Survey: Twitter Auto DMs Are Unwelcome, Diminish Influence

In a blog post a week ago, I stated that Auto Direct Messages (Auto DMs) on Twitter are unwelcome. Many agreed that these preprogrammed messages sent to all new followers are annoying, but others vehemently disagreed. To bring clarity to the topic, we conducted a survey that was completed by 336 individuals. The results are unequivocal: People hate to receive Auto DMs, think less of those who send them, and are quite likely to unfollow the senders or even report them as spam.

My recommendation based on the survey results is short and sweet: Don’t send Auto DMs. There may be exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. This is because the actions of many others have already destroyed people’s expectations of and attitudes toward the medium of Auto DMs. Auto DMs are the unsolicited email spam and telemarketing of the social media world; sometimes those discredited tactics work, but usually they spark response from very few recipients while damaging the senders’ reputation and influence among many, many more.

No matter how much you rationalize that your Auto DM is more welcome, personal, social, authentic, or helpful than everyone else’s, the data from this casual survey speaks for itself: By a margin of 40 to 1, survey respondents who have an opinion on Auto DMs indicate they find them unwelcome and usually do not get any information of value in the Auto DMs they receive. Almost three-quarters of respondents chose, “I find Auto DMs to be unwelcome because they usually do not contain information I find valuable,” versus 2% who said, “I find Auto DMs to be welcome because they often contain information I find valuable.”

Among people with an opinion, Auto DMs are 31 times more likely to hurt relationships than help. Two-thirds of survey respondents chose, “I have less respect or am more likely to have negative feelings for people who send me Auto DMs,” while 2% answered, “I have more respect or am more likely to have positive feelings for people who send me Auto DMs.”

Not only do Auto DMs negatively alter perceptions, they also encourage negative behaviors. Four out of 10 people unfollow most of those who send Auto DMs, and one-third of recipients say they have reported someone who sent them an Auto DM as a spammer to Twitter. Twitterers who are reported as spammers are at risk of losing their accounts including their followers and content.

The survey participants tended to be much more engaged with Twitter than is average — those who completed the survey said they follow an average of 978 people, compared with a recent Forrester survey of online adults in the US that found the average was 77. But before you discount the findings as being unique to heavy social media users, you should know the sentiment was extremely negative among newer and less engaged Twitterers. For example, among the 39 respondents who joined Twitter in 2010 and answered the question, 18 (46%) find Auto DMs unwelcome, compared with two (5%) who find them welcome.  

If you are among the 2.5% of survey respondents who send Auto DMs, I hope this data will convince you to alter this habit. There are very few scenarios under which sending Auto DMs will help rather than hinder your objectives on Twitter. If you are a Forrester subscriber, watch for an upcoming Twitter report that is in the works based on this and other data.  

Comments

I agree with the general

I agree with the general sentiment, I get tons of welcome messages inviting me to read someone's secret to success ebook or join them on Facebook, and yes those I generally blow by those. But here's where I'm curious, how to people feel about a note that says "Thanks for following me," Auto DM or not?

Twitter is known to be a network of sharing, and most people take the time to thank those who RT or mention them. With that in mind is a DM that says "hi, thanks for following and I hope to chat/get to know you better" unwelcome? I generally say thanks to those that follow me, and I say about the same thing every time, so it might as well be an auto DM, but curious if youe research indicated anything about this type of "welcome" message, auto or not.

I'd advise against welcome messages

Nicole,

While the intent of a welcome message is admirable, I'd still recommend against sending them. You're on Twitter to connect with others--the assumption is that we're all happy when we are followed back. The welcome message doesn't really add to the relationship but instead becomes more clutter for others to wade through. And, the results of this survey could not be any clearer. (Have you ever tried to find 75% people to agree on anything?!?)

The only exception is if you can personalize the welcome in a way that makes it more valuable to the recipient. I don't mean adding their name, but perhaps you find something they've said in a tweet or included in the bio with which you especially connected. In other words, if you go through the effort to REALLY connect and not just offer a generic welcome, then there would tend to be more value in the eyes of the receiver.

