What’s the Difference Between Retweet and @Reply?

Posted By on July 5, 2013

Retweet & @Reply symbols are like megaphones when you are learning how to Twitter

Photo copyright Cynthia Hartwig 2014.

That’s the most common question students ask in our Twitter classes. Knowing the difference between the two is the single most important thing to get you started on Twitter. The next step? Understanding when you should use which. Learn that and you’ll move from listening to tweets stream by to being part of the flow. Here are the basics.


Retweet means what it says—re-sending someone else’s tweet to all of your followers. They in turn can retweet it to their followers and so on. The main difference between it and @reply is that you can’t say anything about the original tweet before you send it on. It’s like clicking Like on Facebook without writing a comment.


@reply lets you reply to a tweet AND say something about it. Plus, it lets you send the tweet to specific people–whether or not they’re your followers. Just add the symbol @ before their Twitter names. For example, I could include @Ladygaga in my response to a tweet, and it would appear in her Twitter feed.

How To Retweet

To see the Retweet or @reply button, hover your mouse over the word Expand in a tweet box:
Expand button on a tweet

You’ll see options to @Reply, Retweet, or Favorite it.
options to reply to tweets

Clicking Retweet opens a box with the original tweet and a question asking you if you really want to send it to your followers.

retweet to your follwers

Click the Retweet button and off it goes.

How To @reply

Clicking the Reply button opens another tweet where you can write your response to the tweet. The box already includes an @reply for the original tweeter, in this case #margaretatwood.
example of an @reply


If I wanted to send my tweet to the other author Margaret Atwood references, I would include @annpatchett as an @reply.

When to Use Retweet vs @reply

Looking at how a hot news story breaks on Twitter is a good way to understand when you should use retweet vs @reply. Let’s say there’s an earthquake in your city. Tweets start flying directing people to safety. You decide to retweet the essential information because you want to get the word out quickly. People need facts not commentary from you.

But if you know of another safe place, you would include an @reply to your @fire department so they can retweet it and get it to a lots and lots of people.

Ok, but what are reasons to use one or the other if there’s not a large-scale emergency? Here are a few:

  • Use @reply to get attention from thought leaders or other important people. One lucky day you’ll get a response.
  • Use @reply to participate in a conversation about your profession or topics you passionately care about. You’ll gain followers who share your interests–people who will be your Twitter friends–not just count number.
  • Use Retweet to let your followers know you’re listening to them. They’ll feel complimented, and most likely, will start listening to you. (Tip: You can see who retweets your tweets if you click Connect and then Interactions).
  • Use Retweet to share a joke or an article with your followers. Many tweets just don’t need commentary.

That’s it. Those are the basic differences between Retweet and @reply. If you have questions, leave a comment or email: emily@twopens.com.