As news broke that Twitter is rolling out a new option for its direct message (DM) feature, reactions ranged from indifference to downright panic.
A Twitter user reported that Twitter plans to let users opt in to receive DMs from anyone, regardless whether that person follows back or not. Traditionally, two users had to mutually follow each other for DM to work. Now that no longer has to be the case.
If you don’t see this setting in your account, that’s because the feature isn’t available to everyone yet (although it appears that some have had the option since late 2011).
Early analyses tend to conclude that this move is good for brands, good for spammers and bad for consumers. I see myself straddling both the brand marketer and consumer worlds. As a business owner, I welcome any opportunity to connect with customers and potential customers. As an everyday Twitter user, I’d prefer if my DM inbox wasn’t flooded with spam (more than it already is).
The Impact on Customer Service
This new change will benefit brands that use Twitter as a customer service channel. By allowing their accounts to accept DMs from anyone, brands can receive private customer service messages from customers, without having to first follow them. That may prevent customers from broadcasting their frustrations publicly, not to mention their sensitive account information. This could greatly benefit larger brands that receive thousands of daily requests via Twitter.
For airlines, cable companies and other industries with high numbers of service complaints, this new feature also lets brands move a complaint or other conversation offline as soon as possible. I imagine customers may benefit here as well, as some people may prefer to use Twitter as their communication channel, but don’t necessarily want to be publicly followed by Brand X, Y or Z.
The Impact on Spammers
To Twitter’s credit, the company made this change an opt-in feature. If you are happy with the status quo, you don’t have to change a thing. I imagine most Twitter users (at least, the non-branded accounts) will not opt in to receive DMs from unknown users.
However, for those users and brands who do switch over, spam could become an issue. Unscrupulous spammers may have an easier time reaching the DM inboxes of brands and company accounts. That means users will have to exercise extra security caution when opening DM links.
The Impact on Marketing
While the new DM feature’s impact on customer service is easy to grasp, its application for marketers is yet unclear. My business rarely uses DMs as is. If someone is looking for information or has a specific question, it’s better for us to send a public tweet in response. That way, the hashtags and discussion thread can be located by anyone else looking for advice on a similar topic. The very beauty of Twitter lies in its public nature; that’s what sets it apart from Facebook, LinkedIn and email. There’s no reason to hide many of these conversations.
However, there may be occasional situations where a business prefers to communicate privately via Twitter. For example, a brand may want to send an exclusive coupon code to its top customers, without broadcasting the action to its entire community.
Likewise, a marketer may want to pitch a journalist with an embargoed piece of news or story idea. Twitter may be that journalist’s preferred communication channel, but as a marketer, you can’t exactly expect reporters or editors to follow you. Now marketers can privately contact journalists via Twitter (provided the journalist has opted in).
As a newer and smaller company, ours will be opting in to receive DMs from anyone. After all, if a customer wants to reach out to us through this avenue, we don’t want to shut off the opportunity. Twitter’s change may help open the service for better access and communication, but time will tell whether it becomes a hassle (see: spam).
These days Twitter has become the preferred communication channel for many, serving as a remedy to the overuse and abuse of email. As DM becomes closer in line with email functionality, will the DM inbox become just as cluttered? Will it become overwhelmed with spam? Will users start to look for a cleaner, less cluttered option elsewhere?