I hope that helps. Thanks for the comment.

Four of ten unfollow?

Augie, thank you for sharing, the results are certainly interesting. The negative sentiment figures are not that surprising, although I would suspect that it is often the hollow or self-serving nature of the Auto DM that lowers opinions.

The statistic here that really strikes me is that 4 out of 10 people say they unfollow most people that send Auto DMs. I have a little difficulty believing this.

First, if it is true, sending an Auto DM would presumably lower followers by around 30%, which would discourage Auto DMs, and we would see them tapering off sharply. I am guessing the real behavior is different, and I would be very interested in seeing a real life test. If someone can send an Auto DM to half of new followers, and then look at unfollow rates from each group after a week, it would be very interesting. I suspect we would see a difference closer to 10%, or even less.

Second, if it is true, there is very little commitment in a follow and very little intent to engage. Personally, I am annoyed more often than not by an Auto DM, and my opinion of the person brand may be lowered. However, I only occasionally unfollow because of an Auto DM. Normally, if I follow, I'm usually interested enough that one bad tweet or DM isn't going to send me running for the unfollow button.

@Nicole, unfortunately the 'standard' DM you send is likely lumped in with Auto DM's in the minds of many, because these 'thanks' often seem hollow based on future behavior. When I receive a 'thanks for following, look forward to reading your tweets' from someone with 100,000+ followers, and I think it was sent to everyone that followed them, I don't believe they will actually be seeing what I tweet. However, this isn't offensive, especially compared to the invitations to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook (with individuals no less, not brand accounts!), which for many are places for personal or professional connections that exist outside of social networks.

@wittlake

I think that stat is probably right

Great observations, Eric.

I suspect that 4 in 10 stat is accurate. The reason those who send Auto DMs may not notice is that many are using an Auto-Follow tool. If you use a tool that randomly adds 100s of new followers a day, you probably don't notice if 40% of them evaporate.

Thanks for the input.

Thanks for conducting and

Thanks for conducting and sharing the results, Augie. I was admittedly surprised about the number of people who said they don't care (probably because I'm so annoyed by DMs!).

The bottom line is that "auto" DMs are just that: automatic, not personal. Even though we can simply delete and/or unfollow the person who uses them, they're intrusive and impersonal, which goes against the No. 1 benefit of using social media.

May I extend these thoughts to businesses who are increasingly using the same practice via telephone? A recorded message saying "Happy Birthday" from an auto dealership is as unwelcome, if not more, than a DM.

Thanks again, Augie ;)

Automatic Phone Calls

Gail,

I've gotten those annoying automated candidate calls, but I've never gotten the sort of "Happy Birthday" messages you described. That would be TRULY annoying and damanging to relationships. Great analogy!

Thanks,
Augie

Perfect timing for this information!

Your research is very interesting, and I was just considering if I should put effort into such a strategy. I have decided against based on your post and research. Thank you!

Your comment made me very happy, Amy

I appreciate that you found the survey results helpful and acted on them. I'm sure that's the right decision in the long haul!

Bias

This is another example of how the wording of the question determines the outcome of responses.

If you ask people if the subscribe to an email newsletter, or a new website if they want a confirmation email, the answer would be YES. An auto follow DM message is similar in it's purpose. Automation is not the enemy. It is what people have come to expect.

Disagree with "Bias"

While a human must set an auto anything, people have not come to expect automation in everything. Businesses often use it without asking customers because it's easier or less expensive for them. I've never heard or read anyone saying "I really love that automatic response," but I have read the wrath of those who don't like it.

Email is not Twitter

David, I believe you are in correct. An email confirmation may be welcome because registration into someone else's system is not confirmed--did it take, will I get the mesages I want, etc. Twitter has that confirmation--I click follow, I am following. There is absolutely no need to confirm the follow.

