Twitter Direct Messages – Best (and Worst) Practices

TwitterWhen I started out on Twitter over a year ago (@kikolani), one of the first things I noticed was my Direct Message box. As I began to follow people, I was excited to get those private messages, assuming people were just that into contacting me after I started following them. They began as simple thank you for following messages, and eventually became a mixture of real messages and automatic ones. Now, I would guess that 90% of the items in my Direct Message box are automatic DM’s from a service that are generated every time I follow someone.

First off, I would like to say I have nothing against these kinds of messages, because after a few months of trying to send personalized messages to all of my new followers, I found that I was spending an absurd amount of time doing them, with not a high amount of results. I began SocialOomph (formerly TweetLater) to send welcome messages to all of my new followers. Just a simple message to thank them for following and direct them to Kikolani and my portfolio as well.

I have decided to change it up, and I thought maybe I would take a stroll through my own overflowing Direct Message box to see the current trend in Direct Messages. The following are the types of DM’s I found awaiting me in my inbox.

Thanks for Following

This is quite common, just a simple little “Thanks for following me” message. While those are sincere and to the point, I think I kind of like getting a little more information about them, like what they do or are interested in.

Check Out My Site

Probably the most common welcome messages, similar to the one I send out, is the ones that say “Thanks for following. You can find out more about ___ at mysite.com” (fill in with their area of expertise). I kink of like these messages, as I can instantly see what the person is about.

Join Me on Facebook

Another avenue of introducing oneself in DM’s is to ask to connect on another network as well. I tried this for a bit to my Facebook page, and did get a lot of new friends on Facebook, specifically citing they came from my Twitter greeting. Not a bad way to grow yourself on other networks, and it does seem a little more of a personal touch in some cases, assuming the invite is to their personal profile instead of a group or business page.

How Can I Help You

One of the ideas I thought was pretty interesting was an introductory DM’s with a question, such as “How are you doing?” or “How can I help you with ____?” (fill in with their area of expertise). I actually responded to several of these on and off, but didn’t receive responses back, oddly enough.

Reply to Me @mytwittername

This one seems a bit silly to me. Why would you use part of your precious 140 characters to send your username, when it already comes next to your DM? Maybe it’s for the people who read their DM’s in their email?

Get My Free eBook

Another trend that I see quite often is a link to a free eBook or report. It definitely is a friendly gesture if the link goes directly to the free item, but it usually ends up going to a signup page so they can email the book to you, along with future newsletters and updates. Not a bad way to build an email list though.

Buy, Buy, Buy

These are the best. I kind of think of it as someone walking up to you and saying “Buy this from me” without prior greeting or other formalities. Seems a bit like pressured sales, and I don’t think it is that great of an approach.

Join My Mafia Family

These DM’s look like invites to Facebook applications. Or I assume they are Facebook applications, as I have not clicked on any of them, and am unaware of Twitter offering Mafia Wars or any other such games. Maybe they are infected sites. And if they are from Facebook, might I add that I don’t like most of the application invites on Facebook, let alone do I want them seeping into my Twitter.

Infected Sites

Some of the links in my DM’s (shortened URLs and regular ones) were pointing to infected websites that would have installed some kind of evil onto my machine if it wasn’t for Google’s “Web Site Has Been Attacked” warning or Kaspersky, the best anti-virus software I have ever used in terms of catching and blocking malicious code on websites before they harm your machine. These were links that were sent to me not only by strangers, but people I know and communicate with frequently either on Twitter or other networks who were hacked. Just like email, you can never be too careful about what you click on.

Shortened URLs

While there are legitimate reasons for using shortened URLs in Direct Messages (such as saving some of the 140 characters for the message instead of the link and tracking how many clicks you get from your DM), there are many more sneaky reasons. What looks like a new friend referring you to a great product could be someone sending you a masked affiliate link, or worse, a link to an infected site.

One way to find out the full link you are being redirected to is by using shortened URL preview options such as:

PrevURL.com
PrevURL.com will preview the full link from many URL shortening services, including:

  • cli.gs
  • ustre.am
  • is.gd
  • urlPass.com
  • tinyurl.com
  • hopurl.com
  • su.pr
  • bit.ly
  • retwt.me
  • budurl.com
  • ow.ly
  • short.to
  • snipurl.com

Just fill in the shortened URL and it will give you the full destination URL, and sometimes even a preview thumbnail. ExpandMyURL.com does the same thing, but doesn’t work as many URL shortening services.

