Twitter Tips: What To Do About @reply Changes

By and large, whenever Twitter changes something about their user interface the whole world has a mini-freakout. Despite Twitter warning everyone almost a year ago of the changes, the online community is having a meltdown with new alterations to how Twitter mentions look and work.

So how do we deal with the changes to mentions/@replies?

What are the changes?

As of 30 March 2017, @replies on tweets within the Twitter app are no longer automatically created for you -- that is to say, if you click on a tweet and type below it, although the person you're talking to will still get a notification, no @reply will appear unless you manually type a username in (in my opinion this is not the end of the world, I've been on Twitter long enough to remember when memorising usernames and typing them into your tweet was just standard as there was no other way). 

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

The main difference to tweets without these @replies is that although they say 'replying to @username' above them, everyone who follows you can see the message. Before conversations were a semi-private thing, something only people who followed you and the person you tweeted at could follow automatically. This is no longer the case.

Another key feature of this change is that the 'replying to @username' tag can be edited, and can hold up to 50 names. Naturally, many fear that people will abuse this system and add people to a conversation against their will. This was never too much of a worry before, as @replies were part of your actual tweet, and so limited to 140 characters, which meant you could only ever really add about five people to a reply. Adding 50 people to your "replying to" field is a little like replying all on a departmental mailing list email. I wouldn't recommend it. Fun trivia fact: these are called Twitter canoes (any conversation with more than three participants is).

How to deal with the changes

If you're an individual account holder there's really no need to deal with the changes other than to pour yourself a large cup of tea, consider muting certain conversations, and try to get over it. Twitter sometimes retracts changes, sometimes, but given how long this is been in development it seems unlikely that this will go away (although with any luck they might lower the @reply limit to something more reasonable below ten or so people). Twitter conversations have always been a little bit of a hack -- in 2009 they hid conversations from everyone but those who followed both participants because of how crazy people's feeds looked -- so something needed to change.

If you're a business or offering a service it might be time to carefully consider your strategies. Social media is, by it's very nature, a very public forum but if you've been using Twitter thinking you can quietly deal with disgruntled customers or ignore negative comments these changes are going to make that impossible. 

Being open on social media is key anyway -- there's nothing people appreciate more than a little bit of honestly, humility, and willingness to change -- but if you've never really considered how to handle public negativity now is the time to take a step back and create strategies because be assured everyone will now see how you handle a crisis.

Remember:

  • Be willing to listen to your audience: Ignoring problems on social media is a fast ticket to a bad reputation that spreads globally, remember this. View social media as an ideal way to get feedback! Listen to what is being said. Sometimes the smallest changes to a product or service can go a long way to helping your audience.
  • Be calm: When you're tweeting professionally online there's really no room for ego. A lot of people forget this in the heat of the moment but if you feel yourself being drawn into something that is more a matter of opinion than fact take a step back and think. Remember that you're not just representing yourself but a brand and values. Even in hard times you need to embody those.
  • Be considerate: Sometimes people reach out to you via social media because your other channels are either inefficient or just plan blocked (emails get clogged up, phone lines go down) -- keep this in mind when you receive a bad comment or negative reply. It's possible the person talking to you is at their wits' end and has given up hope in a solution. Sympathise with them, let them know you're on their side, and where possible try to resolve the situation.
  • Don't feed trolls: This goes hand-in-hand with professionalism on social media but it's worth reiterating. Don't jump into arguments created for the sake of baiting you. Sometimes, when you've done your best to resolve a situation, you just need to take a step back and allow your customer the last word.