Why Twitter auto DMs are a bad idea

Using auto direct messages (DM) on Twitter is a bad idea.

It was a bad idea when I first joined Twitter in June 2008 – a time when there were fewer than 500,000 Tweeple in the Twitterverse. And it’s a worse idea now…particularly with 75 million users on Twitter. Why?

TwitterChart_newusers

1. Auto DMs are spam – unsolicited and unwelcome mail. To top it off, many Twitter users also get email notifications about their DMs, so it’s actually more like a one-two spam punch – in the face. Why would anyone choose to welcome people to their “community” this way?

Welcome to <Twitter Name Here> on Twitter. We hope you enjoy experiencing learning with us.

Thank you for following the writers of <New Pub Name Here>. We are hoping that our expertise will enlighten you and make you healthy.

We produce #environmental awareness posters, decals, much more, helping companies promote #sustainability & #recycling. Please pass us along

Hi there! I’m new to Twitter so I hope you enjoy my tweets. I love solar electricity and if you want to learn about it, I’ll show it to you

Well, you might be thinking, these sound like friendly, well-intended welcome messages. Yes, they are. But they are also disruptive communications as described in the definition of spam (below). They are disruptive because they are unsolicited and may very well be irrelevant to the recipient. Auto DMs are disruptive because they constitute noise that dilutes the signal for relevant information I want to receive and the conversations I choose to participate in.

Spam: A disruptive, esp. commercial message posted on a computer network or sent as e-mail

And, yes, the worst auto DM spam is the kind that is used for advertising:

Hi, thx for following? Are you up to date with social media? <Link Here to a Book on Amazon>

Thx for connecting. Are you attending <Name of Event Here> next week? <Link to Event Here> Discount code information here.

{In the case above I was already registered, which made the spam even more annoying.}

Just because I follow you back on Twitter does not mean that I am giving you permission to market to me. A follow back on Twitter does not constitute an “opt-in” subscription to anything you perceive is valuable to your community.

2. Auto DMs are sometimes viruses – and they appear to come from people you follow. So even if you are using auto-DMs to sell a book or a workshop, how effective do you think it will be in the DM-shy world we inhabit today? Today it is rare that I will click on a URL in a DM…unless I am “expecting” specific information from a fellow Twitter user.

3. Auto DMs are for robots, not humans. Social media is about human and personal interaction. If you don’t care enough to take the time to personally “welcome” someone on Twitter, then you shouldn’t do it at all.

In my opinion, Twitter DM should be a sacred channel. It should be used conscientiously and for those moments when you:

  • Must get through to someone quickly;
  • Have information to share with someone that is not relevant for the entire community; or
  • Have to take a Twitter conversation offline.

With almost 8 million users on Twitter it has become rather noisy – not just from the auto-DM spam, but also from the grumblings of the unhappy Tweeple – like myself – who are on the receiving end of that spam.

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So, if you are looking for a way to be unfollowed before your first conversation on Twitter begins or to lose loyal followers, then try using auto DMs.

Granted, there are some people may choose to unfollow auto DMers and others who may unhappily tolerate it – which is mostly the case for me in the small city where I live. But even if you are not getting unfollowed as the result of your auto DMs, how do you know it is not just because people are being polite and tolerating you?

At the end of the day, I would rather have people happily following me rather than unhappily tolerating me.

How about you?

Chart source: RJ Metrics

23 comments for “Why Twitter auto DMs are a bad idea

  1. March 27, 2010 at

    I think this is a sweeping generalization. What about auto-DMs that help followers? Say a bank auto-DMing each new follower with a reminder that says “Don’t tweet your account information. Please call 1-800-xxxxxx or email service@bigbank.com for account issues.”

    Or in regulated areas, auto-DMing followers to inform them that any tweets by the company are subject to a disclaimer and providing a link to it.

    I can’t think of any better ways to do these things than through Auto-DMs. But if Tweets had attached disclaimers, that might be a different thing: http://www.irwebreport.com/daily/2010/02/18/if-tweets-had-disclaimers/

  2. March 27, 2010 at

    Thanks for your comment, Dominic. If the auto DM has a solid, relevant purpose that benefits both the Tweeter (sender) AS WELL AS the Tweetee (receiver), then I think it makes sense. However, that’s really not what I’m seeing out there. Most of it’s fluffy junk or pushy sales. So I agree with you. Thanks again for your feedback. p.s. That’s a great site you have…

  3. March 28, 2010 at

    Heck yes! Auto Dm’s make me want to vomit too! Now I rarely check my dms, and find people rarely reply to my real dms.

