Twitter Auto-DM = Social Media #Fail

Many Twitter participants in an effort to appear welcoming set up an auto-DM (automatic direct message) that responds to new followers. While this sounds inviting, in practice it’s often just plain irritating. As a result, an auto-DM with the smell of a sales message is usually of little use to either the sender or recipient. It’s the Twitter version of “Enough about me, what do you want to do for me?”

The reason that this is a social media #fail is that it’s the opposite of how to engage in the social media ecosystem. While it appears to be helpful, it’s all about you. Who wants to join a social media tribe only to be immediately assaulted by a promotional harangue? By contrast, in a social media setting, it’s all about your audience and the public. In social media, you are expected to contribute to the greater good, and, only then, maybe do a soft sell!

Here’s an example of a Twitter auto-dm does all the wrong things. All identifying Twitter handles, links and references have been removed to protect the guilty.

Before you consider setting up a Twitter auto-dm, put yourself in the recipient’s place. How will they feel when they see this targeted message that you’re sending to anyone who does you the honor of following your messages on Twitter? Remember you have to answer What’s In It For Me? (aka WIIFM) for your audience. Here are three reasons such an auto-DM is a social media fail:

  1. It’s not personal. To the recipient, it looks like a robo-message that they get via a variety of different channels. It doesn’t talk to the recipients or their needs. It doesn’t show any engagement. It’s simply a push message to let me think that you’re on top of things. At the very least, tweet me with something more targeted.
  2. It’s looks like s*p*a*m. It doesn’t matter that you’re sending me a tweet. It’s not a communication that matters to me which is the core definition of spam for most recipients.
  3. It’s contextually irrelevant. It has everything to do with you and your goals and nothing to do with what your up to. In social media, context is king.

Does this mean that you should never use an auto-dm? No. You should use auto-DMs when they are beneficial for your followers. Think about them as you would an auto-responder on your personal email. People tend to expect a response to direct messages on Twitter. Here are four examples where an auto-dm could work.

  1. On vacation or leave of absence. In this case, you need to give people alternate contacts.
  2. Offline for an extended period of time. You may not want to disclose the details but want people to know when you’ll be back.
  3. Changed jobs. If you’re the person behind the brand, you must explain the new contact
  4. Changed Twitter handles. In this case you need to re-direct followers.

While every marketer needs to continually innovate and try out new communications channels, it’s important to make sure that the tools you use and your communications are useful and relevant to your audience. Impersonal promotional messages don’t make a great first impression.

What do you think about Twitter auto-DMs? Do you have any suggestions to help readers use them productively?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Here are related columns to help you with Twitter:

Hat tip to @SamFiorella, @Dayngr and @LearnGrow for inspiring this post.

Photo credit: Amboo who? via Flickr

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7 Responses to Twitter Auto-DM = Social Media #Fail

  1. Rachmat says:

    Greetings from us,

  2. grahamuslim says:

    terima kasih atas artikelnya. bisa menambah wawasan kami yang bergerak di bidang pemasaran. semoga bisa terus memberi informasi yang baik bagi kami di

  3. 1) I am gonna bookmark this for a future post. 2) Tweet this b/c it just can’t be repeated enough. ITA with Dayngr that you listed some good reasons why it’s a bad idea. FWIW.

  4. Dayngr says:

    I love that you took it a step further than just saying auto-DMs are a bad idea. You’ve given your readers food for thought and some examples where auto-DMs may be considered useful. Thanks for the hat tip!

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Dayngr — As a member of the social media ecosystem, I think that it’s important to pay it forward and help people to learn more. Happy Marketing, Heidi Cohen

  5. Heidi,

    I’ve struggled with this! I agree that 99% of the auto-DMs I get are annoying and/or self-serving, and for this reason, I hadn’t created one until very recently.

    It took me at least 3 tries (of semi-annoying/self-serving) to finally arrive at an auto-DM that I feel is acceptable.

    The question is: if you really really really believe that your product or service or information is incredibly valuable for the right people, how do you NOT promote it (as non-annoyingly as you can) in every way that you can, including auto-DMS?

    Like I said, I only recently created an auto-DM, and I tried my best. This could be yet another learning experience for me, as I’ve made mistakes before!

    Follow me, get my auto-DM, if it is still a #fail, let me know, and I’ll take it down.


    Kelly (@Twylah)

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Kelly — Thank you for asking. Promoting yourself on Twitter is fine but it’s important to manage the promotion to information ratio. Rule of thumb is one promotion for every ten tweets about other people. You must supply info that people need and pay it forward. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen