Twitter Changed Its DM Rules – Here’s What It Means, and Why You Should Care

Written by Laura Roeder

On May 5, 2015

A few weeks ago, Twitter introduced some big changes to the way its Direct Messages (DMs) work – and it can affect your social marketing and customer service routines in a big way.

Just not necessarily for the better.

Because as we’ll explain, the changes to Twitter’s DM system can give you a lot more power as far as contacting people goes, and vice versa, but with great power comes great…how does that go, again? (We’ll think of it eventually.)

So, what’s different?

First things first: let’s cover how DMs used to work.

DMs are Twitter’s private messages, and their policy until a few weeks ago was that you could only send a DM to a user who was already following you. This meant that if you were following Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he could send you a DM personally thanking you for downloading his hit single with Wyclef Jean on iTunes – but you couldn’t DM him to ask for an autograph unless he followed you back.

It Doesn't Matter music video

“It Doesn’t Matter” was a bit ahead of its time.

While this was a great system for preventing harassment – The Rock can only sign so many autographs, after all – it presented a potentially huge roadblock for anyone trying to provide customer service. If a customer wanted to DM you with a private question, they couldn’t do it unless you followed them.

Not anymore.

Now, on your Security and privacy settings page, you can opt in to receive DMs from anyone on Twitter, whether you follow them or not – and other users can do the same.

You should go ahead and enable this feature.

New Twitter DM Security Settings

The default setting is “off,” so unless you go in and change it yourself, you still won’t be able to receive DMs from anyone you don’t follow. While this may make sense for a personal account, when it comes to your business, you ought to go ahead and switch it on – all it does is make it easier for your fans and customers to reach you, and that’s rarely a bad thing.

I automate my social media – should I automate my DMs, too?

As more and more users opt in to this feature, you’ll theoretically be able to send DMs to a much wider audience.

Did you catch that “theoretically” in there?

Sending too many DMs is a classic blunder, and a surefire way to alienate your fans. There are programs and apps, for example, that allow you to auto-DM Twitter users – and with this policy change, there are sure to be more popping up – but that doesn’t mean you should do it.

As of a few short years ago, sending auto-DMs on Twitter led to a 245% increase in unfollows. As of 2014, auto-DMs were the #1 reason given by Twitter users for unfollowing someone. Click to Tweet

Twitter DMs Unfollow Statistic

Convinced it’s a bad idea? You should be.

Sending automated DMs to anyone – follower or not – is spammy and insincere. DMs are for genuine, one-on-one communication, not robo-messaging, so don’t abuse your new ability to message way more people than you were once able to.

That means no skeezy sales stuff, either.

Email marketing’s value to both businesses and consumers is pretty well-documented at this point. Generally, consumers are accustomed to receiving lots of marketing emails, and those emails can pack serious ROI for the people who send them.

The same cannot be said for private messages on social media.

DMs are generally reserved for private, personal conversation – and until recently, the fact that you couldn’t send them to non-followers was the perfect demonstration of that. They aren’t the preferred method for marketers to send their promotions, and such being the case, they aren’t the preferred method for consumers to receive them, either.

DMs are poorly suited for marketing your brand. Like cold-calling someone on their home phone, an aggressive, one-on-one tactic like this demonstrates that you’re more interested in seizing opportunities than in respecting someone’s boundaries.

So what ARE DMs for?

DMs are perfect for providing social customer service – they allow you to engage with someone discreetly, making the conversation more private and organic than a series of updates tagged with each other’s name.

Among other things, though, providing customer service means engaging in a way that suits the customer, and that means deferring to their terms.

While you can invite someone to DM you, leave the decision to do it up to them.

For example, if you need details that a customer might not feel comfortable sharing out in the open on Twitter, you can suggest that they send you a DM. (Remember, too, that your customers might not be as well-versed in social as you are. They may not have realized that DMs were an option.)

Twitter DM Invitation

DMs are perfect when you want to protect someone else’s privacy.

Not only does this leave the ball in their court and give them the freedom to choose how best to contact you – they may decide to email sensitive info, instead, for example – but it also shows other users that the situation is being handled.

Because Twitter exchanges are visible to anyone, a back-and-forth between you and a customer that suddenly ends without explanation may seem as though you left them hanging. If it ends with you inviting that customer to DM you, it demonstrates to any observers that the issue was resolved privately.

If a customer service inquiry doesn’t require the sharing of private information, though, and the customer chooses not to seek support via DM, that’s their prerogative. It’s the same reason you should opt in to the new feature in the first place – allow your customer to reach you on their own terms, rather than trying to force them off the path they chose.

The way that marketers use Twitter DMs could change in a big way.

Twitter DMs capabilities will undoubtedly impact the way businesses use social media – potentially in ways both good and bad. As with any tool or feature, the important thing is to take advantage of it without taking advantage of it, because the temptation to overstep your bounds will always be there.

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