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You Can Now DM Anyone on Twitter: Consider These Rules First

Earlier this week, Twitter has announced that the last walls on direct messages are coming down: you can now opt to send and receive messages from any Twitter user, regardless of your following status. Latest updates to Twitter DMs also allow users to reply to any message they receive, even if the sender doesn’t follow them. New direct-messaging capabilities, along with a new button indicating whether or not you can DM the user on Twitter’s mobile app, will be rolled out to all users over the next few weeks.

These changes complement another modification to Twitter DMs earlier this year: launch of Group DMs, which give Twitter users the ability to privately converse with several other users simultaneously. According to Twitter’s official blog, there are many more updates in the works—all motivated by the goal of making “the private side of Twitter is just as fulfilling as the public side.”

New rules around Twitter’s direct messages offer many new opportunities to users and brands on the network. Job seekers can reach out to prominent figures in the field for advice; reporters can direct-message users to get more information on a developing story; and customers can take a sensitive query to a business out of the public sphere. And just as with any other transition between the public and private communication, there are social media etiquette rules worth revisiting. Here are just a few best practices around sending direct messages on Twitter.

DON’T send automatic DMs

When direct messages first became available, their release was followed by a slew of multiple auto-DM clients that allowed users to send pre-drafted messages. Common examples included thank-you messages to new followers and promotional messaging calling new followers to check out the user’s website/blog/podcast, etc. Widespread use of such clients didn’t last long—soon, users grew tired of receiving dozens of DMs containing nothing but automated thank-yous. This practice hurt both parties: the sender appeared spammy and disingenuous, and the recipient was at risk of missing more relevant DMs—or worse, stop using the DM tool altogether.

So how do you communicate with your followers without auto-responses? In our social media etiquette post a few weeks ago, I mentioned a Twitter DM survey one tech columnist performed with his own followers, where most people responded by saying they found automatic messaging to be spammy. Feedback from most surveyed users said that, if you want to connect, an @mention feels a lot more sincere. After all, Twitter DMs are designed to facilitate private discussions; so if you want to celebrate your new followers, why not do it on a public feed?

DO use DMs for sensitive customer service matters

New Twitter DM features offer new opportunities for conversations between brands and customers on the network. Customers can use direct messages to reach out to a business help desk account with sensitive issues that can’t be described in a Tweet. With the new opt-in feature, there’ll be no need to go through the mutual follow process before addressing the issue at hand; the customer can simply message the brand’s account and go from there. This method of communication will also help keep the conversation in one place.

DON’T treat Twitter DMs as ads

While the new DM functionalities open up another line of communication from customers to brands, this channel should be treated with care by businesses. Experts weighed in on the implications the new features have for brands on Twitter in an Adweek article, saying that despite expanded permissions, the best practice for DMing customers on Twitter remain the same: only do so in the context of an ongoing conversation. Open Twitter DM permissions are not an invitation to start targeting customers with free DMs instead of paid social advertising such as Promoted Tweets. It may save you some ad budget, but can cost your business customers in the long run.

DO use DMs to get the Tweets to the right person

Another helpful feature launched in the last quarter of 2014 lets Twitter users privately embed Tweets in direct messages. With expanded direct-messaging permissions, you can use Twitter DMs to reach out to users when Tweets with @mentions don’t do the job. Say it’s a user that gets dozens of interaction notifications on a daily basis. It’s very likely these users may miss your Tweet—not on purpose, but due to sheer volume of Tweets they receive every day. Now, if the user has opted to allow people outside of their Follower/Following lists to direct-message them, the person reaching out can embed their Tweet in the DM, for context, and attempt to start a conversation that way. The sender can get the desired response, and the recipient won’t miss out on this opportunity to engage, and perhaps even gain another follower.

Have we covered all the best practices with direct-messaging on Twitter? Share your own Twitter DM etiquette tips with us in the comments below!