What’s with the funny symbols on Twitter?

on May 11, 2009

Thanks to Oprah (@oprah), the CNN (@cnn) / Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) follower race, and almost every other news organization, there has been a recent influx of non-tech users being introduced to the wonderful world of Twitter.  In general, Twitter is a pretty basic system to use and understand: it centers around the simple question “What are you doing?”, allowing people to post everything from late breaking news, to their opinions of the local record store, to raising money for a good cause, to sharing the exploits of their cute little puppy.

There is one question about “what’s with the funny symbols?” that I’ve gotten a few times from Twitter newbies, so I figured I’d write a quick post shedding a little light on the subject, and hopefully provide a little insight into how to quickly become a Twitter power user.

There are three primary symbols that are used through Twitter: “@”, “RT”, and “#”.

The “@” is used to signify when a particular post is addressed to or references someone. For example, if someone wanted to reply to something that I said, they would preface their post with “@chayner” (“chayner” is my Twitter username). The “@” symbol could also be used later in the post to reference someone (ie: “I am going to the movies with @chayner”).

The “RT” is short for “ReTweet”. You would use “RT” if you wanted to pass on what someone else has already said. The typical syntax is “RT @username: [original post]” where the @username is the username of the person who original made the statement.  An example of this would be: “RT @centresource: Congrats to our recently-launched client, the Two Futures Project, for being featured on the Huffington Post: http://www.urlzen.com/env“.

The “#” is used to tag an event, meme, or other keyword to group Twitter posts together. This is also known as a “hashtag”. This allows people to use http://search.twitter.com to search for posts on given topics, or even use sites like http://www.tweetchat.com to “chat” with others by all using the hashtag. For example, I’ve watched Red Sox games with other fans throughout the country, by following and responding to any post that includes #redsox.

Are there other symbols that you’re seeing that wou have no idea what they mean?  Leave us a comment, and we’ll update this post to include a description / example.

For a more detailed tutorial for Twitter beginners, check out this amazing post by Nashville’s own Michael Hyatt (@michaelhyatt), CEO at Thomas Nelson, and an avid Twitter’er.