You can interpret the results any way you want, but as a researcher I have almost NEVER seen this sort of strong sentiment. It's hard to get that many people to agree on anything. If you send Auto DMs, you can continue to do so based on any justification you wish, but you cannot change others' reaction to your Auto DMs.

Augie, Thanks for sharing

Augie,

Thanks for sharing this research. To be honest, most don't even look at their DMs. How do people find them annoying? I think they are only annoying to those that let it get to them. I've heard comments over the last few days on some accounts; however, these are complainers in general. Whenever one sends a DM to someone tell them via @ reply to check their DM. If they are annoying to many; perhaps Twitter should stop auto DM's in general? What about Tweeters out there who feel slighted because you did not say welcome to them either?

We need to grab lunch sometime when I'm in your neck of the woods. I'll expense it!

While I can see how this

While I can see how this method can bother people, there is an option for people to opt out of receiving these types of messages.

Auto dm's are usually handled by a third-party app using twitter's api, instructions to opt out of these is documented on the twitter web site.

Spam is spam

First of all, I'm not sure you're correct. If the Twitter site allows me to opt-out of receiving messages from third-party apps, I couldn't find it. Can you share a link?

Secondly, it seems you're suggesting the onus is on the recipient and not the sender to make sure messages have value. That seems silly to me. It's like spammers sending any message to any person and justifying it by saying, "Well, we have an opt-out link at the end of every message." Or, phone marketing people trying to excuse calling everyone by saying, "Well, consumers could block our number if they don't want to hear from us."

But lastly, the real problem with your suggestion is this: Sending DMs people find unwelcome and spammy (whether they're automated or not) causes people to think less of the sender, to unfollow, and to report senders for spam. The lesson here isn't that senders of annoying DMs need to educate people on how to block messages like the ones they're sending but that senders run the risk of losing followers, ruining their reputation or having their account canceled by Twitter.

An old friend of mine is a long-time email marketer, and she says, "Spam is in the eye of the beholder." She knows that people can opt into an email list, but if marketers send messages people find spammy, many won't simply unsubscribe but instead will click the "spam" button in their email client. When this happens in sufficient number, it decreases deliverability to everyone. The message is that securing opt-in (much like a Twitter follow) is not enough--you must continue to deliver value.

Thanks for the input, but I disagree that the idea that Auto DMs are okay and safe for those sending them because people have the ability to search through Twitter's Help info and find a way to block them.

Thank you for pointing out

Thank you for pointing out that I am not totally correct. Support for this is not offered through Twitter but through the third-party apps themselves.

I was on my phone while reading this and posted a hasty reply without being able to digest the full post. There are third party applications that send Auto DM's and tweeple have to opt-out of receiving DM's from them directly. The most recent info I have found on this is written about at:

http://thesocialmediaguide.com.au/2010/07/06/how-to-stop-direct-message-...

The most notable application used for Auto DM "spamming" is probably still Socialoomph, which I admit to being guilty of using in the past. Although I have found that reading posts like this have helped me to re-evaluated the practice about six months ago.

I fall into that small percentage of people that don't have a strong opinion about Auto DM's, so I guess I have difficulty in sympathizing with those that find it offensive or unwelcomed. However, I do agree that based on this survey, it is better to err on the side of caution if choosing to continue the practice and be aware of the consequences. Do so at your own risk. Much like with email marketing.

And to give you and idea of where I would fit into the survey. I am personally not that active on Twitter. I only follow and have followers of around 600 people each.

Thanks for the useful post and thoughtful reply, I guess I said all this just to sum it all up in this way. It is not that I think "that Auto DMs are okay and safe for those sending them because people have the ability to search through Twitter's Help info and find a way to block them." But rather, I am more cynical in thinking that they will never go away, much like spam in our regular emails.

As long as tools exist to help makes things "easier" for people, someone will find a way to abuse them. My hope is that people who find useful posts like this evaluate their own practices and help make the social landscape better for everyone.