To at or not to at…

I have a few pet peeves in life. Just a few…
People walking too slowly (or in crowds) on London’s streets. Trolley cases. Improperly made tea. People who click ‘reply all’ when it’s really not necessary. You know, just the day to day issues of modern-day existence.

On Twitter, I have one major pet peeve: the use of ‘@’ at the beginning of the tweet when it’s not actually intended to be a message to that individual.

For those not familiar with Twitter , a brief explanation: on Twitter, your username begins with an ‘@’ – e.g. @lizclutterbuck. When you want a specific person to receive your tweet, you mention their username and the person in question will see it listed under their ‘connect’ tab. [Most people also opt to receive a notification when this happens, unless you’re a celeb tweeter…] You can put someone’s name anywhere into a tweet, but often if you’re having a conversation with a specific person, you’ll begin your tweet with their name. For example:

Twitter chatA Twitter chat with one of my favourite soon-to-be lady vicars – obviously making a massive presumption that we’ll have good reason to be watching the men’s final on Sunday! 

The key thing to understand is that when a tweet begins with someone’s username, only people who follow the author and the recipient will see it in their timeline. In this case, that probably means a load of fellow ordinands and mutual friends. [As an aside, I often forget to think about who follows who, which has resulted in some slightly awkward Twitter moments. All tweets are public, unless they’re Direct Messages. It’s good to remember that!] This fact hilariously means that a number of people were privy to the Clutterbuck family annual Christmas decision making process last week – you learn a lot of useless info via Twitter sometimes!

Anyway, my pet peeve is when people begin a tweet with an @, but actually intend it to be seen by all their followers – because they seem to be completely unaware that in including the username at the start, they’ve actually limited their audience!

Unfortunately, it’s often churches that fall foul of this – especially when tweeting about Sunday sermons. [I should say straight away that St George’s has never made this mistake!] To illustrate, if a church tweeted: “@lizclutterbuck preached on forgiveness last Sunday. Listen to it here…” only people who followed both the church account and me would see it – which rather defeats the point of the exercise as presumably the church would have wanted all their followers to see it?

But it’s not just churches. Here’s an example from the esteemed BBC…

Radio 2 tweetI feel that I need to clarify that I don’t actually follow Radio 2, nor have I checked to see what kind of a lemon posset accident this was.

What amazes me is how few regular Twitter users realise this. Last week, I was particularly incensed by an example of this from Lambeth Palace, featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Interestingly, when I went searching for it just now, it had disappeared and recent evidence suggests that they’ve realised the problem.] I tweeted something about the issue and had several replies of surprise from other Tweeters.

Tweeting etiquetteThis blogpost is a direct result of that tweet as I’ve discovered it’s a phenomenally difficult issue to fit into 140 characters!! I was struggling to find a way of saying ‘accounts that ought to know better – i.e. verified ones’, but could only come up with ‘big’ to fit into a tweet! 

This is in NO way an attack on accounts that have fallen victim to this! Like I said, many people are totally unaware of it. What annoys me is that it means that their tweets aren’t getting the audience they deserve!

So, what’s the solution? Well, the easiest and least expensive in terms of characters is the full-stop – simply placing it before the @ will ensure that all your followers will see it. However, I personally try not to use it because I like tweets that are a little more poetic! You can re-work your sentence to ensure that the mention comes mid-way through the tweet rather than at the start. Or, you could put some kind of title in – which is the line Lambeth seems to have taken as their tweets often now begin with: “Archbishop @ABCJustin…”. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you realise that it needs to be done. Spread the word!

Twitter – a great tool, as long as you know how to use it!


  1. Liz, This was very informative, especially since I dont twitter at all. I have an account, but dont know how to use it..;( I have also replied to one of your blogs but it never went thru.. soo, tech savvy I am not but I am trying.. Cheers

    • PS.. I see the post on your blog did go thru.. woo hoo

      • Hey Nancy!! Yes it did – it just took a while as I usually have to approve comments & when yours arrived I was madly writing my paper & didn’t get chance to! Blogpost on the Learning Lab coming up tomorrow! x

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