Bit.ly
Bit.ly offers a Firefox extension that will show you the link preview when you hover over a http://bit.ly/ link. A majority of the links in my DM’s are bit.ly. If you don’t want to do the extension, you can alternatively add info in the bit.ly link (such as changing http://bit.ly/8n2DH6 to http://bit.ly/info/8n2DH6 to see the statistics, including the destination URL).

TinyURL
TinyURL offers a preview option that you turn on for your browser. Cookies save your preference, so when you click on a http://tinyurl.com/ link you will go to their site and see the full URL instead of going directly to the URL.

Your Direct Message Practices

Here are some questions for everyone in the Twittersphere. Do you send personalized or automatic welcome / Direct Messages on Twitter to new followers? Do you keep up with Direct Messages sent to you? What kind of messages do you prefer or despise?

Update
For those who wonder why DM’s are still important, I just went cleared through all of mine (from August – about 800+, now down to a bit over 100) and found some gems, including:

  • Two inquiries for freelance work on WordPress customizations
  • Several compliments for my site or tweets
  • One blog reader that noticed a site was duplicating my post content on their site (thanks @wchingya – their site is down now)
  • Thank you’s in response to me RT’ing articles
  • Messages letting me know a blogger referenced my site in their latest article
  • Several invites to connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other various networks

So thank you to all of you who have DM’d me in the last bit, and I’m sorry for the delay in reply, as it took awhile to weed through all of my messages. Also, since I like to greet everyone who follows me, and I don’t want to come off as too promotional, I have updated my welcome message to the following:

Thanks for following! I can help with WordPress, blogging, social media & more. I will reply! I’m also on http://facebook.com/kristihines.

I hope this will sound more welcoming, encourage some interaction with my followers, and help them find more about me if they choose.

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Comments

  1. says

    I have heard of people being overwhelmed by DM spam – but can I be safe to assume that this is because they are following a lot of people ? 500+ ? And most people they do not know ?

    I’ve only received a few DM spam but from friends I know personally. My profile is private and so I only allow a select individuals to follow me – perhaps this could also be it.

    I only DM on a very personal level – so you can guarantee no spam from me – unless my account was kaput !
    .-= Jaffer´s last blog ..Monday for meeting… tuesday for talking… =-.

  2. says

    I’m not a fan of automated DMs. In fact I find them very annoying. If I’m following you the best way to thank me is to follow me back, and you can rest assured that I’ve already been to your website (which is probably how I found your twitter account in the first place).

    Personal DMs are a great way to make sure someone that you actually know doesn’t miss something in your twitter stream or if you just want to say Hi. I sent 5 DM’s today to let people know that I mentioned them in my latest post, and I think they were all appreciative.

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest…and thanks for the URL preview links.

    @Ileane
    .-= ileane´s last blog ..Fun Twitter Promotions for Your Blog =-.

  3. says

    I guess in my heart of hearts I would prefer it if every DM would have a personal touch, but as you say that is pretty impractical. As a consequence of my general disgust with most Twitter DM’s, I pretty much tune them out entirely and I have not joined the bandwagon of automotic welcome DM’s. If I had to articulate a best practices that I would be ok with, I would say an introduction that tells me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and why I should care, but otherwise doesn’t really ask me to do anything except PERHAPS take notice.

    Personally, I don’t really send DM’s that often unless the person really catches my eye or we’re friendly in other capacities. I am interested to follow this conversation and hear the thoughts of others.
    .-= Jay Zuck´s last blog ..JZSOTD Belated One Year Anniversary, Art School Graduation Retrospective, and Giveaway =-.

  4. says

    This is a topic that has had my blood boiling these last few weeks! I really don’t get the automatic DM’s. Most of them are spam or self promotion, and, don’t get me wrong, I think one should promote “self” but I think you should do it the same way you do on a blog, through content. If you put interesting tweets out, I will notice and may click over to your profile and then click a link to your page. This reminds me of getting automatic emails from people after commenting on their blog, I promise I won’t be back if that happens (and it has). It is taking advantage of “trust”.

