Monday, 13 February 2012

Twitter etiquette - careful with DMs

A load of people have asked me to write about this. DMs - Direct Messages - are a source of enormous irritation on Twitter and I feel the urge to lead you gently (or possibly even crabbitly) through the etiquette of this thorny subject. After all, lovely writers, you don't want to bug the pants off people and make them not want to read your book, do you? Or make them unfollow you? (Because that is indeed what will happen if you get this DMing stuff wrong.)

Having said that, everyone is allowed to make mistakes and we all utterly understand that for newbies on Twitter it is impossible to learn it all at once. Don't be stressed if you discover you've been doing it wrong. It's not too late.

You may also wish to read my post, "How much promotion is too much?"

Anyway, DMs. What are they for and not for? (Note: this is written from the viewpoint of someone who really doesn't want to bug the pants off people. If you are happy to bug, please feel free to continue. Just don't expect to sell books or make friends.)

First, what are ALL the various types of tweets, whether DM or not? We have:
a) public messages aimed at any/all who might be watching - like standing at the market cross and shouting but not expecting anyone in particular to respond. Just a matter of who's there.
b) "mentions" - a public message where you use a person's Twitter name (eg @nicolamorgan) because you specifically want them to see it. You are talking to that person, but not privately - like calling someone's name and hoping they have time to respond to you (but understanding if they don't, because lots of people might be calling them at the same time. The busier the person, and the more followers, the more likely it is that they may not always respond. For example, I often can't respond and if you make me feel I should have, I will feel a) guilty and b) bugged.)
c) DMs, or Direct Messages, to one person (who must already follow you otherwise you won't be able to send it.) These are private and can't be seen by anyone else (though I wouldn't stake my life on it.) This is like taking someone aside and whispering in their ear.

That last point is crucial. DMs take place in personal space and, as with "real" life, there are "rules" about when and how you can do this and to whom.

The other point to remember, before I give you some examples, is that if you DM someone they feel obliged to respond. The fact that a response may only take seconds is not the point. You have intruded into someone's space and asked them to do something. And some of those things might be awkward. For example, if you DM me to ask me to look at your website/poem and I do and then I think it's shite... Tricky.

  1. When you know the person. "Know" is relative and fuzzy these days. No, you don't have to have met them, but you have to feel that they know you and like/respect you at least a little bit and won't mind giving you a few seconds of their time.
  2. But even if you know the person, the content of the DM needs to have some reason why you or they would like it to be private. 
  3. When you have an important but private thing to say (even if you don't feel that point 1, above, is satisfied.) Something you or the person wouldn't want anyone else to hear. (Though do be careful - DMs are a fragile way to protect secrets. I recommend you never mention names.)
  4. Note that, if you don't know the person, the content needs to be more important than if you do know the person.
  5. Most DMs take place between people who consider each other friends.
WHEN ARE DMs NOT OK? (Obviously some of these are less serious transgressions than others so please, for goodness' sake, don't beat yourself up if you realise you've been doing any.)
  1. To thank someone for following you. Pleeeeease don't do this. We don't follow you in order to be thanked - we follow you in order to be entertained or informed by you, or to support you, but being thanked for it by DM is really not wanted. (Mainly because we then feel obliged to reply.)
  2. To thank someone for following you AND THEN TO INSERT A LINK TO YOUR BLOG/BOOKS/ETC. This is an enormous no-no. I am even grinding my teeth thinking about it. That is a real an invasion of personal space. If you do this, I promise you I will never buy your books.
  3. To thank someone for following you AND TO INSERT A LINK TO A LOVE POEM. This happened.
  4. To thank someone for RTing your tweet about something else. Please, there is no need. It's like thanking me for smiling at you - you wouldn't, would you?
  5. To ask someone you don't know to do ANYTHING. Like, anything. Especially to RT something. Let me say this loud and clear with sparkly knobs on: Do. Not. Ask. Anyone. To. RT. (Retweet.) Your. Tweets. Unless they are a proper friend, the sort of friend you have coffee with and who you can trust wants to help you. I know that RTing a tweet is a tiny act and you'd think it wasn't a big deal: but it's being asked that's a big deal. Besides, we have to go and find the tweet, and that can be impossible for someone who follows lots of people and therefore has lots of tweets to sift through.
So, that's pretty much it. In short, if the person isn't a proper friend, don't:
  1. Thank her by DM
  2. Self-promote by DM
  3. Ask her to do even the tiniest thing by DM. Or actually in any tweet at all.
As crystal? As I say, if you don't mind, or if you disagree, please go ahead. Just don't blame me if you don't have such a great time.


Vanessa Finaughty said...

