How To Twitter: What Is a Subtweet?

You may be seeing a relatively new term being thrown about on Twitter these days, the “subtweet”.

What is a subtweet, you ask?

Basically, a subtweet is a message on Twitter that subtly refers to another person, by not using the standard Twitter method of using their Twitter handle with the “@” symbol, i.e. @Forechecker if you were mentioning me. The purpose of a subtweet is often to talk about another person without addressing them directly, or inviting a reply (since they could easily see any tweets containing their handle).

So a subtweet is applicable when you either don’t want to recognize an individual publicly (say, a friend who you don’t want to embarrass) or don’t want them to see it (for fear of repercussions).

A Subtweet Example

As it happens, the use of the subtweet has coincided nicely with the launch of my latest venture, the Nashville Sports Hub. The Hub is meant to be a jumping-off point for Nashville sports fans to find interesting content from around the web regarding their favorite teams, and a recent post looked at the reaction from various sportswriters and broadcasters after the Tennessee Titans fired their offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer.

What follows in this excerpt is a textbook example of a subtweet. When it comes to radio personalities on competing stations, the prevailing culture dictates that they don’t address each other directly. For someone like me coming from a blogging background, this is absurd – but hey, we’re talking about old-school media here. In this situation, two local sports talk hosts take up opposite ends of a point:

The 3HL’s Clay Travis has ridiculed Palmer’s background ever since he was hired by the Titans, since his previous stint was as the offensive coordinator for the United Football League’s Hartford franchise:

Titans have fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Shocking that Hartford Colonials OC didn’t pan out in NFL.

— Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGIDNovember 27, 2012

Willy Daunic over at 102.5 The Game took the respectful view, however, subtweeting a response later that evening:

I get that Palmer didn’t get it done for #Titans, but Don’t Be That Guy who dumps on him because he coached in the UFL.

— Willy Daunic (@WillyD1025November 27, 2012

In this case, Daunic is clearly reacting to Travis, but can’t call him out by name. Instead, he invokes the “Don’t Be That Guy” label, which refers to a recurring radio segment wherein Daunic invites callers to give examples of “guys” who nobody should attempt to emulate.

Perfectly executed subtweet there by Daunic, with a bit of personal branding thrown in. Well done…

The Downside of Subtweets

While the example above shows why someone would want to subtweet for professional concerns, oftentimes people use the subtweet in a passive-aggressive fashion, griping about an individual without addressing them directly. When the target of that griping sees those messages, it makes the subtweeter look rather petty.

So take care when using the subtweet… it’s hardly a “stealth technology” on Twitter, but it can be appropriate at times. Just ask yourself – if the intended subject of this message saw it, will you stand by what you write?


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I've been writing online since the mid-90's for a variety of blogs & websites, and now I'm sharing tips on blogging, website & search engine optimization, and how to use social networks to benefit your business or organization. Feel free to email me at with your comments or questions.