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Depending on who you ask, automated direct messages (auto-DMs) are either a powerful marketing tool or the bane of social media marketing. I’ve written about them previously, but a recent experiment by Dave Delaney brought them back to mind.

What is an Auto-DM?

For folks unfamiliar with the term, an auto-DM is a short message sent in an automated fashion, using software, to new followers/friends/connections on social networks. While the term DM is specific to Twitter, the auto-DM concept applies to any social network which permits members to send messages via automation.

Here’s an example of an auto-DM:

autodm_example in social media marketing

Why People Auto-DM

Why would someone set up an auto-DM on their social media accounts?

  • To respond to everyone who connects with them in a timely manner
  • To respond to large groups of people, especially if you have a popular account
  • To market stuff to people
  • To start an interaction without having to live on social media every minute of every day

The latter is the primary reason I use auto-DMs; I have a day job and it isn’t living on my personal social media accounts.

Why Some People Object to Auto-DMs

Some social media folks strenuously object to auto-DMs. Why?

  • They can come across as highly impersonal
  • Depending on how you use them, they can be spammy
  • They lack true engagement since a machine is doing the work
  • They feel “inauthentic”

These objections are certainly valid; however, as with so many tools in marketing, it’s more how you use the tool than the validity of the tool itself that generates reactions in people.

Should You Use Automated Direct Messages for Social Media Marketing?

As Dave Delaney did, test – but don’t just test with one message. Test with a variety of messages and see which messages resonate most with your audience. Draft a dozen variations and see how people respond. If no one responds to any of the dozen, then perhaps your audience simply isn’t interested. However, more often than not, auto-DM campaigns fail because we’re sharing stuff that we care about, rather than what our audience cares about.

A trick I learned from my friend and editor, Peta Abdul, is to format short business communications like auto-DMs in this simple structure:

  • Greeting
  • Here is what I have to give
  • Here is what I ask
  • Signoff

Look back at the auto-DM example previously. There’s a greeting, nothing to give, and an ask. That auto-DM is unlikely to generate interest.

To see the template I use, just follow me on Twitter. You’ll receive an auto-DM that follows the general structure above – a greeting, what I have to give you (orientation and convenience), what I ask (you to sign up for my newsletter), and a signoff.

One key difference between the way others use auto-DMs and my approach is that I use custom-built software rather than a vendor. This allows me much more control over how the software functions, from timing to message testing.

To answer the question of whether we should use automated social media messages, I’ll frame it simply: if you’re comfortable using automated messages in other media – like email – then you should be comfortable using automated messages in social media.

Experiment with messages using similar formats and see if auto-DMs work for you.


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