I don't reply anymore if someone sends me a DM asking me to read something or look at it. I think it's rude and presumptious, and I don't have time to read everyone's work or website, so I tend to focus on those I actually talk to rather than strangers... There are exceptions, but I resent that the DM request makes me feel guilty for not having the time.

Cathy said...

Totally embaRrassed but gr8ful - all those grateful dms I sent to kne followers thinking they would be 'touched' by the time and efort blah blah blah. I am so sorry! Cathy

Vanessa Finaughty said...

PS: I think it's okay and polite to thank someone for an RT or follow, but I tend to do those in bulk (so my other followers don't get spammed with millions of thanks from me), and that's not something I think should be done in private, for sure.

Vanessa Finaughty said...

Cathy, don't worry too much about it. I did loads of stupid, irritating things when I first joined Twitter, and I'm sure I still do, since I'm not a veteran user yet :p

Marshall Buckley said...

Cathy - I think part of the problem with "thank you" DMs is that they feel automated, and therefore not personal, which goes against the whole point of DMs being personal.
Of course, not all thank yous are automated, but you start to tar them all with the same brush...
But, as Nicola says, it's the "please RT my last tweet" ones which are the most aggravating. That's usually an immediate unfollow for me.

Sue Purkiss said...

It all seems endlessly complicated. I haven't ventured into Twitter yet, and at this rate, I don't think I shall! So much etiquette... I suppose once you leap in, it all starts to make sense, though.

catdownunder said...

I am "guilty" of the occasional DM to someone (even Nicola!) but I hope I have not committed those sins too often. (I am sure I have committed them! Ouch!)
I wonder if it would also help if there was an abbreviation of "NN2R" (no need to reply) when we do genuinely need to send something privately but do not need the other person to answer?

Nicola Morgan said...

Cathy, as Vanessa says, there is no need to feel embarrassed! We were all new on Twitter once and if no one tells you you can't know. Now you do so you can leap back into Twitter with confidence!

Helen said...

I agree with Sue. I'm not sure how Twitter works and I'm too afraid of committing a faux pas to use it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Helen and Sue - there's absolutely no compulsion to be on Twitter. However, for those who wish to dip their toes in and discover the enormous benefits and fun, you know I've written a handy little guide, called Tweet Right - The Sensible Person's Guide to Twitter... :) The book starts by saying what the benefits and downsides are and shows you many ways of using it that a) you might not have thought of and b) doesn't involve DM faux pas at all!

Colette Martin said...

It's been a while since I commented here (although I follow, really!) but this one got me going. The curious thing is that nearly all of the DM's I get are to thank me for following, and often also include a link to somewhere (blog, fb page, etc.) I never respond to those DM's and generally just ignore them. But the even more curious thing is that I have seen this listed as "good practice" in "how to tweet" guidance. So I suspect many tweeters do this because they have been told they should.

Anonymous said...

Twitter is something new for me and the immensity of the power contained in such a wee little text box is staggering. Glad this showed up when it did on my twitter. I feel ahead of the game as far as being new and proves my outdated (?) belief to 'lurk moar' first to see how things work.


-z.l. sasnett, still kinda new to the whole internet presence thing, who apologizes if you have gotten this a gazillion times. Word verif wasn't working and kept rejecting my correctly spelled nonsense through OpenId. had to go anonymous.

Nicola Morgan said...

z.l./anon - no problems - it came through perfectly, and only once! Sorry you had trouble posting your comment. You are perfectly sensible to lurk a bit before leaping in, by the way, and that's not outdated at all. It probably saves much anxiety.

verytessatangent said...

Great post! Really, Twitter needs to buy Tweet Right and issue it as guidelines when Tweeps join :)

However, even after reading and digesting Tweet Right, I have still made some huge faux pas. A couple of weeks after reading it, I seemed to be receiving a lot of DMs, many thanking me for the follow, some outright asking me to sell their latest work by tweeting about it.

At the time, I thought, oh perhaps it is more personal/more of a thrill (ha) to thank for follows on a DM. *Wrong* ha! I tried this once but felt I was somehow intruding, let alone the extra time it had taken to DM each follower. I think I was trying to avoid what you talk about in Tweet Right. A great list of followers being thanked in a tweet.

I left Twitter in 2007 having never really got to grips with it. It's changed since then. They say to use it as part of platform-building. But you are right. I for one do not want to be bombarded with tweeps building platforms (thank you not BH and others), or shouting out for me to buy through personal DMs.

Open tweet engagement is another thing altogether. I like that ;)

Laura Mary said...

Thank you so much for posting this Nicola!!!!
I recently blew a fuse over a writer I followed, who then DM'd me a 'thanks - how about you buy my book' message without even having the courtesy to follow back!!!!
Needless to say, I promptly unfollowed and will not be buying her book.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks for comments, everyone.

