Should You Use Automated Direct Messages for Social Media Marketing?

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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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10 responses to “Should You Use Automated Direct Messages for Social Media Marketing?”

  1. Here’s my frustration with it. Thinking about it from the recipient side. Not only does it seem impersonal, but after I’ve gotten a series of those things, I start blocking people just for sending me marketing DMs.

    5 people in a row send me follow requests. All 5 of them send me auto-DMs. None of them have anything to do with me or what I do. By that time I don’t care if the 6th one is something I want. I’m exhausted by what feels like abuse. Especially when these things say what YOU have to offer, and nothing about what MY needs are.

    DMs, in my mind, are the last place I want to be marketed to. Those areas, I feel, should be reserved for friends and people who have something only for the 2 of us to discuss.

    As a consumer, I say auto-DMs should be forbidden.

    Consider the agitation that social media has become. I find myself having to be more vigilant about configurations and check-boxes that default as an opt-in, and alerts that I have to spend time figuring out how to turn them off. It doesn’t feel good to get an alert about a DM and it’s auto-generated marketing. C’mon!!

    Also, the internet is full of marketers who are trying to teach other people how to market. So, there are the professionals who slowly build and maintain relationships. Then there are the folks marketing their half-baked Kickstarter campaigns, and vapid ebooks, shamelessly driven by cockamamie marketing ideas.

    And my deepest frustration is with marketers who reply, “but it works.”

    1. You make fair points. Did you read me original post regarding this? Here’s how I tested this in the first place.

      I didn’t begin with a follow. This means I never planned to follow hoping to get a follow back which would trigger my auto-dm. This was not my intention. The trouble these days is the number of new followers are either agencies on behalf of brands or bots. I was trying to connect with the “real” people who legitimately followed me because they wanted to connect.

      My auto DM had no marketing message. It was written to get replies so I could learn more about the person who decided to follow me.

      I also concluded to kill the auto DM after testing it. So there’s also that. 🙂

      Finally, like it or not, we’re all marketers these days. That’s what leads us to new jobs, clients and relationships.

      1. I’m speaking purely as a consumer who’s worn out because social media and smart phones have made us constantly accessible. Not only from friends or bosses, but also people who are trying to sell stuff that I didn’t ask for and don’t want.

        I get a text message. Check it. It’s a coupon from Home Depot … while I’m standing in Home Depot. C’mon! Even if the coupon was for something I wanted, I suddenly don’t want it because
        1. it feels creepy.
        2. yet another marketer treating me like I’m meat with money.

        Yes. We’re all marketers of some form, I do have to market to a potential client. However, I don’t send DMs to a potential client or set up a Facebook pixel or use sneaky ways to get them to opt into me being able to text message them.

  2. Honored to inspire a blog post, Chris. Thanks for sharing your smarts.

  3. Rachel Thompson Avatar
    Rachel Thompson

    I just happened to receive your autoDM and found it quite long, as well as cold and impersonal. In fact, I unfollowed you because of it. I teach people how to use Twitter to build relationships with their demographic. AutoDMs are the antithesis of that. AutoDMs assume you deserve my time and in this case, you hadn’t even followed me back.

    I’m not personally offended or anything, and kudos, you got me here to read and respond to your article. 😉 I can guarantee, however, I won’t be back.

    1. @disqus_a7xIS9bcbs:disqus this post really touched a sore spot with me. I remember a few years ago online marketers were all about the importance of building relationships. Today, it’s about taking advantage of technologies that allow marketers to be invasive.

      This morning, soon after reading this post, I was invited to a webinar on Messenger bots. The host went on about how people have stopped hanging out in email, they’re now hanging out in chat apps. So, go where people are.

      Email is a miserable place because marketers made it so. Now, marketers are invading Messenger and sending DMs. Is there any place a marketer won’t go? Will some marketer find a way to legally come into our homes, unannounced, with a spiel about accordion lessons?

      Some websites insist that we turn off our ad-blockers. But if I do, and I get my homepage hijacked, will the marketer be at least partially accountable? No. That’s all on me.

      1. The short answer: marketers won’t go places where the people won’t go – or we can’t get data on.

    2. And that’s totally fair, Rachel. Thanks for responding.

    3. The number one way you can build relationships on Twitter is to provide value and to be responsive. I expect that’s what you probably teach, right? That sums up Chris’ content. Not to mention his seven (eight?) year old podcast and countless blog posts.

      While you may not appreciate Chris’ experimenting via auto-DMs, you should reconsider following him. His “#the5” series alone is worth the price of admission (also the price is free). 🙂

  4. samanthastone Avatar

    Of all the auto DMs I receive, I’m partial to those that ask a question. Many feel very personal. I like the idea of using it to start spark a conversation vs. convert to an offer. Sadly, only one person has ever responded to my return answer. If someone is going to use auto-DMs, I strongly encourage people to monitor responses carefully and make the most of any exchange that it fostered.

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