began to appear that we might not have to find out.
Though the issue of “creative thinking” may well lead to something completely different that hopefully accomplishes the same thing at least as efficiently.
Though not all change operates that way.
When Twitter changed its retweet button, it went to a policy where retweeting from Twitter.com meant that the tweet of the person you are retweeting — including his username and profile photo — appears in your timeline instead of your own. Yes, eliminating the “RT @username” saves precious space in that annoying 140-character limit, but the marketer in me wants my timeline to show me, not someone else.
And unless I use Twitter on a site other than Twitter.com, any “old-style” retweet has to be done manually.
That was a change I did not appreciate. I still don’t.
In any case, one thing remains clear: @replies and Hashtags make Twitter useful. To remove them would kill Twitter as we know it.
Let’s hope the creative thinkers don’t get so creative that they lose sight of that.