    Anyway, if there were less spammers just sending out DM’s of affiliates trying to make a quick buck, it probably wouldn’t bother me as much….
    .-= Keith@FenceMaterials´s last blog ..New Fence Products =-.

  5. says

    I used to do the auto DM to thank new followers thing but after some time I realized how impersonal and sometimes annoying auto DMs can be. Especially if a link to their website, blog or Ebook is included. Even if it links directly to the Ebook or whatever it still comes across as a bit spammy to me. There is a profile link in everyone’s profile so I know where to find the link if I’m interested.

    I do think DM has some value however. Sometimes you want to chit chat one on one with someone on Twitter and keep the conversation private or not annoy your followers with every fragment of the conversation. DM is a great way to do this. If I’m DM chatting with someone and we really want to chat it up can move the conversation to Skype or any other IM platform to get past the 140 character limit.
    .-= Gerald Weber´s last blog ..Why Guest Blogging Is An Ideal Link Building Strategy =-.

  6. says

    Sometimes DMs can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve been auto-following those who follow me, which means I end up getting a canned direct message from each new follower. This got a little crazy last week when I had a surge of skiing related twitter accounts start following me and sending DMs.

    I love to hear from people who are genuinely interested in what I have to say. But I’m a bit annoyed when the DMs are strictly related to buying something, subscribing to something, or visiting some vacation spot.
    .-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..Truth and Reality vs. Your Outlook and Perspective =-.

  7. says

    I have started to use socialoomph from about 2 weeks ago to send my new followers a welcome messages and just a link to Famous Bloggers blog to point them to it if they don’t know about it! I find this a very nice service, I just don’t feel good with those who send their affiliate links using this service!
    .-= Hesham @ FamousBloggers´s last blog ..Famous Bloggers Rock and Roll on Blog Engage =-.

  8. says

    I don’t like receiving automatic DMs. I think they are unnecessary as long as you have a link to your blog on your twitter profile, which almost everybody does. If I want to visit the blog I will. In fact I often check out the blog before I even click follow. To me, DMs should be for specific questions or to discuss something. Thank you for following DMs are meaningless even if not automated.
    .-= Jennifer/Connect with your Teens´s last blog ..Every Star Trek Movie and Episode of Original TV Series now available Online and OnDemand =-.

  9. says

    A friend used to insist on having conversations through twitter DM’s…including some big serious conversations and arguments…which, needless to say, it really wasn’t the best forum for. On the other hand, I’ve unfollowed people who insisted on having lengthy conversations with each other through public tweets, so I wish they’d discover DMing…
    .-= YogaforCynics´s last blog ..Vegetable Wisdom =-.

  10. says

    Auto-Dms whether encouraging or personally-sounding doesn’t give me a good impression. DM me not, after all, I’ve read your profile and checked if we have something in common or interesting to share before I even decided to follow you and if I happen to have some questions, then I’ll ask it via DM. That’s just my point.
    .-= Mathdelane´s last blog ..Blogging Mafia: Do They Really Exist? =-.

  11. says

    A great post. I do get a lot of those automatic DM’s I just delete them. Myself, I don’t use automatic DM’s, I’m in two minds as to weather they are helpful or not.

    I do think the DM feature is important, there is a lot of information that people can send to you that might be important, as you found out. Too many times we miss this, why, probably because we get so bombarded with auto DM’s that we miss the real personal ones.

    I have the view that I do not need a DM. I have already checked your profile, been to your website, see if I liked what I see, then I decided to follow you. IF you wanted to DM me, make it worthwhile and genuine and personal.

    You mentioned that you replied to one with out success, but similar can and does happen when you do not note your DMs, genuine messages awaiting your response gets lost in the SPAM.
    .-= Robert Bravery´s last blog ..12 days of Christmas my True Blog said to me =-.

  12. says

    Thanks for the article!

    I have to say I’m not a great fan of automated DMs – I like to think that there’s a human being at the end of a DM to me, rather than a script. That way I don’t feel such a plonker when, as a relative Twitter Newbie, I reply. :-)

    I come from a background where plaese and thank you were required parts of daily conversation, so I think saying ‘Thanks’ to someone who’s followed you can be nice. I have to say I’m picky; if I’m followed by someone who is already following 20,000 other people, then I won’t waste my bandwidth; if someone who is only following a few folks, especially others I respect, follows me, then I often will thank them.

