What I learned from testing automatic direct messaging on Twitter on both personal and corporate accounts

I decided to look into the question of automatic direct messaging (DM) on Twitter, because I was curious about 1. how it worked technically, 2. what benefits it could bring to social media managers, and 3. what people on Twitter actually thought about them. I noticed indeed that I started to get more automatic DMs in my Twitter inbox in the second half of last year and they are now taking up almost all of my inbox – that is, until I delete them.

So instead of just figuring out whether I liked automatic DMs or not personally or whether they were good or bad for businesses to use, I did a little experiment.

Experimenting with automatic DMs

For 2 months, I had an automatic DM on my personal account, and I did the same on one of the corporate accounts I manage. To do this I use CrowdFire, an app that let’s you manage your followers and find new ones based on other Twitter accouts or similar interests to yours.

Mind you, my messages were not those horrible suggested DMs which basically push advertisement of one’s website, Facebook page or Linkedin account in your face, together with a little promotion of the ‘free’ tool you are using to push out these DMs. No, they were simply welcoming new followers and telling them what sort of content they can expect from us, ending with a question inviting the new followers to tell us what they like to tweet about.

I also did two surveys asking my Twitter followers what they thought about automatic DMs. Here are the results of the experiment and the surveys.

Automated direct messaging on personal accounts

On my personal account I engaged with over 200 people as they reacted to my automatic DM. As it was not branded and I wasn’t selling anything, it probably made it easier for people not familiar with automatic DMs to think this was a message crafted by me specifically for them.

Nonetheless, I did engage in an online exchange with each and every one of them after they told me what they were interested in or asked me more questions about my own interests. I received only two negative comments about sending automatic DMs, one from a person who unfollowed me right after receiving my automatic DM and telling me why she did it, and another one from a person who told me they had been tempted to unfollow me, but they sticked around because my content was interesting. I wanted to know more from the person who unfollowed me what her arguments were (she works in digital marketing), but as she unfollowed me, we couldn’t have this private conversation. Pity!

Had I stopped my experiment at this stage, I would have probably kept the automatic DM, although I realized it is quite time-consuming to reply to new followers once they engage with my automatic DM.

DMs on professional accounts

I was a bit hesitant to test automatic DMs on a corporate account, but thought that it was worth trying since a lot of companies use them. Again the message was crafted in a way that was welcoming, personal and informative without sending people off to our other social media platforms or corporate sites. We were inviting people to submit any question they might have about what the organisation does.

Here too the automatic DM generated a lot of conversations, and we had to answer over a 100 questions, which would have probably never been triggered hadn’t we offered to answer any question these followers had about our work. There were less reactions than to the automatic DM on my personal account, but every question or comment required a response or acknowledgement.

As a consequence we felt that the return on investment for the automatic DM wasn’t good for a corporate account. It took away too much of the limited time of a social media manager, time which could have been dedicated to tweets benefiting everyone of our followers, not just one. So the decision was taken not to renew the automatic DM after our 2-month trial, despite overwhelmingly positive reactions by followers.

At this stage I would like to point out that neither on my personal account nor on the professional account I experimented with did the trial phase come with a statistically significant decrease in the number of followers. If people didn’t like automatic DMs, they didn’t show it by unfollowing the accounts, or only marginally so.

Capturing people’s perceptions of automatic messaging

This brings me to my last finding about how people perceive automatic DMs on Twitter. The two surveys I did garnered 76 replies, which is not a lot but can already give an idea of what people think about these DMs. Knowing that my Twitter audience is rather geeky and tech-savvy, one can infer that results would probably be different with Twitter newbies.

The results can be roughly divided as follows:

  • 35% of people surveyed thought automatic DMs were annoying;
  • 15% said they would unfollow a person using automatic DMs;
  • 20% thought they were welcoming,
  • and 30% didn’t care.

The results are interesting because they also forced me to analyse my own reaction to DMs. At first I didn’t care, but now that I get really a lot (I would say every 5th person I follow on Twitter, including TrueTwit verifications which I never accept, just too lazy), they are starting to slowly annoy me. I just delete them, but don’t unfollow people or organizations because of that.

Conclusion: drop automatic DMs unless you are ready to engage properly with your followers

Based on the above experiments and the surveys, here’s my advice:

If you are a person, get rid of automatic DMs. They don’t add anything to your online presence, unless you want to really engage with the people who follow you.

If you are a business or organisation, DMs may be interesting for you to know more about the needs and interests of your new followers, but stop pushing links to other social media channels in your DM. If you do use an automatic DM, you have to be ready to engage with each and every follower reacting to your DM. That’s the deal!

If you have a very tech-savvy audience, I would advise against using automatic messaging. There is DM fatigue with marketing and social media experts which triggers a negative reaction from most of them at the sight of an automatic DM. You would only risk damaging your reputation by doing so.

Are you using automatic DMs? Have you noticed any positive ROI?

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