Tweetiquette for Beginners

Lay-offs and increasing unemployment; Oprah and Larry King; these are all factors that have contributed to Twitter’s rise from an obscure social community to an online behemoth. People now see Twitter’s usefulness and its possible solution to everything, from an oppressive regime in Iran and to the portal to a new job after a pink slip.

Regardless of what it was, Twitter has gained acceptance by the mainstream, and should now be an integral part of any person’s branding arsenal.


It is not the mechanics of Twitter that are complicated, but the etiquette. Therefore, this article expands upon the ‘how-to,’ and discusses proper tweetiquette to help avoid a tweet pas (if you have read previous articles of mine about Twitter, I employ wordplay ad nauseam).


Everyone on Twitter has a Twitter-name. Whenever you refer to, retweet, or respond to a person in a “tweet’ (the characteristic 140 character message) their name must always be preceded by the @ symbol. This action is commonly referred to as a ‘mention.’

For example, my Twitter name is jdvarlaro, but if you were to write to me, you would type @jdvarlaro.


1) The @ symbol tells Twitter to send your response to the person’s mention box. This person now knows you replied to something they wrote, retweeted it, or just said something really nice about them. Without the @, the message is not sent to their mention box, and there is no way for the person to know of your mention, unless they are following your tweets constantly (and trust me, NO ONE follows anyone’s tweets constantly).

2) Your messages are broadcast to everyone following you. EVERYONE who follows you can now click on that person’s name, and be directed to their Twitter account. This is extremely important tweetiquette, as mentioning someone without the @ means your followers cannot click and find them. Although, if you begin a tweet with @name, only followers who are following both you AND the person you write to will see your message.

Wait…What’s A Retweet?

If you like something someone wrote… retweet it. For example, if you like something I tweet, type RT @jdvarlaro and a copy of my tweet. The @ ensures that I see you retweeted me, while your followers read that I wrote it and can now follow me, or retweet the entire message. And, people love to be retweeted.

Now, it is not uncommon to see messages retweeted 3 or 4 times. Just follow the same procedure, typing RT@name of the person who retweeted the message you like. Essentially, your message would read like this:

RT@Joe RT@Bob: I love to retweet!

Decoding the message is such that, Bob was the originator of the message “I love to retweet.” At which point Joe retweeted Bob’s message. Then, liking the entire message, you retweeted Joe.

You only have 140 characters, so in a multi-retweet shorten words and cut vowels – just be mindful to not cut a person who retweeted.


A direct message is Twitter email – it is only visible to the recipient. Precede the message with D @person’s name or just use the Direct Message option on your Twitter home page.

A word of caution: A direct message is NOT the primary means of conversing on Twitter, and excessive direct messages can be a Tweet Pas.

Conversing on Twitter is open for all to see – and this is the part that many people new to Twitter do not understand. You speak; sometimes directly to someone, sometimes to no one; and people read it and can comment, add, or do nothing about it. That is just the way this social community functions.


Occasionally, a message will be followed by a # and then a word or acronym. Known as a hash tag, it allows all of the tweets containing the “#…” to be followed as one, continuous conversation.

Most famous is the #followfriday usage: every Friday, you endorse the people you like by tweeting @their name and #followfriday. This tells other people ‘hey, follow this person!’ If you were to search #followfriday, you could follow all of the tweets containing that tag.

By the way, #FollowFriday is an institution on Twitter, and is standard tweetiquette.

Other Uses of the “#”

The # is also employed in the event of breaking news. The protesters at the G20 summit in London tweeted and tagged all tweets #G20. Anyone on Twitter was able to read and participate by searching #G20 and tagging tweets with #G20. More recently, the Iranian Elections and the controversy which ensued created a massive amount of Twitter activity, causing people to go as far as making their Twitter pictures green in support of the protestors.

This method of tagging is also used to conduct political and news forums. You can read my article “Twitter and Politics; Twolitics” about how I participated, through Twitter, in a town hall meeting in Massachusetts (and how my question was answered by the Governor of Massachusetts).

Don’t Stop With Twitter; Experiment With Other Social Media

It is important to mention that right now, social communities are in flux; 2 years ago it was MySpace, last year it was Facebook and Linkedin, this year it is Twitter, next year, who knows. The best thing you can do for your brand and your online presence is to gain a familiarity with a good sampling of social communities, and network through those effectively and efficiently, while keeping your ear to the floor regarding any new up and coming communities. If you hear of one, try it. This method is good practice and will continue to maintain your online brand.


Regardless of the community, all online social communities follow the golden rule: by supporting others and interacting, you will gain support. I refer to this as ‘social narcissism.’

This is the basis of tweetiquette. Retweeting, @ symbols and the ilk do just that – show support and interaction with fellow tweople (tweeps and tweople are permissible, never use twits!)

Unfortunately, newbies, as well as some corporations and celebrities do not understand, or just ignore the golden rule. But while celebrities and some corporations can ignore it, if YOU want to be loved (and followed), well, you’ll have to give love out.

So do not be selfish, and ‘tweet the one you’re with.’




John D Varlaro CPT, MBA
John, The Humanistic Strategist, is a business consultant and leadership coach based in Providence, Rhode Island whose expertise in marketing and organizational development accentuates the people in business. You may read more articles by him on his website,