Twitter Primer: @Reply vs. DM

Get ‘em straight! Use ‘em right!

Twitter logoI’ve been a Twitter user for about two years now and seen enormous growth in this social networking phenomena.

One of the things I’ve noticed lately, however, is that newcomers often have trouble distinguishing between the two methods available for addressing a tweet to a specific user. I hope to clear up some of the confusion with this brief article.


An @reply (pronounced at reply) is a public communication to a specific person on Twitter.

It has a rigid format. It begins with the @ symbol followed immediately (without a space) by the account name of the Twitter user you’re addressing it to. This must be the very beginning of the update or tweet — if it’s buried within the tweet, it won’t go onto the recipient’s @Replies page on Twitter or be specially identified in third party clients like Twitterrific and TweetDeck.

So, for example, an @reply to me would look something like this when composed:

@mlanger Great post about the difference between @replies and DMs!

You use an @reply when you want to reply to an update made by another Twitter user or send an update directly to a Twitter user. In either case, the update is public — it appears on the Everyone (Public) Timeline and it could appear to your followers, depending on how their @reply notices are set.

@replies are what make conversations in Twitter. One user tweets, another user replies. The first user replies again. Perhaps a third user joins in. By correctly using @replies, you can interact with other Twitter users publicly, in a way that’s effective — and might get you new followers.

Direct Messages

A direct messages or DM is a private communication to a specific person on Twitter.

A DM also has a rigid format. It begins with the letter d followed immediately by a single space and the account name of the Twitter user you’re addressing it to. This must be at the very beginning of the update or tweet — if it’s buried within the tweet or not formatted correctly, it will be published as a regular tweet. It might look like this when composed:

d mlanger Give me a call about flying next Tuesday. My number is 602-000-0000.

DMs are special on Twitter:

  • DMs do not appear in the everyone or public timeline.
  • DMs appear in the sender’s and recipient’s Direct Messages page. They’re on the sender’s Sent tab and the recipients Inbox tab:
  • You cannot send a DM to someone who does not follow you.
  • If you have device updates enabled, DMs addressed to you are sent to your device, even if device updates are not enabled for the sender.
  • You cannot use Twitter’s Reply button to reply to a DM with an @reply. This is usually true with third party Twitter clients, too.

DMs are private, but they’re not secure. Don’t use DMs — or any other online communication method, for that matter — to share content you must keep private, such as personal or banking information.

Which to Use?

This may be what confuses new users the most. Which method of addressing another Twitter user should you use?

Learn it all.I believe there are two points to take into consideration:

  • If the tweet is of a private nature and you don’t want it seen by other Twitter users, make it a DM. Similarly, if it’s of a public nature and you’re inviting other Twitter users to join in on the conversation, make it an @reply.
  • If the tweet is part of a lengthy exchange between you and one other Twitter user and no one else seems interested in joining in, you might want to move it to a DM discussion.

What do you think? Use the comments for this post to share your point of view.

12 thoughts on “Twitter Primer: @Reply vs. DM

  1. Hi Maria, maybe I’m not getting this, but most @replies tend to make no sense to all the other readers, and so seem pointless and much better as a DM. Or am I doing something wrong?


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  4. i love to Twitter my day to day activities to my friends and followers. Twitter is much better than blogging because it is direct to the point and does not require you to type so many unnecessary words.

  5. i just love to Twitter everyday with my friends. Twitter is much better than blogging in my opinion and it is very addictive too.

  6. hi Maria,

    quick question. Does my @replies appear on the other end’s home page if that person is not following me?

  7. Maria,
    If I am a sitting member of the House of Representatives, happily married to a woman who I consider “too good to be true,” and I want to tweet a picture of my package to a random 21 year-old girl, which method of addressing her would you recommend?


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