Twitter has always been a great way for organisations and their users, or customers, to communicate with one another. As of April 2015, this communication became even easier, because Twitter made some small but important changes to its private messaging system. Private messages, or tweets, are called Direct Messages (DMs). Until recently, DMs could only be sent to someone who followed you. So DMs could be a great way for two Twitter users to have a private conversation, but they had to follow one another on Twitter to do this.
The problem here was that people could not easily send private messages, DMs, to businesses. So if, say, you run a restaurant and someone wants to know whether you have a table free tomorrow night, they could send you a public tweet because that’s probably something they’re not bothered about keeping private.
But what if they want to ask the restaurant questions on subjects that they prefer to keep private, such as dietary issues. Or they want to make a comment about poor service and they don’t want to do it in public (not everyone wants to broadcast their complaints). There was no easy way for them to contact you with a private tweet. Well, now there is.
Twitter becomes a much more powerful customer service tool
Before the recent change, for a customer to send a DM to you would require you to follow them. Frankly, that’s unlikely to be the situation. How many businesses follow all their customers? How many follow all their potential customers?
The change to the way DMs work means that now customers can send you a DM without you having to follow them. This is a big step forward in using Twitter for customer service.
However, there is still one action you need to take before customers can DM you. Go into Twitter settings, to the Security and Privacy section, and tick the box that says ‘Receive Direct Messages from anyone’. If you don’t do this, the old rules still apply and only those you follow can send DMs to you.
I recommend that you turn this option on immediately, because it will improve your customer communication.
You may be wondering why people would send messages to a business via Twitter, rather than by email or telephone. It already happens a lot and this change means we’ll see much more of it.
Other changes to the way DMs function
Another tweak to DMs is that you can choose to leave the ‘Receive DMs from anyone’ option turned off and still have a private conversation with someone you don’t follow.
You have to initiate the DM conversation and because you’ve DMed them, they are permitted to DM you back. You can continue the conversation as long as you like until you choose to ‘End Conversation’. When you do, you remove the ability of that person to continue sending you DMs.
Let’s say you run a B&B and someone wants to discuss potential reservation dates via Twitter. You have not chosen to turn on the ‘Receive DMs from anyone’ option because you don’t want just anyone to DM you, so they start the conversation with a public tweet asking if you have availability on a particular date. They follow you on Twitter, but you don’t follow them back. You DM them back, initiating a private conversation. Tweets go back and forth, discussing dates and the like. Once the conversation is over, you can choose to end it, breaking their ability to DM you. Or you might leave the conversation in your Messages box for reference and allow them to send you further DMs.
Once they’ve been and gone, then you might want to end the conversation. Ending it also deletes the tweets from your Messages inbox.
Update: August 2015: In a further enhancement to Direct Messages, Twitter has now lifted the 140 character limit on these private messages. So you can now exchange longer messages with your contacts. The 140 character limit remains for public tweets.
What about Direct Message spam?
By making it possible for anyone to send you a DM, are you opening the door to DM spam? That’s a fair question, and fears of spam will prevent some businesses from accepting DMs from anyone.
It’s possible that DM spam may increase. My advice is to turn the option on and see what happens. If it attracts lots of spam, turn it off again. If DM spam becomes a real problem, I expect Twitter will introduce spam filtering, in the same way that most email systems now block out spam.
If your Dorset business, charity or other organisation wants to take maximum advantage of Twitter as a way of communicating with customers, supporters and users, you’ll welcome these changes to the way DMs work.