Who Sees My Tweets?

I find watching Twitter's public timeline of world updates by over 75 million Twitter users fascinating.  Every language and symbol flows along in a stream of human expression, from the sublime to the profane. 

Is someone watching my tweets stream by?

When I post an update to Twitter, who sees it?  When I repost an update – retweet a tweet - who sees it?

The answer is not tweet-short.

When I began using Twitter in October, 2008, thanks to the encouragement of Jeremy Hart, I opened the  corporate account @handshake20.  In the past month, I have begun using @anneclelland as well. 

When I use the @handshake20 account and tweet directly to someone with @ preceding the Twitter user name - in this case from @handshake20 to @anneclelland – that tweet shows up directly in @anneclelland's Home Twitter feed.

A Twitter tweet

Except, as Hillel Fuld explains, "If someone you are following replies to someone else, you will not see that reply unless you follow both sides."

The plot thickens when I use a period before the @ or I retweet, or post someone else's tweet.

The "." before the @ can be read as, "This is a direct reply being made public."

A retweet, or RT, can be read, "The following text is being attributed to another user."

The screenshot below shows a period before the @  and two ways to retweet.  The middle tweet is a retweet using Twitter's retweet symbol.  The third tweet shows a retweet using manual typing of the letters "RT" for retweet.

A "dot tweet" and two forms of Twitter retweets

If I use the Twitter Retweet button and function, the tweet is only visible to my followers.  I don't know if it's searchable or not.  If I type "RT" manually, it's visible to everyone and searchable by Twitter.

From Twitter Support Frequently Asked Questions:

What does RT, or retweet, mean?
RT is short for retweet, and indicates a re-posting of someone else's tweet.  This isn't an official Twitter command or feature, but people add RT somewhere in a tweet to indicate that part of their tweet includes something they're re-posting from another person's tweet, sometimes with a comment of their own.  Check out this great article on re-tweeting, written by a fellow Twitter user, @ruhanirabin.

Here's Twitter's example of how its retweet button works from Project Retweet: Phase One from the Twitter Blog:

Let's say you follow @jessverr, @biz (that's me), and @gregpass but you don't follow @ev. However, I do follow @ev and the birth of his baby boy was so momentous that I retweeted it to all my followers… You'd see @ev's tweet [It's a boy!] even though you don't follow him because you follow me and I really wanted you to have the information that I have.

And here's another version from How Does the Auto Retweet Thing on Twitter Work.

Here are the results of my own research.

Retweet-view-agc

I can see the dot tweet and I can see the manually typed RT.  But at @anneclelland, I wasn't following @handshake20. So I couldn't see the tweet made using the Twitter retweet button.

That means that the Twitter Retweet button is easy to use, but it reaches only my followers, not everyone.  And, again, I don't know if it's logged for later search in Twitter or not.

My conclusion? To get the greatest possible reach for each of my tweets, particularly for those publicizing our clients, I want to manually type RT.  If someone's looking at the public stream of all humanity on Twitter, I don't want to miss a chance to be seen.

***

Update 5/27/10

From The Next Web:  Twitter responds to missing RT's saga: "Some Twitter users were noticing that anything with RT in it wasn’t being seen in certain search functions.  The community as a whole went into an uproar. It seems that Twitter heard that message loud and clear…The RT function is important to many of us, and Twitter sees that fact."

Whew!

Thanks to Allen J. Fuller for the link.

***

Dan Burdi, Allen J. Fuller and Maureen Carruthers contributed to this post.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for doing such extensive research Anne!

    One of the reasons all this stuff is so confusing is because many of the features of twitter were made up as clever hacks by the user base and then (after the fact) Twitter incorporated then into the official UI.

    In the beginning, twitter was just a way to “text message the world” or direct message one person. The @ replies, RT, and even hashtags were things users started doing to make twitter work better for them.

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