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.
WHEN ARE DMs OK?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Note that, if you don't know the person, the content needs to be more important than if you do know the person.
- Most DMs take place between people who consider each other friends.
- 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.)
- 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.
- To thank someone for following you AND TO INSERT A LINK TO A LOVE POEM. This happened.
- 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?
- 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.
- Thank her by DM
- Self-promote by DM
- Ask her to do even the tiniest thing by DM. Or actually in any tweet at all.