Twitter Tip Tuesday is a weekly blog series from Sprout Social: Insights.

Every Tuesday we’ll focus on just one (1) Twitter Tip and show you how to integrate it into your social media strategy.

Today’s Twitter Tip Tuesday: To DM or not to DM

Twitter is an ever evolving landscape, and there are no clear rules on its utilization. In fact, that’s one of the aspects that people love – the ability to determine how you, as an individual or business, are going to put your stamp on tweets.

However, it must be said that time and again, when I have asked people this simple question “How do you feel about DMs (Direct Messages)”, the response has been overwhelmingly negative.

So, although there is a place for Direct Messages on Twitter, you’d be well advised to use them sparingly.

What is a DM?

Whereas a tweet (unless the person has a protected account) can be seen by anyone who takes the time to go to a user’s timeline, a DM or direct message (also referred to as ‘Messages’ in Twitter) is a private tweet between two users, and cannot be viewed by others.

You can always DM someone who follows you. They, however, cannot DM you if you do not follow them back.

And this is the crux of the problem. Direct Messages are generally fine if you want to convey a private message between you and a mutual follower. But sometimes, people take advantage of the fact that you are following them to send you direct messages that have very little to do with real, organic (and private) conversation.

For example:

The Spam DM

“Thank you for following me, click here for more information about my services”.

To the business person who sent this, this is Twitter marketing at it’s finest. To you, a DM like this will probably be viewed simply as spam.

The “I don’t understand DMs” DM

Have you seen DMs like this: “Looking for people interested in appearing in an article – DM me with your email address”?

But I can’t DM you – you don’t follow me. And chances are when I realize this one sided relationship being exploited by you, I won’t be following you for much longer either.

Phishing and Virus DMs

There have been numerous phishing scams on Twitter, propagated through DMs. Users who have been on Twitter for a while are wary of links in messages sent via DM.

Auto DMs

It seems like a time efficient way of doing business. Set up a Twitter account, with auto-follow and an automated DM ‘thank you’ for everyone that follows you.

Businesses that do so can miss out on all of the amazing interactions that take place everyday on Twitter – people looking for services, other people making recommendations and best of all – genuine conversation.

Why, if an automated DM is generally disliked or ignored, would you use it to solicit business? It might be more time consuming, but in the long run it is more rewarding and more effective to engage with potential clients and customers. Out in the open – where everyone can see you!


People build trust on Twitter through these open conversations and tweets. They form an impression of you and your business through the style of your communication. Conversations via DM are, by their very nature, closed.


Nothing on Twitter, not even a DM, is private. People can, have and will continue to screen capture. Some 3rd party Twitter applications allow you to email your tweets, and even your DMs.

Remember this when engaging in supposedly “behind the scenes” conversations. Don’t write it if you don’t want the world to see it.

Complaint Handling: An Effective use of DMs

There is at least one place where the DM can be invaluable, and highly effective: complaint handling.

For example:

Person A is VERY unhappy about the services of Business B and doesn’t hesitate to tell the entire Twitterverse.

“I don’t like Business B, they said they would fix my widget, and I got it back – unfixed. And they still charged me.”

If Business B has been engaging via Twitter, and monitoring Twitter for mentions of their brand or service, they now have the opportunity to say:

“We’re sorry the situation has not been resolved to your liking. Now following you. Please DM us w/ details.”

You can now take the conversation out of the general tweet stream, and reach a resolution with your customer. Will it always work? No, but you will have made the effort – and that will be seen by everyone.

What do you say?

Where do you fall on the DM ‘love it or leave it’ spectrum? Have you gotten DM spam? Have you sent DM spam? Let us know by leaving a comment below.