How does Twitter work: A breakdown of tweets, hashtags and more

@ your following

Back in 2006, a new website hit the interwebs that allowed registered users to share their thoughts in 140 characters or less. You might have heard of it — it is now a powerhouse among social platforms. I’m of course speaking of Twitter. Some people love it, others hate it, but amazingly, this social platform still confuses the masses after more than a decade of use. So how does Twitter work? Let’s start with the basics.

How does Twitter work — The basics

How Does Twitter Work Phone

As mentioned, Twitter allows you to post updates that are 140 characters long. You can share anything you want — what you’re eating, where you’re eating, how you’re feeling, who you’re with, your political views, etc. Each time you share a new update, it goes live to the public (unless you have checked “Protect my Tweets” in the privacy and safety settings). If your tweets are protected, only followers you’ve approved will be able to see and interact with the things you post.

When you sign in to the platform, you’ll see a list of most recent tweets and be able to post your own on your profile. To have other people’s user updates appear in your Twitter newsfeed, however, you’ll need to follow them. Likewise, for those people to see your tweets in their feed, they need to follow you. It’s possible to find and view tweets from people you aren’t following by searching topics, but unless you follow each other, they won’t appear on your home timeline.

Now that you have the basics, let’s take things up a notch and break down some of the Twitter specifics.

Editor’s note: GoDaddy GoCentral lets you link your website directly to your Twitter account and other social media platforms with just a few clicks.

Retweets and hashtags and direct messages, oh my!

Twitter has a few different tools you can use when interacting with others, but not to fret — we’ve got you covered.


To tweet a message directly to someone, you’ll need the “@” symbol and that person’s Twitter handle in the post. As Twitter says:

“The @ sign is used to call out usernames in Tweets: “Hello @twitter!” People will use your @username to mention you in Tweets, send you a message or link to your profile.”

Pro tip: If you type “@twitter is the greatest social media platform ever!” the update will only be visible to people who follow @twitter. But, if you want everyone to see it, put something in front of the @ symbol in the tweet.

For example, “The greatest social media platform is @twitter” or even “.@twitter is the greatest.” Simply adding the period, some other character, or even your entire message before the handle makes it visible to both your followers and those of the person you are tagging.

Direct messaging

How Does Twitter Work Direct Messaging

A direct message on Twitter is a private conversation with anyone who follows you. You can only send a direct message to someone you’re not following if they have opted-in to receive messages from anyone or if they’ve previously sent you one.

Etiquette-wise, you should only message people who follow you or have reached out to you first.


Other situations in which you may want to send a direct message? When you’re already engaging with someone and 140 characters isn’t enough to carry on the chat. Or, when you need to respond to a customer service complaint/issue.

Pro tip: Avoid using DMs to frequently promote your services and offers.

You can actually get flagged as spam if you send the same message to too many people as a direct message.

The skinny on hashtags

A hashtag is a word or phrase with no spaces placed behind the pound (#) symbol. This is how Twitter indexes topics and keywords. It groups tweets based on hashtags so all of the posts that include a certain tag can be viewed together. That makes it easy for users to follow the subjects and topics that interest them.

When you see a subject is “trending,” generally that means several people are tweeting with the same hashtag.


For example, if I wanted a lot of people to see my post about Taylor Swift, I would use the hashtag #TaylorSwift. This signals to the Twittersphere that I’m one of the many people on the platform talking about the pop star. In fact, businesses will often reference hashtags to learn what their ideal customers are tweeting about and get a better idea of their interests.

How Does Twitter Work Hashtag
Photo: Petit_louis via VisualHunt / CC BY

Hashtags make it easy to start conversations or get people interested in what you have to say on specific subjects. Aside from networking groups, Twitter chats can also be used by businesses to talk directly with customers or potential customers.

What about retweeting?

Retweeting is when you take a tweet that someone else wrote and share it publicly with your own followers. As Twitter says, “This is a great way to pass along news and interesting discoveries.” It’s also a fabulous way to show the original author that you care about what they said. It can sometimes inspire them to follow you and/or drive a dialogue between the two of you.

Pro tip: Use retweeting to boost other bloggers, grab the attention of influencers, or start conversations with potential clients.

Twitter is a pretty sweet way to connect

It’s simple to connect with anyone across the globe with Twitter. Facebook requires you to like a page, or “friend them,” and you still might not be able post on their timeline. LinkedIn requires you to directly connect before you can even chat. But Twitter makes it easy to interact with public profiles and share your thoughts with a click of a button. Just by using a person’s Twitter handle, you can reach out to them, chat with them, learn what interests them and so much more.

Ready to get started with Twitter? Read this post to learn about first steps and then head over to Twitter to get an account.