Getting Started with Twitter: Mentions and Direct Messages

twitter-bird-white-on-blueToday we’ll discuss the relational building blocks of Twitter, also known as mentions and direct messages.

What’s the difference between a mention and a direct message?

Simply put, mentions are public, direct messages are private. The 140-character limit remains in effect regardless.

Twitter Mentions

When you begin a tweet with @twittername, that’s called a “mention.” It sends a public message to @twittername. If another Twitterer follows both you and @twittername, they will see the interaction. If another Twitterer does a search for a specific term used in your mention, they’ll see your tweet as well.
You can also mention someone in the middle of a message, like “Hey @batwood, why was your post so long and boring?” and that person will see your tweet as a mention; however, this is considered a public tweet and not specifically a mention. They effectively work the same way, but in the first instance the only people that see the tweet are you, the person you’ve mentioned, and anyone that follows both of you. In the second instance, anyone can see your tweet. You can mention anyone in a tweet, regardless of whether they’re following you or you’re following them. Just be sure you’re using the right Twitter name and to never leave a space between the @ and their Twitter username.

Bonus tip: If you’d like to start a tweet with a username, but you want to ensure that the tweet is visible to everyone, simply place a period before the Twitter username. For example:

Twitter Direct Messages

When you begin a tweet with d @twittername, you’re sending a private message to that Twitter user. No one else sees this aside from you and the person you’re sending the message to. You cannot send a direct message to someone who isn’t following you. If someone that you follow isn’t following you back, it’s often OK to ask them a question publicly, via a mention, especially if you think others may benefit from the answer you’re seeking.
Additionally, if you’re on, clicking the small silhouette icon with a downward arrow while on a certain person’s Twitter page will allow you to “Tweet to @twittername” (i.e. mention that person) or “Send a Direct Message” (i.e. send a private message to that person).

Building Relationships on Twitter

While your regular tweets can help build rapport with those who follow you, real relational foundations are constructed with the building blocks of mentions and direct messages. Search for questions relevant to your expertise and answer them quickly (and correctly!), and you’ll begin to build an awareness amongst your followers as someone who’s both helpful and knowledgeable. When someone you admire follows you, risk something big and send them a direct message asking if they’d be agreeable to an interview for your blog, or if they could pass on the one thing that helped them get to where they are now. You may be surprised at some of the answers and connections you’ll make.
From my experience, Twitter’s a mostly nice, giving, knowledge-sharing community. One of its greatest assets is the ability for anyone to connect with nearly anyone else, regardless of status. Even if you’ve never met someone you follow on Twitter, after a short while of interaction (especially if you’ve mentioned them often or have traded direct messages), you begin to get a feel for who they are. When and if you do actually meet in person, it’s much easier to begin conversations because you’ve already done so online.
So get to mentioning and direct messaging. Like any social interaction, just be smart about what you say, how you say it (140 characters doesn’t exactly allow for sarcasm!), and how often you say it.
Here are links to every post in the Getting Started with Twitter: 10 Steps to Twitter Competence series.