Scott Hanselman

Subtle but Very Important Twitter Tips and Techniques You Should Know (cause no one will tell you)

October 13, 2010 Comment on this post [21] Posted in Musings
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Shameless Plug: If you're at Blogworld Expo 2010 this week, please join me at my talk on Friday afternoon. Details at If you liked this post, you'll find 32 even more tips for blogging at my talk "32 Ways to Make Your Blog Suck Less."

If you're new to Twitter, do check out my two other articles:

There's a few behaviors about Twitter that are subtle, but important. For some of my examples I'll be making up tweets and timelines to protect the innocent.

Let's start with the most difficult to understand concept. It's obvious once you grok it, but it's a huge point of confusion to a LOT of people, especially new folks.

1. If your tweet starts with someone's @username, only that user and folks who follow both of you can will see the tweet in their timeline.

I wrote that sentence three times and it's still not 100% clear. Here's an example.

I'm @shanselman and I follow @robconery and @haacked. If @robconery tweets this:

@shanselman is the best. I love him so much. Tacos for all!

Rob thinks he's being nice, announcing something to all his Twitter followers. But in fact, Twitter says that a tweet that starts with a @username is not a @mention, it's a @reply.

Only those people who follow @robconery and @shanselman will see that tweet. In other words, the potential audience for that tweet is the intersection of our followers, NOT all of @robconery's followers.

Example: If @haacked follows @robconery, but not @shanselman, that tweet will NOT show up in @haacked's timeline.

Venn Diagram showing the relationship between followers and their tweets

When you want to reply to someone and have everyone see it, add a . or an R, or basically anything in front of their name. That'll make the tweet a @mention of them, rather than a @reply, then everyone in your timeline will see it.

2. Keep the Reply Chain unbroken and reap the benefits

What's the difference between these two tweets?

@shanselman nah, let's go to see The Town instead?

@shanselman nah, let's go to see The Town instead?

Nothing obvious, just by looking at them alone, right? But if you look closer in your Twitter client, or click the tweet on the Twitter website, they might differ by their inclusion of a hidden data point called "in reply to," like:

@shanselman nah, let's go to see The Town instead?
10/12/2010 10:00am in reply to @shanselman

It doesn't just know that you're replying to @shanselman, but also the status id (the unique number) of the exact tweet. This data is SO useful because it allows you (your twitter client, in fact) to follow the conversation thread as far back as there's data for it. Without that hidden metadata, you're just looking at tweets out of context.

Tweets refer to each other using the in_reply_to data

While both tweets are replies, since they start with a @username, only one includes that extra data because I actually clicked "reply" in either my Twitter Client or from the website. It's the act of clicking reply that causes that extra data to be added. If you just start typing a reply or copy paste a user name, your client or the twitter site will likely consider your tweet a fresh tweet.

On the Twitter website, in the New Twitter interface, tweets that have the reply to meta data have a little "conversation bubble" next to the tweet. If you click a tweet with this icon, you'll get the full conversation thread. In this image, two of the tweets are "proper replies," and the other two are "mentions."

Replies as shown in New Twitter

What does this mean for you? Try to keep the reply chain unbroken by using the Reply button in your Twitter client or within the Twitter website. Not only will your followers appreciate it, but you will at some future date when looking back on your tweets and wondering what the heck you were talking about.

3. Know about the advanced features of Url Shorteners

There's a lot of URL shorteners out there like and now Twitter's One of the most interesting things about is its ability to collect lots of statistics.

But did you know that you can take any link, even ones that aren't yours and see their stats? Just add a plus after the URL. Like this crucial piece of breaking news I tweeted last week. "LA Area freeway clogged by burning yam truck." at You can visit (see the plus?) and get all these great stats.

This trick even works with custom Bitly.Pro domains like my very own URL shortener, For example, check the stats on my diabetes video with stats at

My stats

Not only do I get clicks, but I also get aggregate clicks via other links pointing to the same URL. There's also a realtime chart at the bottom as well as recent (last week or so) conversations on Twitter that mention the link. Again, the takeaway here is that you can do with this anyone's link, not just yours.

