If Twitter gets rid of @ replies and hashtags, what will it mean for users and brands? We Are Social, Cake, Manning Gottlieb OMD & more discuss

With testing of tweets without the @ symbol for a reply underway, what will the change mean for users and brands. We asked a cross section of experts what they thought, with some suggesting it could open up Twitter to a host of new users, and others suggesting that all social platforms seem to be merging together.

Let us know your own views in the comment section.

Lizzy Pollott, client services director, Cake

It’s certainly a curious move if it does happen. The @ and # functions are synonymous with Twitter and it feels a bit like Nike dropping its swoosh symbol. That said, whenever a big social network plays around with its familiar features, everyone is quick to moan - until it all blows over after about a day. If the rumoured changes do indeed happen, we’ll no doubt get used to it just as we did, say Facebook Timeline or hashtags on Instagram. The interesting development here is the apparent emphasis on simplifying the Twitter user experience in order to attract new users, who are put off by the sometimes confusing use of handles. Opening Twitter up to new, larger audiences can only be a good thing for the platform itself and brands and agencies. Not only could it grow Twitter’s user base significantly, but it also would hopefully encourage more conversation on the platform – another bonus for brands looking to get closer to their customers. New users and increased interaction means even more fun to be had by brands and agencies.

Tim Pritchard, head of social media, Manning Gottlieb OMD

Any redesign of Twitter would have to have its significant proportion of mobile usage in mind as the platform usage is still moving increasingly onto mobile and tablet.The streamlining of @messages overall seems to make sense for Twitter although this could end up being a mainly cosmetic change. From a user perspective there has been a slight crowding of the timeline with multiple replies and this has in part be alleviated with the infamous blue lines linking and truncating longer conversations. It could potentially reduce the practice of .@’ing though which seems to carry with it, often positive connotations of broadcasting private conversations and shouting out other users. Any talk of removing hashtags would be way off however, it’s the platform’s calling card! Although recent changes have moved us away from Top 10 trends to more algorithmic based trending topics and relevant tweets these are still very much what Twitter is known for. From a brand perspective and with regards platform changes, increased mobile usage has led brands to try and impress changes on Twitter that would hide their, often service focussed, 1-1 interactions on the profiles leaving them clearer for proactive broadcast messaging.With any platform changes there are always those who will keep with their original practice, like the raft of people who still ‘old school RT’ as a badge of early adoption, and I imagine if users can they may try and ignore these changes. Whatever the amends, the are unlikely to stem Twitters popularity and while it’s likely there will be a short uproar, it will no doubt be followed by acceptance and mass adoption.

Katy Howell, CEO at immediate future

There is always a bit of a protest when things change on a social network. Facebook is always tweaking, and people have a good gripe. But ultimately it doesn’t impact usage. After all people want to connect with friends, and if the change isn’t too challenging, it will be adopted.What isn’t clear right now is how the new symbol-free replies and removal of hashtags will impact brands. Companies are able to quickly find people talking to them using @replies that are not part of an ongoing conversation. Monitoring tools dig them out to make customer service part of a straightforward workflow. And hashtags allow brands to find audience segments by interest. Take that away and Twitter might just get a lot harder for brands to be in. The cynic in me wonders if this is a commercial decision by Twitter. A chance to monetise engagement between brands and customers. I can only speculate. Twitter’s motivation might well be better user experience, but after 10 years’ in social, I can't help but look for the commercial angle!

Robin Grant, global managing director, We Are Social

Since inception Twitter’s been making changes to try and make the platform less confusing. Recently, these developments have picked up even more pace, perhaps as a result of its recent first earnings announcement, where attracting and holding on to new users was flagged as an issue for the platform. Yesterday’s news that Twitter is experimenting with phasing out @ replies completely won’t be popular with loyal Twitter users – change never goes down well, especially to something as fundamental as the @ reply. Many see this as one of Twitter’s key differentiators, and the new Twitter tests look more like what happens when you tag people in Facebook posts. But with Twitter’s current focus clearly tuned into keeping new users engaged, rather than placating its existing community, it’s unlikely the prospect of short-term protest will disrupt its long-term plans.

Iona St Joseph, social media account manager, A Social Media Agency

I think it's interesting to see how sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which used to be so different, are slowly beginning to mirror each other. Facebook introduced hashtags and mentions after the popularity of Twitter really came about, and now Twitter is heading away from some of the very things that is has become synonymous with, in order for it to, apparently, become easier for new users to get the hang of. Changes to social media sites usually mean waves of complaints from people who want it to go back to the way it was, so it will be interesting to see how Twitter users react to the changes that will affect the way Twitter has been used for a long time. I'll also be keeping an eye out for any user numbers released if these changes come about, to see if Twitter's new way of interacting does draw in more users.