By Mike Tomlinson
If there’s anything we at Engage love to see, it’s clients who are willing to jump into Twitter head-first. There’s really no better way to start exercising your social media muscles than to just… well, start participating in it! But after working with a number of clients over the years, we’ve seen many of the same questions pop up. In this blog post, we’ll explain what the difference is between @, #, and $ on Twitter—and how/when you should use them to your greatest advantage.
Let’s start by saying your immediate goal is to get a person or company’s attention and possibly get them to re-Tweet you, helping to amplify the reach of your message to an audience other than your own. Always reference their handle—for example, @EngagePR. That account will get a notification that someone is talking about them, and it will make them a lot more likely to re-Tweet you than if you’d just named their company without using their handle.
Then there are hashtags (#). Hashtags should be used more around general topics of conversation; for example, the RSA Conference has an official Twitter handle (@RSAConference) that people use when they have a question about the show, issue with their booth setup, etc. but the public uses the hashtag #RSAC (RSA Conference) for all conversations about RSA that don’t require RSA’s official account to chime in directly. Same thing goes for talking about industry trends, like over-the-top services (OTT); nobody “owns” OTT because it’s a general industry term. But to unify all conversations taking place about OTT apps and services we would use the hashtag #OTT, to inject ourselves into those specific conversations. General examples:
- We’re at #RSAC getting our booth set up! Show attendees, stop by booth 123 to see a live tech demo
- @RSAConference: someone spilled some wine in our booth during a partner reception, can you please send a crew to help us clean it up? Thanks
- In today’s news, @Netflix came out with a brand new service. Will it replace your other #OTT apps? Read this article to find out…
An important thing to remember about hashtags is that the best ones are recognizable and broad—not super-specific to proprietary company technology or solutions. Remember, the idea is to inject your brand into much larger conversations. If your company is hiring a Layer 3 Routing/Signaling Senior Systems Engineer, you wouldn’t want to hashtag #Layer3RoutingEngineer because it’s too long and too specific. A better choice would be to hashtag your Tweet with more general terms like #engineering and #careers so your message is looped into already ongoing conversations happening with much larger audiences. We encourage our clients engaged in long-term PR programs to develop and stick with an agreed-upon hashtag (especially if the goal is to create and own a new industry buzzword), but be warned: this can take quite a bit of time to get off the ground if your Twitter program is still in its infancy.
After you issue your tweet, anything that is #hashtagged will be hyperlinked as a keyword so anyone else on Twitter can join in on your conversation around this topic. But when you use a hashtag, nobody receives any notifications, so if your goal is to get recognized by a person or organization you’re always better off using their @Handle before a #Hashtag. It’s OK to break this rule when the person or group you’re trying to engage with does not have a Twitter handle, for example:
- We’re at #RSAC with partners @Company1, @Company2, and #Company3. Click here to schedule an appointment…
…just try not to use more than 2-3 hashtags per tweet (standard Twitter etiquette).
Then there are the cashtags ($). Cashtags—similar to hashtags in both name and purpose—allow you to join part of a larger conversation around any given topic, except cashtags are only to be used to indicate a company’s stock ticker symbol. When you issue a Tweet with a cashtag you’re speaking to everyone on Twitter interested in that stock. From a PR standpoint we suggest only using cashtags if you’re a publicly traded company announcing earnings press releases and earnings call dates/times. It’s a great way to tap into the investor community (which is very active on Twitter); however, we advise not using cashtags in day-to-day tweets (as too much cashtagging, or cashtagging inappropriately, could land you in trouble with the SEC). Here’s how we would construct a simple earnings Tweet using a cashtag assuming the company’s ticker symbol is C123:
- Company123 to announce Q12014 earnings on April 5, 2014. For more info, visit www.website.com $C123
And finally, the “period trick.” Whenever you start a tweet with someone’s handle it doesn’t get treated like a normal tweet. In this example below, only you, Smith Winery, and anyone on Twitter who follows BOTH you and @SmithWinery will be able to see this tweet on their main feed:
- @SmithWinery is the best! Love their #merlot and #shiraz. If you’re in #Sonoma, give them a visit!
People will still be able to see the tweet if they go to your profile, but because you started your message with “@” Twitter treats it more like a private conversation directed specifically at someone. The way we get around this is by doing the “period trick”—sending a tweet with a period right before the @. You’ve probably seen it on Twitter before but didn’t realize its purpose:
- .@SmithWinery is the best! Love their #merlot and #shiraz. If you’re in #Sonoma, give them a visit!
See the subtle difference—a period at the very beginning? This allows us to start our tweet with someone’s Twitter handle, but doesn’t restrict the tweet from showing up anywhere-- it’s fully viewable by the entire Twitter public audience. Additionally, in the above example tweet you’re not only getting the attention of Smith Winery by using their official handle @SmithWinery, but you’re injecting yourself into all conversations around Merlot, Shiraz, and Sonoma. Knowing how and when to use @, #, $ and the “period trick” can make all the difference in your Tweet getting seen by hundreds of people (or more)—or none.
Confused? Don’t be! Exercise those social media muscles by Tweeting your questions to us at @EngagePR, and we’ll respond with our sagely advice. Happy Tweeting!