Mystery Dot: The Best Kept Secret on Twitter
But there’s one essential lesson that’s buried deep in Twitter’s FAQs, and I tweeted for years before figuring it out. This may seem like a minor technical tip, but it’s one that separates the novices from the pros. So listen up, this is important.
If a tweet starts with a username, Twitter thinks it’s a conversation (or an @reply, in Twitter parlance). Twitter is pretty smart and doesn’t want to bother everyone who follows you with every personal conversation you have. You should be grateful for this feature if you follow any company accounts that reply to hundreds of user questions and comments per day.
To keep us all from being annoyed by tweets that are actually just conversations between people we don’t know, Twitter only pushes a “conversation” tweet to our feeds if we follow both the tweeter and the account mentioned at the beginning of the tweet.
For example, if I say…
@rachelsklar Have you seen the latest episode of #Girls? It’s ridiculous.
…that tweet would only get pushed to my followers’ feeds if they also follow Rachel Sklar (i.e., when my followers scroll through their Twitter feeds on their phones or at twitter.com, they won’t see that tweet unless they follow us both). It will still be visible to anyone who visits my profile page directly, but it will not be automatically pushed to everyone.
Why That’s Bad for You
Now, the problem with Twitter being smart is that sometimes it’s too smart for its own good. Occasionally, I want to start a tweet with a username, but it’s not a conversation—it’s something I want everyone to see.
Here’s an example:
@rachelsklar just took at the stage at #SXSW to talk about trends for women in comedy. Any questions I should ask her?
I’m reporting live from an event, hoping the world will see my tweet. Unfortunately, Twitter thinks this is just a “conversation” tweet to Rachel, and so it won’t push the tweet to my followers’ feeds. I think I’m shouting into a metaphorical megaphone, but in reality, I just whispered into Rachel’s ear. Total #fail.
I see this happen on Twitter all the time (here, here, and here, for example). Well-meaning companies and individuals who don’t know about this little hitch in Twitter’s algorithm send out tweets that they think are Twitter-wide marketing pushes, but in reality bounce around a much smaller echo chamber.
What You Can Do About It
So how do you outsmart Twitter?
You have to put something before the username to trick Twitter into thinking it’s a regular tweet for mass consumption. Perhaps you’ve seen people start their tweets with a period? Tricking Twitter is exactly what they’re doing. If you haven’t seen this before, here’s a sample:
.@rachelsklar just took at the stage at #SXSW to talk about trends for women in comedy. Any questions I should ask her?
Now this tweet will get pushed to everyone following me, regardless of whether they also follow Rachel.
With this pro-tip in hand, you can join the ranks of savvy Twitter users like Nike, Kristen Bell, Mashable, and Entrepreneur Magazine who all employ the pre-tweet period when necessary to ensure their message reaches everyone in the Twittersphere.
Photo courtesy of Andy Melton.
Anneke is a founding executive and leads the business side of Reserve, one of Fast Company's Most Innovative companies of 2016. She joined Reserve from the Google Creative Lab where she led teams building the future of tech. An advisor to NPR and a startup veteran, she is an experienced entrepreneur and storyteller who speaks and writes on topics related to technology and culture. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at @annekejong.More from this Author