Colette - ah, I can imagine the sort of guide that would encourage people to DM thanks for following: the sort of guide written by a marketing person who hasn't actually spent time on the receiving end of such things! It makes SENSE that one would say thank you, but only once you've got the hang of Twitter and have a lot of followers/ees, do you realise it's not how it works.

Tessa - sounds to me as though you are doing it all perfectly, tbh.

Look, I've probably made mistakes myself. But the more we listen, the more we learn.

Cath Bore said...

A great post, Nicola. I think the problem is that writers hear that Twitter's great for promotion without ever using it in the first place. I'm sure we're all guilty of a newbie faux pas or ten, I certainly am! But my heart sinks when as soon as I follow someone I get a DM asking me to buy their book/read their blog, I even got one last week where they asked me to visit their website 'in return' for them following me. Arrgh!!!!

Janet O'Kane said...

Thanks for this post, Nicola. In future anyone DMing me inappropriately will get a link to it by return (then I'll unfollow them).

wasmachtHeli said...

Isn't it the case that you can send back a DM to a "Thanks for following" message even if the person is not following you?

I've only gotten one of those "Thank you" DMs. It was from an actress I started following. Doesn't that mean I could DM back even though she is not following me?

I am not sure about this though.

Mairéad Kelly said...

Gosh, social media is all about BEING SOCIAL with each other. I am finding more and more "rules" which are becoming more and more restrictive as time goes on, which is not social, in my opinion.

I don't mind getting DMs, nor do I feel the need to respond to someone sending me a DM to thank me for the following them, instead I appreciate that they took the time from their busy day to bother to do it in the first place. I don't tend to get many automated DMs.

Frankly if someone DMs me with requests I consider unreasonable I will reply telling them so, but my attitude is "if you don't ask you won't find out".

Life is far too short to allow others to dictate how you interact with others. Quite frankly I do as I please on Twitter and Facebook, anyone who doesn't like it knows how to unfriend me...and it's their loss.

Philip C James said...

Thanks for this post, Nicola. It's useful to understand how some see Twitter etiquette but I would disagree with two points in particular.

[...and here I may be transgressing the unwritten rule of blogging that posts should only ever consist of positive praise with no element of debate ;) ]

People are different. Some are bothered by even being addressed by a BIG ISSUE seller on the street; others welcome the contact, even if they have no interest in buying a copy (and this is not a direct comparison, because the BIG ISSUE vendor is SELLING magazines not marketing/promoting themselves, as many use Twitter so to do).

I agree with you that being asked directly to buy something or even to re-tweet someone's tweet is a no-no. Even the latter is an attempt to inveigle others into a conspiracy to misrepresent the popularity or scale of following of a Twitterer to other users. I don't like it. I don't do it, and I unfollow anyone who asks me to do it.

However, if someone follows me, I assume that it is because they find what I have to say interesting (for good reasons or otherwise).

I think it is only polite to thank them ONCE and if possible do so in a personalised fashion. Use their first name if available. Comment positively on their avatar. Or on their bio. Or on a recent tweet of theirs you liked. It's easier if you know them, but possibly more important to starting a relationship, if you don't.

And often I include a link to the micropoetry I write for pleasure. I don't demand or even request they visit. It's up to them. But if they follow me because they like what I tweet, I feel they may well like my micropoetry too.

I sometimes thank by .@mention, including a link to my poetry, but only ONCE per day on the basis that I don't want to annoy my existing followers by multiple thank-you's and references to my blogspot. That's why I DM the others who follow during the day.

I offer this in the spirit of engendering a debate, if appropriate... I appreciate that as a Marketer I may already be beyond the Pale and may have gotten it all wrong with regard specifically to Twitter, so my sincerest apologies to anyone I've offended.

Nicola Morgan said...

Mairead - there are "rules" of social interaction in all fields of life, surely. For example, there are "rules" that govern how we behave when we arrive at someone's house, or at a party, and those rules are different depending on how well we know the person/people. That it is social doesn't negate the rules. But of course, absolutely, those rules are fluid and differ between groups. We all choose the ones that suit us. This post was spurred by frequent comments on Twitter about the things that annoyed people. And they are the things that annoy me, too. In a previous post (linked in this one, I think) I stressed that everyone's tolerance is valid and different, but many people want to be aware of the pitfalls.

Nicola Morgan said...

Philip - you are quite right to point out that people are different. I made that point in my previous post on the topic and forgot to emphasise it again.

