A lot of Twitter management apps have a feature that allows you to automatically send a direct message to anyone who follows your account. It’s tempting, then, to assume it’s a good marketing tool and to make use of it.
That would be a mistake.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” is the rule of the day for many of these fringe features. An auto-DM feature is easy to add and easy to maintain, and it can be listed on a features list to make you want to buy a product. It’s no wonder that it, and many other features, end up in so many apps when they frankly shouldn’t be touched.
Types of Automatic Messages
When you think about it, there are only a few types of messages that might be sent as an automatic DM.
- The fake personal message. You get a DM from someone who you just followed, who responds as if they checked out your page and they like your content, and want to recommend something of theirs for you to check out. It could even be legit, except it arrives literally seconds after you follow them, long before they would have had a chance to check out your profile and write the message.
- The free offer message. You get a DM from someone you just followed and they’re greeting you, getting the pleasantries out of the way, and then immediately offering you something. Maybe it’s a coupon, maybe it’s an ebook, who knows. Whatever it is, it requires you to sign up for their mailing list to claim.
- The call to further action. You get a DM from someone you just followed and all it does is tells you about their other accounts. Sure, you followed me on Twitter, but what about Facebook? What about LinkedIn? What about my blog? If you’re not following on all of them, what are you even doing?
- The basic greeting. All of the above start with a greeting, but sometimes all the message contains is the greeting and nothing more. It just wastes space on Twitter servers somewhere.
- A question. Maybe they ask you where you found them, or they ask you what your favorite product is, or something else. Who knows; the point is, they’re trying to get some extremely unscientific and unrepresentative market research or insight that they can much more easily obtain from analytics.
How often is this something you want, when you’re following someone on Twitter? Most of the time you’re following someone because you like their content. If they’re a brand, maybe you’re following them to enter a contest, or because you want to contact them about some customer service issue. Either way, you don’t really need their ebook or a link to their Facebook page. You’re smart; if you want those, you can find them on your own.
The average reaction to an automatic DM is one of two things; either ignoring it or deleting it. On rare occasions I’ve even unfollowed the person immediately, particularly if I was only following for some minor contest I didn’t really care about.
Most typical Twitter users, or at least the tech-savvy ones who actually USE the site rather than just post auto-cross-posts from Facebook or RSS, hate auto-DMs. It’s one step up from spam email, and is only “better” because these companies can’t step out of the shadows and shoot you a DM for no reason. Well, they can, but they don’t, because that legitimately IS spam, and that’s not a good look for a brand.
So why do brands and small businesses decide they want to use automatic DMs?
- Someone told them they work. If some shady marketer who hasn’t updated their knowledge of social media since 2010 says these automatic welcome messages work, why is a small brand going to question it? They’re paying the social media guy to do the thinking for them, without having the experience to implement oversight.
- They ran some and they worked, for a certain value of worked. Links in an automatic DM will be clicked, certainly. But, like most black hat techniques, it will work on a small, ignorant sub-set of your potential audience, while alienating a much larger and more valuable segment of that same audience.
- It wouldn’t be an option if it wasn’t useful, right? Well, there are lots of things you can do using Twitter management tools that aren’t useful, up to and including implementing an aggressive level of follower churn that will lead to Twitter banning your account. Again, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
I heartily recommend that you turn off, disable, and otherwise completely ignore any automatic DM options you might have. If you have some interest in auto-responses for customer service purposes, that’s fine, but you should still keep a human on hand; robots aren’t going to solve all of your issues.
The Risks of Auto-DMs
The biggest problem with auto-DMs is really just the bait-and-switch a user feels. They followed you simply hoping to get some content they enjoy in their feed. Instead, they get a commercial sent to their inbox. Remember, most moderately savvy users will be able to smell an automatic message from a mile away. Even if you make it look more personal, it’s still pretty obvious, and it’s easy enough to test that there’s no point in hiding it. It would be like you made a new friend at a party, you gave them your number, and they immediately texted you an ad for some pyramid scheme product they sell.