    I suppose much depends upon whether you regard Twitter as a ‘numbers game’ or a ‘quality game’ as to how far you go with the social nicities.
    .-= Joe Pritchard´s last blog ..Is this really to the public good? =-.

  13. says

    It’s not a secret that Twitter is just big web marketing machine used by specialists of many kinds. And here we also get spammers, the whole internet industry is producing so much spam that we are being flooded by this thing.

  14. says

    I don’t auto-send DMs, because if someone chooses to follow me, I assume they know what I tweet about and have found value in it. They don’t need the sales pitch.

    I use DMs when I have something specific to tell that person, that I don’t want to clog the twitosphere with, and when I first start following someone, I’ll sometimes drop them a note telling them specifically WHY I started (i.e. you have some great mobile links, hey, I used to work in the accessibility field, etc etc). I fel like that actually starts you on the route to a more direct (no pun intended) relationship.
    .-= Andrea Hill´s last blog ..6 Reasons Your Organization Needs Google Voice =-.

  15. katmadison says

    I would never send a DM with a question to someone I was not following — simply b/c that person would not be able to reply. In my practice, DMs are for taking a conversation “offline” — like taking someone aside to have a conversation, clarify a point, etc.

    • says

      @katmadison, That is a good point… I have auto following turned on, but I wonder if that DM goes out before it actually follow the new people.

  16. malted_tea says

    Got over here from the “I’m Just Sharing” blog. I’ve got 2 Twitter profiles @dreadlocks (oldish) and @clickbliss (newish) and intend to create an eponymous one. All in an effort to segment my life online.

    Here I thought the biggest problem was managing these profiles, now I’m going to wonder if people think my DMs are automated! Sigh.

    This is a great list, if only to remind me that I can DM folks – personally – to ask: “How may I help you with TOPIC X?”

    When I was super active on Twitter back in 07/08, I found that all the business happened in the DMs (I made a lot of valuable contacts and added to my network) whereas the fun/trivial stuff happened in the public stream.

    Thanks for the post!

  17. says

    Hi Kristi!
    When I first started twitter I used to, like you and maybe most people, get excited when I got a direct message. Then I noticed that they were just automatic messages. Well most were. I do get a couple here and there that are real but most are automatic. Which are nice in a way, but really kind of annoying. Now I don’t really tend to look at all my direct messages and thats kind of a shame because there maybe someone out there that is sending me a real direct message. Well I don’t know what to do. I guess I will check them as I can.

  18. says

    I personally not a fan of DM and due to spam I’m now stop reading my DM. As a tech blogger I have very minimum time to spend in social site as I’m always busy to find new ideas, so it’s hard for me to reply each DM but in my initial days I tried to reply many DM’s but soon I realize they are just automated and I don’t need to reply them.
    .-= Arafat Hossain Piyada´s last blog ..Facebook may hurt your marriage life (Security Alert) =-.

  19. says

    Auto DMs hold the same value as spam. Same with those sneaky shorteners from total strangers, Like “Glad to meet you – go here Bit.lybullcrap”. I think we all thought we had it going on as early users, thinking we were actually building some meaningful networks only to find out that we were actually targets of spammers and even malware pranksters.

    The good vs bad ratio has fallen to new lows. Besides the folks that I know, I don’t do much with the others until the ones of interest are checked out.

    Nice post, Kristie!
    .-= Jimi Jones´s last blog ..Using NetworkedBlogs With Facebook =-.

  20. says

    Kristi, I love this article so so much. I love tweeting away…but somehow when i get those ghastly mafia messages…I just cant help but get mad. Also only recently i got a shortened url which was a hack site…thankfully my Antivirus was on so got saved…Hence your tips are awesome! I know i will be using them…and I so badly needed something like socialoomph..thanks for pointing me int he right direction.
    Lots of love and Seasons greetings to you and your family.
    Zeenat.
    .-= Zeenat{Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..Hearts Design =-.

  21. says

    Thank you very much for the URL shortener preview, I often wondered if there was a way you could tell just what you were opening, and if I didnt know the source I would pass it by. The thing that annoys me about DM’s is that it’s all self promotion, sell, sell, sell, totally NOT the way to use social media effectively, especially if you are Tweeting for business.

