The Twitter social media service enables you to connect directly with customers, respond to questions and solve problems, all in 140-character bites of communication. When you make the decision to work Twitter onto the list of ways you show the public face of your business, you can reach your share of the service's millions of active users. Along with adding followers and finding people to follow, you'll find two bits of Twitter symbolism that hold significance in the tweets, or Twitter messages, you create and receive. The "@" and "#" signs mark special terms that serve as clickable links to other tweets and users.
On Twitter (and actually on Google Plus, as well), the pound sign in front of a word, or a phrase constructed without spaces among its words, constitutes a hashtag. Twitter users, some of whom call themselves "tweeps," use hashtags to mark concepts they consider important within individual Tweets. You'll hear the term applied both to the "#" symbol itself and to the concepts it tags in Twitter's help documentation (see links in References and Resources). Some hashtags constitute enduring Twitter shorthand for system-wide traditions, including "follow Friday," which is hashtagged as "#FF", when users list the account names of people they think others should follow every Friday. In keeping with Twitter's best-practice recommendations, limit yourself to two hashtags in an individual tweet and avoid cramming tweets with hashtags that hold no relevance to your subject matter.
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Each individual tweet includes a Reply button below it. When you click on the button, Twitter opens a window in which you can craft a response to the other user's message. The Twitter interface automatically starts your reply with the combination of the at sign and the other user's username. After you post your tweet, the "@[username]" at its beginning becomes a clickable link to the other user's profile. The Twitter timeline looks different from the threaded discourse on online forums because replies don't automatically show the message to which they're a response. Click on the "Expand" link below an individual tweet to see the message to which it replies.
When you manually include the username of another Twitter user in a tweet, you type "@[username]" without the enclosing brackets and quotes to add his identity to your message. Just as the username that begins a reply turns into a profile link, so do the mentions you include in your tweets. You can use mentions to thank customers for compliments, refer one user to another or include other Twitter users in your communications in any way that's relevant to you.
If you use Twitter's search tools to look for hashtags and usernames, you can display a specialized timeline in which every tweet contains your search term. When you search for the "@[username]" form of a Twitter user's identity, the search results contain their posts, replies to them and mentions of them. When you search for a hashtag, you see a timeline filled with posts that reference it, enabling hashtags to double as informal tweet-topic categories. Highly popular hashtags join Twitter's list of trending topics, the most-mentioned hashtags currently showing up across the service or in one of the countries in which it's active.