To be fair, most users will simply ignore your DM, or will open it, read it, and delete it. Some might even click on the message or reply, if that’s what you’re sending the message out for. Some people will be particularly vindictive and might report it as spam, though, and a lot of people won’t read it at all.
Enough reports of spam from your account has the potential to get your account sanctioned. I haven’t heard of anyone being punished as long as they weren’t being excessive about it, but you never know. If Twitter decided that auto-DMs were a spammy technique, they could remove DM privileges or suspend the accounts of anyone using them, and there’s not much you can do about it. It probably won’t happen, but you never know. There’s always that chance.
If Not DMs, Then What?
Option 1 is to stick with the auto-DMs, but do them extremely carefully. You don’t want your message to fall into one of the categories above. Of course, almost any message is going to, so you need to make the DM so valuable to the user that they forgive you for it. You could do this by providing a very good coupon code or free trial product they can’t get anywhere else, but I wouldn’t count on it. Frankly, I don’t know what you could offer me in an auto-DM that would make me think it was worthwhile.
Option 2 is to send a direct message manually. You, yourself, or a dedicated social media manager of yours needs to take the time to look over the profiles of the people who follow you. Create and send specific welcome messages that are personalized in a way that a bot cannot do. I don’t mean “reference something in their bio”, I mean compliment them on their profile picture or cover photo by calling out something specific about it. Something very personalized.
The trouble with this option is that, well, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time and effort, which is why the whole thing is automated in the first place. Secondly, it can be pretty strange for a brand to be putting that kind of effort into their followers. If you’re an artist and you follow someone, and they compliment your art, that’s fine. If you’re an artist and you follow Dunkin Donuts, and THEY compliment your art, it can be cool. If you’re not an artist, but Dunkin Donuts decides to compliment the art you’re using in your profile photo, that’s pretty strange. It simply doesn’t fit the persona or atmosphere a brand is usually going for on social media.
Option 3 is to be a little more personal. When someone follows you, dig into their profile and check them out. Look for recent tweets that mention you or your products, or that mention something in your industry. Leave a reply or simply retweet the relevant content to give that bit of recognition and value to the user who followed you.
I’ve personally had people I follow send me personal messages before, and it’s almost always worth responding to. They have a specific question or comment, and it’s the start of a conversation that might peter out, or might turn into something fruitful. That’s your goal, after all; to build that connection.
Filtering New Accounts
Another drawback to auto-DMs is it still sends those messages to bot followers and people using scripts to follow anyone related to their niche. It then looks like engagement to that bot, and it might mean you get put on a list of accounts for bots to follow.
Personally, whenever someone follows my account, I check out their profile. If they’re obviously a bot account, one of those porn spam accounts or just an empty profile, I’ll often just block and report the account. Twitter needs all the help they can get to curb the spam issues on their site, and I’m fine giving them that little extra bit of help.
If the account is someone who is clearly just following you based on some keyword you tweeted about or used in your profile, there’s no reason to engage with them. There are some niches just packed full of people auto-following based on keyword lists, and there’s no value to those accounts. They aren’t spam, they aren’t fake, but they aren’t really engaging with you. I don’t see any value in sending them a DM, pursuing a reply, or doing much more than that quick glance.
If the account is a reasonable person, though perhaps not an influencer, that’s where you can decide what to do. A DM or a reply can go a long way towards cementing their follow, so long as it’s not an automated commercial. I’ve had some success just by DMing someone and thanking them for following me, and asking where they heard of me. Then again, I’ve also had success in not doing that, so who knows. I haven’t exactly done a scientific study on it.
If the account is someone you would consider a high value follower or an influencer, then that’s a great thing! Congratulations. Now you need to build and cement the relationship. Follow them back, tweet at them a thanks for following, compliment their work, and start a campaign of retweeting their important posts occasionally. You don’t want to seem too eager or desperate, but you do want to take action, not just sit and see if they make a second move. They made the first move, after all, with the follow. Unless, of course, you followed them first, in which case you should still capitalize on the opportunity.
Did you try using an auto-DM service for your Twitter profile? Let us know in the comments below!