Twitter allows Direct Messages from unfollowed followers

Twitter has made a change to Direct Messages which can allow you to send a Direct Message to other users, regardless of whether they follow you or not.

Equally, you could now find yourself receiving DMs from users you’ve never followed.

The change was spotted not via an official announcement but by a subtle change in your account settings. Log in to Twitter on web, have a quick scroll down and you’ll find yourself presented with a whole new check box which gives a brief explanation of the function.

Twitter users will see the new DM options in their account settings page
Twitter users will see the new DM options in their account settings page

As news of the new feature spread, many tech headlines screamed that the function would instantly result in a crippling onslaught of DM span from any number of unwanted/dodgy sources.

Alas not, it’s very important to note that, by default, the function is turned off. You have to make the conscious decision to turn it on, in full knowledge that you then open your DM inbox wider than it’s ever been. But that’s a pretty fundamental difference, it’s your choice. The core Twitter experience is unaffected.

So why has Twitter made this change?

Quite simply, no one knows for sure yet. However, there’s been plenty of speculation as to their reasoning, from encouraging deeper conversations to becoming a messaging platform to making it easier for companies to deal with their customers.

Personally, I suspect it’s just another part of Twitter’s continuing drive to maximise their value to the business/marketing sector, or any other avenue that might lead to increased monetisation.

Any functionality that may better suit that audience (without alienating users) is a positive for Twitter. Particularly in light of their impending IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in November, they want to pucker up and be as pretty a proposition to the corporate world as they can.

Who benefits?

Well, besides Twitter, it could benefit marketers who wish to target users relevant to their interests via DM. Though that would be limited to users who have the option selected. It could allow a higher value ad product for Twitter and give said marketers the ability to reach out to key influencers on Twitter without their targeting being made public. Stealthy but effective.

Customer service could see the greatest benefit with users being able to converse directly with companies, making providing personal information such as account details a lot easier. No more “please follow for DM” type messages that have been all too common.

Public figures such as politicians could now be contacted discreetly and directly. Same goes for journalists who often rely on secrecy when dealing with sources. Making appointments, posing questions to practitioners etc could be possible and so on and so forth.

As such, it seems to be a quiet win all round.

What are the downsides?

The hyped headlines about the feature becoming a magnet for all sorts of DM spam were over the top but there is an element of truth to the claim. Any follower, spam or not, can DM at will. However, with an account needing to follow you before they can DM that provides a degree of protection, you can simply block any user that spams you. How frequently that might be required could be a problem.

Unwanted attention. Not necessarily spam in itself but contact from those users on the fringe of your peripheral Twitter-vision. Possibly not the sort you want that level of direct contact with. You could ignore any messages but the point is you’ll still receive them. As for trolls, well, if they avoid the spam list then there’s a very good chance they won’t ignore the block-list.

One thing that does concern me is the potential for more discussions going private. Whilst there may be privacy benefits for some scenarios, it does mean that certain conversations may no longer be in the public eye and this could be detrimental. For example, customer service – if a new product develops faults affecting large volumes of customers this could now be dealt with silently via DM. As such, the public may not know that this is a problem affecting thousands of others.

In essence, the transparency that social media has forced in consumer relationships through public discourse may be hindered. Whilst companies might appreciate keeping some dirty linen to a strictly one-on-one basis, it’s the end user that benefits from public knowledge.

Should I tick the box?

That’s up to you. It might be interesting to try it out but first, you might want to ask yourself what your followers would tell you via DM that they wouldn’t tell you publicly. It could be something great, it could be something horrifically inappropriate or, most likely, it won’t be very much at all.

Only one way to find out…

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