Twitter and you: Vocabulary lesson

Welcome to the third post in my series introducing you to the wonderful world of Twitter. In case you missed the previous posts:

Here in part three, we will look at some of the jargon that goes along with Twitter. Learning the difference between a “DM” and an “RT” will help you decipher the posts you’ll see coming from the ever-increasing number of people you’re following. (You are going out there and looking for new and interesting people to follow, aren’t you?)


Thankfully, Twitter itself has seen fit to produce a glossary for users. I’ll just steal a few of the relevant entries and encourage you to check the official glossary whenever you run into something you don’t understand.

  • @ – The @ sign is used to refer to other Twitter users. It is placed before another person’s username, such as @mattgouras or @bozchron. When you use the @ sign with another user’s name, Twitter will notify that user that he or she has been referenced in your tweet.
  • Mention – Whenever you put an @ sign before another person’s username in one of your tweets, it is called a mention. Twitter notifies that other user that you have mentioned them in your tweet.
  • Reply – When you put the @ sign and another person’s username as the first word in your tweet, it is considered a reply to that person (whether or not you are actually replying to something they said). All replies are mentions, but not all mentions are replies.
  • DM – This acronym stands for direct message. Whereas all tweets are public, DMs are private and are only between the people referenced in the message. If tweeting is akin to shouting across a room at someone, sending them a DM is like passing a note. To direct message someone, start your tweet with d username. Learn more about DMs.
  • Retweet – Also known as RT or R/T, this is a way of forwarding a tweet you find interesting to your own followers. That will make the tweet visible to your followers whether or not they follow the person who actually penned the tweet in the first place. The number of times your tweets are retweeted is typically seen as an unofficial measure or your influence or importance on Twitter.
  • OH – You’ll often see this abbreviation in tweets. It’s short for “overheard.”
  • HT or H/T – Short for hat tip. It’s a way to give credit to another user for posting something first. This is sometimes used by people who want to share a link that someone else has posted first but don’t necessarily want to retweet that person for some reason.
  • Followers – Your followers are the people who subscribe to your tweets. You are, conversely, a follower to the people whose tweets you subscribe to.
  • Hashtag – These are so important, they’re going to get their own section below.
  • URL shortener – A URL is the technical term for a Web address, such as These days, URLs can be very long. Since Twitter limits us to 140 characters, lots of services have popped up out there that will shorten URLs to something that will fit in a tweet and still leave room for you to type in a few words of your own. If you are using, you will be stuck using Twitter’s own shortening service. This is OK, and it’s automatic, so you won’t even have to be concerned with it if you don’t want to be.


Hashtags are a special way of organizing conversations on Twitter. Twitter’s definition of the term hashtag goes like this:

Definition: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

So hashtags are any words that you precede with #, such as #election, #tcot and #WhenDidItBecomeCool. Putting in that # tells Twitter to turn that word into a link that goes to a search page containing all the most recent tweets containing the same hashtag.

So, say you’re watching the season finale of American Idol and have your laptop or smartphone tuned to Twitter at the same time. You could do a Twitter search for “American Idol,” read through the tweets to see what hashtag the majority of people are using and then click on the hashtag to follow along. You could even join the conversation by including the hashtag in your own tweets.

What does American Idol have to do with journalism? Not much for us, but hashtags can be extraordinarily useful for news. Consider that during the Downtown explosion, everyone tweeting about the disaster used the same hashtag, #bozexplod. By doing that, it made it easy for anyone who wanted to find tweets about the situation to do so.

But the usefulness of hashtags doesn’t have to be limited to big breaking news events. Just using a hashtag with your location, such as #Bozeman, will put your tweets in front of the eyes of local people who are already checking the #Bozeman hashtag regularly.

Or, if you are covering and live-tweeting a regular meeting, such as city commission, you could invent a hashtag and use it every week so that people would know where to find your reports. You could also invent a hashtag for your beat and use it whenever you post about your coverage area.

It may seem silly or presumptuous for you to create hashtags out of thin air, but remember, being a journalist on Twitter is about making content available to your audiences, whether it’s links to your stories or live reporting or crowd-sourcing. You may not think hashtags are important, but a majority of Twitter users do. When in Rome…


One thought on “Twitter and you: Vocabulary lesson

  1. Pingback: Twitter and you: Searches and lists | Digital Now Bozeman

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