A Plan To Rid Twitter Of Auto DMs (But Only With Your Help)

Some blog posts generate little reaction; some generate a lot; and sometimes it is a single idea contained within a blog post that spurs the greatest response. I recently authored a diatribe entitled "Eight Things I'm Sick Of In Social Media."  The comments associated with the post are fascinating and informative, but one point created the strongest and most supportive reaction:  When I said I was sick of Auto DMs on Twitter.  (For those who don't know, Auto DMs are generic, pre-programmed responses that are automatically sent to each new follower on Twitter.)

One commenter, Maria Langer, said: "PLEASE OH PLEASE EVERYONE! Block and report the folks who use automated DMs or @replies. These people are spammers!"  If her reaction sounds exaggerated, then you haven't seen the results of the online survey we conducted. When asked about Auto DMs, 72% of people said they find Auto DMs unwelcome and 66% have less respect for the people who send them.  Maria's strong attitude matches that of most Twitter users.

So, if we (almost) all hate Auto DMs, how can we combat the flow of annoying and often spammy Auto Direct Messages cluttering our Twitter inboxes?  We could unfollow or block each sender, but that actually won't change their behavior. Since many of these folks either manually or automatically follow large numbers of people on Twitter, the fact some portion of new followers immediately disappears probably goes unnoticed.  A stronger action is required to encourage these people to stop.  

If we want to change behaviors, then we must take a more direct approach to educate, help and scare those who use Auto DMs.  Here's what I've been doing with some success: I respond to Auto DMs with a DM of my own:

Pls stop sending auto DMs. They're unwelcome, decrease followers & increase spam reports. Survey: http://bit.ly/StopAutoDMs

I was concerned this response might cause a negative reaction, but after three weeks using this technique I've yet to get an angry message in return. Most ignored my helpful advice; some protested that their DM was not automatic (which leads to a different conversation about the danger of sending DMs that appear to be generic and automatic); and I'm very happy to report I've had a couple successes.  Two people, @newmedium and @webyogi, thanked me for the information and cancelled their Auto DMs.  I hope I don't embarrass these folks by mentioning they are reformed Auto DMers, but I was very impressed with their openness to feedback and willingness to change (which is, after all, the core of social media success, isn't it?)  Please follow them -- they've earned it!

So, if you want to help stop Auto DMs, I'd ask that you get proactive and assertive.  Copy that tweet and use it any time you're the recipient of an annoying Auto DM.  I've stored that tweet in a small TXT file saved on my desktop so it's available any time I need it (but you can save it any way you wish).

Think of it as a Twitter intervention: If a sufficient number of people care enough to cure the senders of Auto DMs of their bad habit, we can make a dent in those annoying generic messages; plus, responding with feedback and information can help those folks be more successful on Twitter.  Please give this a try and let me know what happens.  If you do this and have any horror stories or successes, please post them here. Or if you have other ideas on how to fight Auto DMs, I'm all ears!


How to stop the Auto DM Pyramid Scheme

Awareness is key I think and not just at the more obvious places like the point of contact when someone sends you a auto DM that you just followed.

I don't attend these but my gut tells me that the Auto DM approach feels like part of the package they must be teaching at seminars around the world titled, "Become an Overnight Billionaire using Social Media", or the like. The secondary education circuit filled with seeming pyramid schemes for how to use various social media tools seems like it must be promoting using Auto DM as an essential step in maximizing your effort on Twitter. I think if you are a speaker at any related industry or event/workshop then don't tell or encourage people to use Auto DM's. We could cut a huge % of this crap out of if we remove it from the educational events out there and instead promote and educate on, "why not to use it!" For every SXSW Interactive there are seemingly 50+ smaller events with seemingly misguided social media "power" seminars. Likewise if you are at an education type of event and anyone encourages this in their presentation, stand up and tell them what bad advice it is... or if you see anything in an agenda with a workshop promoting using Auto DM's, simply don't go.

Aside from educational related places where awareness of this as a negative counter productive behavior needs heightened awareness, anyone with a blog or means to get the word out of why not to use it, should write about it.

I started to DM people back that Auto DM'd me but I don't think people always got it. Too many out there at the end of the day will only see social media tools as a megaphone or people crawler, especially on Twitter. Set up an account, auto follow people based on keywords, set up an Auto DM, never reply to any mentions or anyone else and only post updates with links to their efforts. There are spammers and then their are people like these I often dub the megaphoners. Not seeing how we will reduce the %'s of megaphoners out there until there is a healthy share of awareness and educational opportunities discussing how not to use social media instead of just, "How to Use Social Media Tools to be a Billionaire, win friends, win the Triple Crown, date a movie star, have an instant 200,000+ friends you never knew you had and more... but wait for this one time low low offer you can discover how you can set up an Auto DM to make even more money and get even more friends, operators standing by!"

We can't change all those minds, but...

You're right--some people are just out to "make money" and see Auto DMs not as a brand- or reputation-building tool but as a direct response tool. We can't prevent those people, but I suspect many senders of Auto DMs may now know the damage they're doing to their own Twitter goals. I figure if we can just change a few minds, we'll be better for it!

Thanks for the comment!

My hero

Augie, for this you get my support, my loyalty and if it succeeds, a holiday bonus. ;-) Funny I never thought of replying to them like this. Not ALL auto-DMs are all-bad; the one-time generic "Thanks for following" is harmless enough though still off-putting. But when it's links to subscriptions and e-books, repeated spamming.. that's gotta go. Look forward to testing this, thanks.


Thanks, but I am not deserving of a hero label. But I will take the support and the holiday bonus! :)

Let me know how responding to Auto DM senders goes for you, please.

Another success!

I had a DM discussion with someone who sent an Auto DM (or a personal DM that looked automatic) to thank me for following. In the end, he said, "appreciate your taking the time to address this with me." I think there is a greater openness to feedback and change than perhaps we give may think!


I think many people do this because it seems (or seemed) like the thing to do. Many are simply mimicing what has come before. Some don't even know they are doing it.

Maybe I'm on the extreme end of the dissatisfaction curve, but I find even the "hey, thanks for follow me, I look forward to our interactions" type of DM troubling. Over time I have correlated in my head (rightly or wrongly) that type of DM with other things during the normal course of twitter streamdom that I do not particularly care for. As such, I have no problem sending Augie's suggested verbiage to any and all "offenders".

You're not alone, Sean

Sean, I agree--the "Thanks for the follow" variety of DMs are just as annoying as the ones that try to sell me something. I'm on Twitter, hence I'm there to connect and the "thank you" is implied and understood. Who wants hundreds of copy cat "thank you" messages flooding their inbox? While some people might argue these are "nice," it's important to recognize the ways in which Twitter is not email or some other communications model--and it isn't "nice" to flood a person's Twitter inbox with a bunch of low-value DMs.

Thanks for the input!

That's a good idea but ...

The DM in response is a good idea but is there any way to automate it?


Fight fire with fire?

Cliff, you made me laugh. Fighting auto DMs with Auto DMs sounds like a slipper slope (but wish we could)!