What Happened to Twitter DM?

Twitter Ethics after the Cutbacks on Twitter DM

2015-02-11 Letters (2)Twitter has a feature called “direct messaging.” You know, the little envelope in the menu that says “Messages.” It’s really handy if you want to send a private note to a specific Twitter user.

Even cooler, some services like JustUnfollow.com and Unfollowers.com let you create automatic direct messages, such as a greeting that’s sent out automatically every time you gain a new follower. You can even have your automatic service add the recipient’s name to personalize it. All without you having to lift a finger!

A lot of users also added a link to their automatic greeting, encouraging their new contact to follow them on Facebook, too, or check out their website, or even buy their book.

Then something happened.

Twitter retaliated.

Twitter Spam

The problem, you see, is that Twitter DM had become nothing but spam. Maybe you saw this for yourself. I certainly did. I dreaded checking my direct messages every day. I faithfully browsed all my messages anyway, just in case someone actually sent me a real message (happened twice). But by and large, there was nothing in there but “follow me on Facebook!” and “Buy my book!”

To which I always replied, “I only just met you.”

I have only clicked a link in a DM once that I can remember. The incentive was a free book offer in a genre I liked. I did pick up the book. In my opinion, if you’re going to automatically DM a person at all, it should be to simply say, “Hi!” or to offer them something free.

Spamming in Twitter DM had become so common, some Twitter bios would say right up front, “We don’t DM,” or “I don’t read DM’s.”

When the Bottom Fell Out of the Barrel

You may have noticed a drastic decrease in your direct messages lately. I sure did! And I looked into it. Wouldn’t you know? Twitter cracked down. Here’s what they had to say:

We’re restructuring back-end elements of our direct message system. As a result, users may be unable to send some URLs in direct messages. We apologize for the inconvenience.

My response? Yay, Twitter!

Now, not all links have been banned. I’m not sure yet how the mysterious ways of Twitter work – what’s allowed and what isn’t. But I do know that my daily “mail” has decreased from dozens of spam messages per day to between one and four DM’s.

From a marketing standpoint, this looks pretty dire. We’ve just lost one way to grow our followings or advertise our books.

But that brings us to …

#EthicalAuthors Weeks (Feb. 1 – 14, 2015)

Everything about self-publishing and online marketing is brand, spankin’ new. Jumping in with both feet can be a bit of a blur, with advice flying around like a cyclone. Maybe somebody told you it was a good idea to DM your Facebook link, website, or book link to new Twitter followers. Maybe at one time, it was good advice. Back before everybody was doing it and clogging the inbox.

Now that Twitter has flagged this sort of behavior as spam, what should be our response? Should we disguise our links by typing “website [dot] com”?

You do realize Twitter could find a way to seek and destroy those sorts of DM’s, too, right?

Or even (if things got bad enough) to shut down DM all together. (Shudder.)

Or, as some people have been doing, you can send an automated tweet to all your new followers, telling them to click your link. Tada! Twitter can’t ban tweeting!

Twitter can’t but I can. And so can lots of other Twitter users. Personally, I’ve been insta-unfollowing people who tweet me an automated response with a link. I’m casting a vote saying, “This is spam. And instead of gaining you a new follower, it will lose you a new follower.”

Why do I unfollow? Because this behavior is completely spammy. Why should I encourage my Twitter notifications becoming glutted with “Like me! Buy me!” Like I said, the only automated messages I look at twice are the ones offering something completely free, no strings attached, and which I actually feel a need for.

Otherwise … de-lete.

Asking for Too Much Up Front

Why is this use of automated DM’s and tweets “unethical?” Because it asks too much of your new follower up front. Twitter is great for getting to know complete strangers in your areas of interest. (Books, for us writers!) Twitter excels here.

But when someone you met two seconds ago says, “Hi! Great to meet you! Buy my book!” or something similar … It makes you feel like a statistic, not a new acquaintance who actually matters to this person. They don’t want you; they want your money.

Good Use of Twitter DM

Good Use of Twitter DMIf you are going to use automated messages or tweets, how should you go about it?

Free. Completely free, no strings attached. And make it something your followers will actually, truly, really want. Like I said, the only time I followed through on a DM link was when an author, who clearly wrote in a genre that interested me (hence why I followed him), pointed me to his completely free book.

And you’re saying, “Hey! I worked hard on that book! You want me to give it away for free?”

Up to you. But consider this: What you do gain is somebody saying, “Isn’t that a nice author? He gave me a free book just for following him on Twitter!” And if they accept your book and read it … they might leave you a nice review (always a plus!) or even become Eternal Fans and buy all your books forever afterwards.

Another good use of Twitter DM is just to say, “Hi!” But think carefully about how you use this. There are a lot of pretty boring DM’s that say, “hi, good to meet you,” and never reap a response. (Tell me if you’re experiences are different.) The only “hi,” DM’s that I look twice at are the ones that encourage the beginning of a conversation.

Thanks for following me! So … what’s your favorite book?

Better yet:

TY for following! Icebreaker: If you were trapped in an iron cage in the rain forest, how would you escape?

Be conversational. Let your voice and personality show. Maybe even make them laugh. Your goal here is not to get a click-through. It’s to get to know someone. It’s to start an honest-to-goodness conversation with your follower. People recognize authenticity, and are drawn to it. They’ll walk away saying, “Isn’t that a nice author? She actually took the time to talk with me for a while on Twitter!”

And that will pique their curiosity, maybe even enough to look up your website and check out your books.

And trust me, Twitter will never penalize its users for starting honest-to-goodness conversations!

So, what are your opinions on the changing face of Twitter DM, and good practices for #EthicalAuthors? (FYI, that’s your icebreaker! Carrie and I always respond to comments on our blog!)

2015-02-11 Letters (3)


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