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The #1 Mistake We All Make on Twitter (It’s Probably Not What You’re Expecting)

Nov 17, 2015 8 min readSocial Media Marketing
Photo of Ash Read
Ash Read

Head of Content at Buffer

This is how most companies tackle Twitter: start an account, follow a bunch of people, send a few Tweets about their business and hope for the best.

And in some ways there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. These steps are necessary to get up and running and learn the ropes on Twitter. But, the biggest mistake we’re all making is not using two extremely simple Twitter features to their full potential.

Replies and mentions.

Replies and mentions are two of Twitter’s most powerful features. They can help you build strong relationships, keep customers happy and even increase your bottom line.

In this post I’m happy to share some insights into the power of these features and how to get the most from them.

pablo (7)

First off: What are replies and mentions

You can join conversations on Twitter by replying to others and by mentioning them in your own Tweets.

A reply is a response to another user’s Tweet that begins with the @username of the person you’re replying to. For example:

Twitter reply

A reply like this  will appear in the notifications tab of the person mentioned. It’ll also only be seen in Twitter timelines of people who follow both you and the person you replied to (because the first character is an @ sign).

If you’d like a reply to be seen by everyone who follows you, you can add a full stop before the @ sign and it’ll then appear in your timeline as a normal Tweet.

Tweet mention

A mention is a Tweet that contains another @username anywhere in the body of the Tweet (this also means that a mentions are technically replies, too) . For example:

Twitter mention

This Tweet would appear in the timeline of anyone who follows me as it doesn’t start with an @usersname.

Why you should go big on Twitter replies and mentions

I’d love to tell you a quick story. It takes place around 1998. Football (soccer) was my life back then. If I wasn’t outside kicking a ball in the garden, I’d be watching it on TV or or playing football related video games.

My Dad and I had started going to watch our local professional team, Ipswich Town, and occasionally we’d go along to games extra early so we could see the players as they arrived ahead of kick-off.

As we waited by the entrance, some players would spot us; come over to say “hi”, and sign my autograph book. Meeting my on-pitch heroes would make my week — and no matter the result of the game, I’d head home with a massive smile on my face.

These interactions made the experience remarkable to me and are a big part of why I fell in love with the club. It’d take each player maybe 10 seconds to pop over and sign and autograph, but for me the memories will last a lifetime.

After my early experiences at Ipswich Town, I became a fan for life. And now, 16 years later, I still go to almost every match.

Anyone can provide remarkable experiences

Nowadays, Twitter gives us all a platform to provide amazing, remarkable experiences to our customers. No matter our industry.

You may question the ROI of jumping in and replying to people who mention you, your company or topics related to your brand. But human connection really, really matters.

Many companies wait for a crisis to jump into Twitter and try to contain the fire or only respond when a customer service issue pops up. However, getting the most from Twitter is about much more than that.

A quick mention, “thanks” or Like can go such a long way.

As Scott McLeod explains in a Medium post: “[It’s] not how many Tweets or Posts you can make with the right hashtags, but number of customers you’ve helped and how many of them stayed as customers.”

Here’s a real life example:

That time Gary Vaynerchuk mentioned me

I’ve followed Gary Vaynerchuk for years — his book, Crush It, was a huge inspiration for me, and in many ways set me up on my journey into blogging and the world of content creation.

In 2013 Gary was on tour promoting his new book and out of the blue I received a notification:

“Gary Vaynerchuk has mentioned you.”

I immediately opened up Twitter to see what he said:


It turned out Gary was coming to London as part of his book tour, and whoa, he’d personally reached out to invite me to his event!

I was sold.

That Tweet only took a few seconds to send, but it blew me away (and sold a ticket to Gary’s event!).

This isn’t a one off. Gary Vaynerchuk has built his businesses off the back of human connection and even today, if you check his Twitter timeline it’s rammed full of replies.


On the importance of these type of interactions Vaynerchuk explains:

People respond to effort. When a celebrity favorites your tweet, you’re excited. Someone you admire likes a photo of yours on Instagram, and it makes you feel good. Because it’s not about the 100th of a second it takes to double tap that photo. It’s about the fact that they looked at your profile. They chose a photo. They saw it. And then they liked. That interaction, which takes all of five or six seconds, really touches a lot of people.

