The @reply function on Twitter is the core of the network. Without the facility to reply, the stream would not only be decidedly non-interactive, but almost certainly completely full of spam.
It is my opinion that all Twitter users should place the greater part of their focus on their replies. This is how you meet and engage with your followers, build relationships, solve problems and make business deals. Folk who rarely reply to others and instead use Twitter as a soapbox for their own ends aren’t going to earn a lot of respect.
There are good and bad ways to do most things on Twitter, including sharing links, knowing what to do when you’ve submitted a bad tweet, and how to correctly use the reply function. This tutorial will focus on how to word replies in a manner that will increase your own chances of a reply back, specifically if you are responding to a tweet submitted earlier in the day.
When Is A Reply Not A Reply? (Part One)
In Twitter we don’t just use the reply facility to respond to people – often we initiate conversations with it. This can be in the form of questions or the sharing of information and links.
Whenever anybody asks me a specific question on Twitter I nearly always reply directly. The only instances when I won’t is if the person is rude or repeatedly asking the same thing or sharing the same content, or if I’ve received the exact same question many times in a row from different followers, in which case I’ll write an ‘open’ reply to the network.
It is my personal opinion that this is the correct way to do things. The right etiquette, if you will. If somebody takes the time to ask me something it’s common courtesy to respond back to them, even if it’s to simply push them in the right direction by means of a link or a re-tweet.
Not everybody feels this way, but I think Twitter would be a lot better if they did. I’ve raised this point before, but: if you’re considered an expert in your niche and I’ve asked you a reasonable question about a product or item that you write about but you ignore my tweet, what does that tell me about you and/or your organisation?
The Right Way To Ask A Question
That said, there is a right way to do this, certainly if you expect a response.
1. Make sure your tweet is clear and reads well. Be mindful to use correct spelling and proper grammar.
2. Be direct and to the point, but polite.
3. Patience is a virtue. The person you are addressing might follow thousands of people, and it can take a while to work through the tweets. Don’t harass. Ask your question, and wait for a response.
4. Wait for 24 hours before you consider asking the question again. If you do, re-word it. If you don’t hear anything after that, consider why you’re following this individual at all.
When Is A Reply Not A Reply? (Part Two)
I tweet quite a bit. In fact, my tweet levels appear to be escalating, which must be a bit of a niggle for some of my followers. My average for March is 80 tweets per day. This past week or so I’ve been sending out 100-150 tweets per day, of which approximately half are replies. According to Twitalyzer, the rest of my tweets (non-replies) contain a signal-to-noise ratio of 94.3 per cent. This means that nearly all of my standard tweets contain a link. In other words, they share information and content.
Because of the way I choose to use Twitter, I get quite a lot of replies back, with folk querying articles and websites I’ve shared and asking questions about these themes. This is great – I really enjoy this part of Twitter, because for me the discussions that arise from breaking news and topics are really what it’s all about.
Sometimes I’ll get replies to things that I’ve posted hours, and sometimes even days, beforehand. This often occurs over the course of the day as the Twitter world moves through the various timezones, people come back to work after the weekend, or from followers who dip in and out of Twitter. A lot of folk log on to the network and go back and read the submissions they have missed. This is admirable, and I encourage this course of action.
However, if an individual then chooses to reply to a tweet submitted a while ago without making any frame of reference or providing context, it can be very confusing for the recipient.
Here are some example replies that, out of context and delivered well after the original tweet was posted, can be baffling:
“I really like that.”
“What do you think, Sheamus?”
“It’s never been a problem for me.”
“I prefer this one: http://linktosomewhere.com.”
If I receive responses like this very soon after posting a tweet, they usually make sense. However, if the sender was replying to something a while back, but my last submitted tweet was (for example), “World’s oldest woman dies at 115 years of age,” it quickly becomes rather surreal.
Now, these are innocent responses, and if I take the time to log on to Twitter.com I can trace back to see what they’re talking about. This is, of course, assuming the individual has used Twitter’s reply button and not initiated an @reply manually (in which case the trail is lost). I can also click on the link within TweetDeck which will do the same thing. But if I receive several of these kinds of messages in a row it can be confusing. Usually, where possible, I am prepared to work my way back through the stream but I suspect that many people do not, and will either ignore the reply or possibly respond with something along the lines of, “What are you talking about?”
The Right Way To Reply
There is an easy solution to this issue: provide context. This can be achieved with a minimal number of characters. I recommend the use of ‘re:’ (regarding) at the beginning of a reply tweet or parentheses at the end.
@Sheamus re: hiding Facebook apps, yes, I did see that, thanks!
@Sheamus I did see that, thanks. (hiding apps on Facebook)
Even if this is in response to a tweet I submitted yesterday, there’s enough information there for me to know immediately what the tweet is about. Compare with this, without the context references
@Sheamus I did see that, thanks.
and you will see what a big difference it can make.
To clarify: I don’t suggest you reply this way all the time. If you’re responding to a tweet that has very recently been submitted, the recipient will (or should) know exactly what you are referring to.
Nor do I think that every tweet on Twitter warrants a reply. Tweets that are open-ended or in any way close the discussion do not require a response. These are different from questions or enquiries for help.
But if you’re logging on to Twitter for the first time and reading through the timeline, consider when the tweet to which you are responding was originally posted. If it was more than half an hour ago, I’d recommend providing some context. This will ensure that the recipient knows specifically what you are responding to or asking a question about, and will significantly increase the chances of receiving a reply back.