Using @mentions in conversation has become a norm in lots of communication platforms. Even Outlook has found a way to use @mentions, adding the mentioned person to the To: line and highlighting the person’s name in the conversation. @mentions have featured in social media platforms and chat-based collaboration like Microsoft Teams, Slack or Yammer. Those of us who are new to communicating this way aren’t using @mentions enough because they don’t understand why you would use them. When you add to that the concept of communicating in channels or private chats, it is yet another thing to understand.

 Photo by  on  Unsplash
Photo by on Unsplash

Here’s a simple way to think of using @mentions, channels and private chats. It’s no different entering a room to talk with individuals and groups of people. Channels are rooms. Private chats are small meeting rooms. @mentions are used to direct our communication towards individuals, a few individuals mentioned by name, groups of people or everyone. @mentions will send a notification to the intended audience, getting their attention and in most cases, the notification is delivered to the recipient’s activity feed or Inbox.

Look towards me

When you talk with someone, in a lot of cultures, it’s polite to turn your head towards the person you’re talking to. You look at the person, (though I understand as a sign of respect in some cultures, you don’t look a person in the eyes.) The point is, you are facing the person you want to talk with. You are directing your voice towards them. This gives the best chance for your voice to be heard clearly.

So when you @mention someone as you start a new conversation or respond, you are in a sense turning your head to face them and saying their name.  

Imagine you walk into a hall with everyone from your organisation. You turn and face a corner, looking away from everyone and speak. Probably no one will  respond. Who was your communication directed to? Well, you did enter the room they are in. So surely that means you are talking to someone. 

There aren’t really any corners in a conversation channel. When you start a new conversation and don’t @mention anyone, it’s posted in the thread for everyone in the channel to read. But it’s not directed at any individual or group, or even everyone. The first post is just there for anyone to read. It doesn’t become a conversation till someone responds. 

Hello Everyone

When you’re talking in the direction of everyone in the room, usually from the front of the room, and you want to address them all, you say “Hello Everyone. Can I have your attention please?”  

This is when you @mention the name of the whole team or group. You would also choose the right place to address everyone; where everyone will hear you. In a Microsoft Team and in Slack thats the General channel. In Yammer it’s the All Company/Network group.  

Everyone from the York Street office

When you are talking to a room full of people and only want to address a smaller group of people in the room, you say “Hello everyone involved with the Wynyard project.” Or “everyone from the York St office.”  

If you want to have everyone from the York St office focus on the conversation, you would be best to move the conversation to another room. Or better still, visit the York St office.  

There are two things to understand here. @mentioning a group of people from where you are; or visit where the people are and @mentioning them.

  1. You can @mention a group of people. Everyone from the York St office may have a channel or group for their conversations. From the General channel, I can @mention York St and members of the channel will receive a notification. “I’m talking to you York St.” The conversation is directed at people from York St, but it’s held in a public place that everyone has access to and can join in. 
  2. Or you can visit York St (the York St channel or group) and @mention them from there. The conversation is more focused. If the York Street channel or group is public, everyone in the organisation can visit and join the conversation. But the point is they need to visit to read the conversation. 

Yammer has exceptions to these two scenarios. You are unable to @mention a group within the conversation, and you can only add one group to the participants. But Yammer does use conversation feeds that show conversations from public groups together in one feed. You can see a current conversation being held at York St in the feed. Opening the conversation will take you straight to York St, where you can participate in the conversation. 

Can I talk with you for a minute?

If you’re talking to just one or two people, you mention them by name. Maybe you’re talking with them in the large hall, so others can join the conversation or listen. Maybe you’re visiting the York St office and you want to speak with one or two people while you’re there in the lobby. Or you find a small meeting room and invite the one or two people you want to speak with. In each situation, you address them by name. 

Similar to metioning York St, when I want to talk with one or two people, I @mention them. They receive a notification and engage in the conversation. I can hold that conversation in the general channel / group, or in the York St channel. In both places, others can join the conversation. However, if I want to have a private conversation, I use private chat or private messages. That’s the “small meeting room.”

Let’s talk – @audience and location

We have seen how to use @mentions when you want to talk with everyone, a group of people or a few individuals. We have also seen that it matters where you choose to hold that conversation, to limit how widely it is shared. When you think about it, it’s not too different a verbal conversation. You address the person or people you are talking to, in the location appropriate to the nature of the conversation. Things are so much easier to understand when you put real-world scenarios before explaining features, don’t you agree?

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