    I have tried many ways to interact with my followers and DM’ing them with a real question is met with silence. Only on a few occasions have I been able to accomplish a link swap or something mutually beneficial. Is it because 99% of Twitter users just don’t get it?

    I can just hear the suits in the corp office “well, Susan, good work! I see by your weekly Twitter report you Tweeted to our followers 250 times this week!” Good show! Ugh, ok, but what, if anything did she accomplish? Did she build any relationships that would have the potential to bring in new business? Did she interact with anyone who might have been willing to leave a comment on her blog, or maybe she left a comment somewhere and it grew into a dialog.

    These people are simply tweeting like bots, it’s just another chore that they have to keep up with. Then you have the scammers with their teeth whitening crap and their other vile offers with shortened URL’s and I aint going there.

    I came up with a list of names for useless or meaningless Tweets and DM’s but we could also poll your readers for suggestions too.

    What do you call a useless Tweet? Tworthless?, a Twavesty of social media useage?, a Tweeningless Tweet?, Twounterproductive tweets?, a Twaste of time?, Twaimless junk? Twinsignificant? Twivial tweets?, well you get the idea. There could be many more we could add.
    .-= Dick´s last blog ..Screenr Is Here! Web Based Video For Twitter =-.

  22. Website Design Reading says

    I completely ignore my DM stream. There is just so much junk in there that it’s impossible to manage it. So if you want to contact me – send me a @message!

  23. says

    I’m with most of the crowd here. I don’t send auto DMs and I don’t really care to receive them. I love DMs for personal communication or asking questions without involving the whole community.

  24. says

    I’m in two minds about automated DMs – most of the time I just delete them straight away. However, I’ve had one or two where I’ve responded and then I get a real reply and have been able to build up a good relationship.
    .-= New from Leeds SEO ThinkVisibility 2010 =-.

  25. says

    DMing can be really awesome, as you said, if you use it productively and not in a spamming manner. There’s plenty of great opportunities to connect with people from their DM: finding help, new blogs, freelance work and the like.

    I generally keep my DMs to quick business related messages, telling people I’d like to send them an email about the project we’re working on together.
    .-= New from Murlu 3 Easy Ways To Making More Sales (And How To Do Each) =-.

  26. says

    I didn’t start using Twitter until a couple of months ago. I basically wanted to use it to promote my business a little bit. One of the things I tried was creating a greeting message that read something like, “Hey thanks for following, now how about clicking on my affiliate link. haha! Just kidding!”. That isn’t the exact text but you can see that it has a joking tone to it. I get a lot of responses from people who were glad to see something unique in their inbox. Seems to work pretty well for me.
    John just posted Hypnotherapy Can Help You to Put Down that Cigarette

  27. says

    I think the era of people opening their DM messages has come and gone. I have thousands of them and never even bother checking – there is nothing new under the sun.

    I do suggest that my new followers come back to my blog and promote themselves with a dofollow link; that actually works great.

    Thanks for some ideas, Kristi; my Twitter marketing can always be better!

    Ana Hoffman
    http://www.TrafficGenerationCafe.com
    Ana just posted How To Use Google To Help You Convince Your List To Buy From You

  28. says

    This is an older article but it’s clearly pretty timeless as Twitter hasn’t gone away and neither have the wild and wacky DM messages.

    There are a few examples you mentioned but I have rarely experienced them. I’ve got the annoying robotic ones though. I think that a welcoming DM is cool but it has to be made real and manually. It needs to be really welcoming and it’s key to mention something else from within their twitter feed that shows you took at least a moment to connect.

    I liked what Ana sent me from Traffic Generation Cafe [odd her comment is the last one I can see as I write this]. She offered to head over to her site and introduce myself in a blog post comment. I thought it was very interesting and I also loved that she had a page like this on her site. I know that sending personal DM welcomes is not that efficient, but sometimes efficiency doesn’t get the message across.

    The other one I really liked from your list is one offering assistance. How Can i Help you with ____________. Very smart.

    I am finding some amazing gems going deep into your archives here. Thank you so much!

    Scott
    http://www.nuwomb.com
    Scott Webb just posted Cool Photography Stuff Worthy of Your Attention 1