    I think twitter could help by not allowing dms to be sent via API (external programs) but only by logging in online and sending by hand.

    What do you think??

  4. March 28, 2010 at

    Yes, DM is a high-value channel that is sadly being degraded by spam messages. That’s a great suggestion Chuck (blocking API DMs). Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Bill
    March 28, 2010 at

    I currently use truetwit. It sends an auto dm saying “billwall10 uses TrueTwit validation service. Please follow this link to validate your profile. [link] Thanks” Do people consider this offensive? It’s basically a way to keep my bot followers down.

  6. jeff
    March 28, 2010 at

    The DM should be a special whisper between friends not meant for public eyes..nothing else..auto DM me and you are blocked.

  7. March 28, 2010 at

    Actually I believe that this is massive over-sensitivity. Auto DMs serve their purpose. They share what you are willing to share with your new followers and, in my opinion, they are no one’s business except you and the person who receives it.

    I personally go through my DMs almost every day. I want to know what people want to tell me. Afterall the only other option I have is to tell my followers what I want to hear about, then force them to either regurgitate it to me or risk being unfollowed. That would be clinically narcissistic on my part.

    Treading into the sacred area of a 2-person DM should be forbidden. I do not even think that a 3rd person even has the right to presume to write ‘rules’ governing them.

    I love ya’, Jaculynn…and you make some great points about DMs being used for spam… but I do not feel that people need to be ‘governed’ in this area.

  8. March 29, 2010 at

    Since the majority of my DM’s are what I consider spam, I totally agree with the content of this article! I especially “love” those Dm’s where they claim you can get hundreds of followers easily..meanwhile when you check them out..they have low amount of followers and have been on twitter for awhile.

    I have been known to “publicly” thank those that didn’t spam me with a link in my DM’s!

  9. March 29, 2010 at

    Thanks for your comment, Lynne. I have no problem with auto DMs if they provide relevant value for the sender as well as receiver. However, this does not appear to be the case – at least not in my experience. BTW, is the auto DM really considered “2-person” communication as you mention? Or is it one-to-many? I appreciate your feedback.

  10. March 29, 2010 at

    Hi Bill. I understand the value that Truetwit provides and I understand that it’s not spam; however I am not sure everyone does. If someone receives that message they may or may not know if it is spam. Ask your existing community what they thought when they received your TrueTwit auto DM. Maybe that’ll give you an idea… Thanks for your feedback.

  11. March 30, 2010 at

    Hi Jaculynn,

    I think I may have misunderstood something.

    When I spoke of auto DMs, I was specifically referring to auto Welcome DMs.

    I am not in favor of any other type of auto DM as I believe it is spam to send blanket DMs like that.

    My apologies.

  12. April 5, 2010 at

    Jaculynn, good job succinctly summarizing my thoughts on auto-DMs and starting a discussion through comments. I consider auto-DMs one of many rude, clueless behaviors by users who don’t get that Twitter is about organic conversations and link-sharing.

    Whenever someone sends me a link in a welcome auto-DM, I think, “Why couldn’t they just put this link in their bio?” I received a welcome auto-DM today reading “Looking for non-mainstream music? Follow the Underrated Song of the Day at ” This DM contains useful information, but I’d much rather they share it with me via their bio or by simply daily tweeting the Underrated Song of the Day.

  13. April 5, 2010 at

    Thanks Beth! I agree. Many of these DMs can simply be shared in the stream or as “replies.” I am learning – through FB feedback and IRL convos about this post – that some people are DMing because they still think that @ replies can be seen by ALL of their followers. As you know, Twitter changed it last year so that replies are not seen by everyone who follows you. The only people that see your replies are those that follow both you and the person you are replying to…. Of course that can easily be remedied by placing a “period” (.) in front of the reply – like so: .@BethEvans Thanks for your comment! :)

  14. September 18, 2010 at

    I totally agree with you about the auto DMs. My question is what would you consider to be a polite and/or useful acknowledgment of a follow? Thanks.

  15. September 18, 2010 at

    Hi Jaculynn, If I agree with most of your comments especially about sending spams, ads for services or products but I think there is a good way to use auto DM. Sending a thank you auto-DM does not harm and adding topics you are interested in help you followers to decide if they want to follow you or not. Auto DM is better than no DM at all. I always follow-up with personalized DM for people I want to engage in meaningful conversations and found great business partners that way. My Auto DM message is
    “Thanks for Following, I tweet and RT on coaching, leadership,personal development, leading changes, expats, career, creativity, cultures”

  16. Deanna Figueroa
    September 18, 2010 at

    Unless you’re a gigantic corporation, you have no reason not to DM people personally, IF you have something to say, not to market.