BUT... your second point is one I'd take issue with BECAUSE everyone is different! My point would be that while *you* may assume someone follows you because they are interested, this is not necessarily true. I find myself feeling I ought to follow people because I'm trying to support them. So, i see someone new to twitter, who perhaps says something to me in a public tweet, and I follow to help them. I do NOT want them to DM me a thank you or public-tweet me a link to their work. I cannot tell you how horribly up-to-my-ears-in-stress busy I am and the last thing I want is to feel pestered in any way. And when someone sends me a link to their work I feel pestered. For *me, it is an utter no-no. I'm telling you that so you can understand (perhaps) how *I* feel. I feel beholden to some kind of interaction. Sometimes it makes me hide from twitter and just communicate with my close friends via DM. So, yes, everyone's different and i do very much take your point. But in a way it is MY point: that we need all to be sensitive. There are people who are there to try to help (and god knows how many hours I spend doing that) and to be asked for even a few extra seconds of my time when I've given more of it than I can afford just makes me dizzy.

So, everyone is different - and that's how I am! Sorry!

Jill Colonna said...

Nicola, just discovered your site - fabulous! Thanks for the advice, as I've just joined twitter and have no clue how to start. Does that make me a twit? This is a huge help!

frances thomas said...

You make Twitter seem intimidating and terrifying! Leave it alone, seems to be the lesson

Cameron Writes said...

Nice one, Nicola. Yes, there are social niceties to be observed but every time I feel guitly about over-tweeting or "butting-in" I get told not to be so silly and my comments are OK.

So I only spend half my time on Twitter worrying about it.

DMs - I got some very sweet and caring ones from people I don't "know" the other day and they really cheered me up. I wouldn't feel the same if I felt I was being "spammed" just because I follow someone.

My own HUGE bugbear is "Please RT" - no, damn you, *I* will decide if I care enough about your cause or find your tweet interesting enough to RT and I don't expect to be thanked for doing it. Harumph!

Jayne said...

I think when people first join Twitter they get a bit over-excited that they can DM people. I know I did - not in a spammy way, but I did thank someone for following (he still follows, so I presume I didn't completely p*ss him off!). Now I rarely use the DM function and if I do, it will be for a more private conversation with someone I already 'know' - either in real life or we've been following / chatting / blogging for a while. I don't actually see any of those automated marketing 'thanks for following' type DMs anymore - perhaps people got the message they didn't work!

Jean said...

Just wondering - if I see that someone (out of the blue) has tweeted something nice about my work, is it wrong for me to RT their tweet?

1950s Housewife said...

Interesting post.

I never knew the world of twitter was quite so...Victorian? It puts me in mind of the etiquette back in that era that if you were to see an acquaintance whilst taking a tour of a park, the first time you would greet them verbally. If you were to come across them a bit later you would nod, but on the third meeting you were allowed to ignore each other. It all seems so convoluted to the modern eye, and yet here is twitter with the same kinds of rules.

Queen Victoria would be proud!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jean - ah, very good question! Obviously, different people will have different answers but I (and the people whose opinions I care about) would tend to say: it depends what else you've been doing. So, it comes down to the 90/10 rule again: if you spend most of your time NOT doing things that are for your own benefit etc, you can do exactly the sort of thing you suggest in the other 10%. However, I'd also suggest that you don't usually need to RT the praise - for example, if you just click reply and say, "Thanks so much!" or "Wow, that's lovely!" - anyone who wants to can click the button to see what you are replying to. Having said that, I see no reason why occasionally you couldn't RT some praise, as long as the huge balance of what you do is not like that. But I should also warn you that some people would say that this is a complete no-no. (I just happen to think that we should try to be generous, and that includes allowing some excited boasting from other OCCASIONALLY.

Nicola Morgan said...

1950s Housewife - but I think you're ignoring the fact that all social interaction has these "rules". It's just that usually we learn them very gradually, from childhood. The difficulty with Twitter is that it's so new. And people forget or don't realise how parallel it is to "real" life or face-to-face contact. Social conventions and rules of conversation are things we don't notice (unless we come across them as psychologists or whatever - and I came across them while researching cognitive behaviour, as it happens). So, all of this is very understandable and not really to do with etiquette in the sense of Victorian (or other) rules but in terms of getting on with people, which is the point of any social mores.

1950s Housewife said...

Hi Nicola,
I don't think I was 'ignoring' the point about social rules. I think the point I was trying to make with a vaguely interesting comparison is how we all have to dance a dance with each other to co-exist peacefully. Ah well. It clearly didn't work with you.
Social conditions online are can be as strict and sometimes bizarre as those in 'Downton Abbey"!
For example, I would never recommend entering the fray of 'Mumsnet' without girding your loins from an etiquette point of view. The same is true with Twitter.

Good post though and interesting.
Have also enjoyed the one about blogs.

Jane Steen said...


Why would I ever click on a link sent to me privately by someone I don't know?


Jesse Owen said...

Great post, I completley agree (it might explain why I very rarely send DM's lol).