4. Silence your Retweet friendly friends without unfollowing them

Have a friend who retweets WAY to much and fills your timeline with crap, but you still love them and don't want to un-follow? You can remove retweets on a per-user basis from a user's full profile.

For example, if I didn't want retweets from my friend Travis (just an example, he's a lovely guy) then I could visit his profile and silence his noisy RTs (retweets).

The Silence RTs button 


About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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October 13, 2010 2:39
Interesting tips. Knew all of them, but it does not mean they are not perfectly explained. Good work, enjoy your BWE talk!


Latest in my blog 33 Best Posts I Have Read This August, 2010
October 13, 2010 3:11
Thanks Scott specially for the stat tip and the detailed explanation of the other features.
October 13, 2010 6:02
Okay so you recommend replying to people's tweets to keep the conversation id history but then you also say that by replying to people's tweets, by default only that person can see you reply (this is in Tweetdeck). For example if I hit, in tweetdeck, the little reply arrow to:

Blog: Subtle but Very Important Twitter Tips and Techniques You Should Know (cause no one…

It will prepopulate:
@shanselman how do I reply so that it not only keeps the conversation history but ALSO allows everyone to see my reply?

Thanks in advance,
October 13, 2010 7:30
Another really helpful post! Some I knew, but just never really worried too much about 'doing it right'. Good reminders, and great info about shrunken link stats - had no idea

Question: Does this feature exist, or am I thinking of a great new groundbreaking feature? I wish I could know in advance where a shrunken URL is going to take me. I wish I could "hover over" or in some other way see that is going to take me to
October 13, 2010 7:32
This is epic. I'm bookmarking this as a tutorial for my friends as they start to get into Twitter. Hell, I'll even send this link to my dad and I'm sure he'll get it. Thanks, Scott!
October 13, 2010 7:59
@alwaysbelearnin there are many Twitter clients out there (among them, e.g. Echofon or ChromedBird) that display the resolution of a shortened URL as e.g. a tooltip visible when the mouse pointer hovers above the shortened URL.
October 13, 2010 10:12
Great post! Another tip I learned today from @timoreilly: RT @cdixon: easter egg! add .qr for QR codes

October 13, 2010 10:45
A great post!

I didn't know about 1 and 2. Not in that detail.
BTW, what do you think about google's new URL shortner?
The QR codes at are awesome though :)
October 13, 2010 12:55
Very cool tips - didn't know most of the above - cheers for the heads up.
October 13, 2010 21:42
Hey @shanselman - very good article with great tips! I am going to tweet this link right now so others can enjoy.
October 13, 2010 23:44
@Goran: supports QR codes too:
October 14, 2010 0:53
I'm tweeting this.
October 14, 2010 13:41
thanks for the tips, actually using twitter because of your video "all devs should have a blog" Twitter Question: I have a friend who tweets about soccer (yes soccer =S) every 10 secs or so! Is there any way I can filter her out without un following her!
October 15, 2010 12:34
wow great tips! Thanks Scott, the reply trick (1) is too useful
October 15, 2010 16:37
about my comment earlier, sorry about being such a twitter noob! I didnt know you could filter tweets from people with a list! =)
October 16, 2010 0:29
Call me betty white, I just dont get the point of having twitter. brb, i'm going to eat dinner now.
October 16, 2010 14:45
Now I know why my kids don't get Twitter. :)
October 24, 2010 21:48
How do I set a background photo
NickG136 Nicholas Gallicchio

Web Page is down
November 05, 2010 19:57
This is great info Scott. I'm writing several tech tips about Twitter and the info is excellent to share. Thanks for taking the time to draft and share this.
July 05, 2011 20:28
hey, I was browsing this post and I found I'm in the third image on top. :) happy to see that.

July 11, 2011 3:26

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.