    I never auto-contacted any client even when I was doing massive business. You can find something personal to say to anyone and can avoid turning people off.

    I don’t DM everyone who follows me, I only send them if that person has said something interesting or their bio contains something I want to discuss.

    If an auto DM has a link in it, I unfollow that person immediately.

    Keep the spam out of Twitter!

  17. September 19, 2010 at

    A simple @reply with an acknowledgment would suffice. However, I do not recommend a canned response. Personalize the acknowledgment somehow: comment on or ask a question about the person’s bio, Twitter background, or a previous tweet. Have something in common with the follower? Mention it.

    That’s how you get a conversation rolling. And that’s what Twitter is about – conversation. The number of @replies in your stream is a good measuring stick for how well you command the medium and how well you engage your community, which is what the social web is all about (not broadcasting).

    Want to really make an lasting impression? RT one of your new follower’s tweets (only if it makes sense for you to do so of course, based on how much value it would provide your community.)

    Does this sound like a lot of work? Yes, it is. So is building a community. :)

    If you do get overwhelmed with the personalized replies/acknowledgments, try sending out batch Thank Yous. A public thanks gives them exposure > e.g. “Welcome and thanks to new followers @Bill @Anne and @Deanna” or you – if you have tons of new followers each week – you can make it less intrusive on your existing community by starting with the follower names e.g. “@Bill @Anne @Deanna welcome and thanks for following – (custom tidbit here)”

    I offer these suggestions out of respect for your desire to acknowledge; however, I don’t believe acknowledgment of a follow is even necessary. But it is recommended if you want to more quickly build “community” as opposed to building a list of “followers.”

    Thanks for stopping by Bill.

  18. September 19, 2010 at

    Hi Anne – thanks for your comment. Re: “Sending a thank you auto-DM does not harm and adding topics you are interested in helps your followers to decide if they want to follow you or not.”

    Your followers have already decided to follow you when they followed you. :D

    Hopefully they followed you because they’re interested in what you have to offer. I agree that there are Tweeple who engage in “mass following” – however those individuals would not likely make a decisions to unfollow due to your content-related DM. After all, they’re just interested in “mass following.” However, the Tweeple that follow for content and value already made a conscious decision to follow you – so the auto DM stating what you cover/tweet about is a bit redundant IMO.

    With all due respect, I disagree that any auto-DM is better than no DM at all (unless, perhaps, you are a large brand and you have something of value to offer in the auto-DM like an incredible offer, contest opp, coupon/discount of the week, etc).

    Otherwise, I find it intrusive, especially if there is no relevant value for me specifically. The auto DM has more “perceived” value to the sender (as a time-saver), not the receiver (as valued content). It’s intrusive because when the auto-DM is sent, it also pings my phone and my email. IMO, it’s a triple interruption that is simply a canned response from someone I just followed.

    But it sounds like auto-DMs work for you – so that’s what matters. On the other hand, we would never know if people unfollowed us because of the auto-DM would we? :)

    And, yes, I have unfollowed people for auto-DMs. Have the Tweeple in your community ever done this? Do you know? Have you asked them how they feel about autoDMs?

    I offered some alternative options to auto-DMs to Bill Abramovitz in this comment thread. Check it out.

    Glad you stopped by Anne.

  19. September 19, 2010 at

    Thanks Deanna. I agree – I don’t see the value of the auto-DM…unless, as you said, you are a large brand perhaps. And even then, that auto-DM should include content of high value / relevancy for the follower (see my reply to @Anne in this comment thread). I appreciate your comment. Thanks again.

  20. September 19, 2010 at

    Hello Jaculynn
    Thanks for taking the time to answer. I use http://nutshellmail.com/ so I can see pictures of who are my new followers and new quitters for the day. Almost all quitters are spammers. So I guess my DM works for my purpose of getting relevant content. Apparently it helps me focus on people I really like and as I said I always follow-up wit a personalized DM for people I value.
    Tanks Jaculynn for starting this great educating discussion. Auto DM and other automatic tools can be really an annoyance and most of the time the users are not aware of the impact they male on social media. Have a great day
    Anne

  21. Margie Peterson
    September 20, 2010 at

    Jaculynn,
    Sure do enjoy following your twitters!
    Am proud of the growth of your site and all the comments.
    Love, M

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