The psychology of Twitter: Why we love to be mentioned

Our emotions are at play just as much in the digital world as they are in the physical world. And just as I’d wait at the gates of the football stadium in the hopes of meeting my heroes, many people now see social media, especially Twitter, as their best hope of engaging with their idols.

It’s not just mentions from our favorite celebrities that make us feel great though. Mentions from anyone – brand or individual – can go a long way to making us feel happy and appreciated.

Here are a couple of the reasons a mention on Twitter can make us feel so good:

We like to feel valued

In a Harvard Business review post, Tony Schwartz explains: “To feel valued (and valuable) is almost as compelling a need as food.”

It feels amazing to know that our favorite brands and personalities value our custom and support. And sometimes all it takes to show that is a personal response.

We love surprise

We don’t expect a brand, or individual, to pop up from nowhere and make our day. When our favourite brand or personality directly responds to us that feeling sticks with us.

University of California psychology professor, Sonja Lyubomirsky explains the power of surprise in the New York Times: “Surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it.”

The impact of personal replies

A study by McKinsey & Company found that in today’s world, when it comes to customer experience, good is no longer good enough:

Average customer experience performance has been worth about 5 – 10 percent less in terms of key measures like ‘likelihood to remain/renew’, ‘to buy another product’ and ‘to recommend’ for companies each year in industries we have analyzed.  At the same time, however, improving customer experience from average to ‘wow’ is worth 30-50 percent more in those same industries.

This was visualized brilliantly in Gary Vaynerchuk’s Slideshare on community management:

Wow experience

Providing a unique, personal experience for as many customers as you can help you increase your ‘wow’ factor and in-turn keep your customers loyal and increase opportunities for positive word of mouth.

Finding opportunities for conversation

We’re not all in a position where we get hundreds or thousands of mentions each day. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t out there talking about your brand – or topics related to your brand.

Thankfully Twitter has amazing Advanced Search functionality that can help you keep an eye out for relevant Tweets.

Whether you want to find your next customers, keep tabs on brand keywords or measure the happiness of your current customers, Advanced Search is what you need.

Twitter Advanced Search

Advanced Search allows you to keep tabs on a whole array of things. A few specific searches it may be good to take a look at include:

  • Mentions of brand keywords: for example, @buffer, buffer and #buffer
  • Monitor sentiment: using ? or ? after your search phrase allows to to filter positive or negative Tweets
  • Find Tweets from your area: The ‘Places’ filter on Twitter’s Advanced search page allows you to filter Twitter by location. This is super handy if you’re looking to find people who are talking about your brand in a certain location.

When you’re looking at keywords and phrases to query here, think about how people talk to each other. Tweets tend to be a lot more conversational that Google search terms.

Setting up saved searches

If you’d like to regularly keep an eye on certain words or phrases, a saved search could be an amazing way to do this (and save you from manually searching all the time).

Twitter allows you to save up to 25 searches per account. To save a search, click More options at the top of your results page and then click Save this search.

Here’s an example of a saved search I have for the Buffer blog:


P.S. For a full list of Twitter Advanced Search hacks and trick, check out our Superhuman Guide to Twitter search.

4 top tips for replies and mentions

1. Try not to be too sales-y

Oftentimes, people on Twitter aren’t necessarily looking to make a purchase, but instead, to solve a problem. It could be a great approach to be more conversational that jumping right in for the sale at the first Tweet. To help with this I always try to visualize Twitter conversations as if they were happening in a coffee shop and ask ‘how would I approach this in person.’

2. Send timely responses to mentions

Research tells us that 42% of consumers expect a 60 minute response time on social media. Where possible, try to get back to people who mention you as soon as you can. This can make such a huge difference to customer happiness.

3. Add a personal touch

People like to connect with other people. Try to fit in some personality to your replies where you can, this a great way to bring business accounts to life and truly connect with the customer. Sometimes it can be as simple as signing off with your name or initials.

personal tweet

4. Follow up

It feels great to go the extra mile for a customer and Twitter provides the perfect platform to do this. A simple “How is everything?” Tweet is an amazing way to show you can and ensure the customer’s issue is truly sorted.

Over to you

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! What do you feel is the biggest mistake most of us make on Twitter? How often do you respond to your mentions? Any tips on handling replies?

Super excited to hear your thoughts below in the comments.

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