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To Auto DM or not to Auto DM?

twitter_dmI had an interesting argument with a fella on Twitter today. He had followed me, and he received my instant thank-you note. Instant, as in automatic. This particular person took offense at my use of an automated greeting, which he said was insincere, not social, and spammy.

Is the use of an Auto DM (Direct Message) on Twitter, particularly as a thank-you for following, inherently insincere and spammy? At one time, that’s precisely what I thought. But now I believe Auto DMs can have a place in an engaging (and engaged) social media strategy.

I think greetings, thank-yous, and follow-backs are important on Twitter. Unless you’re NBC, BBC, or CBC (or the like), you’re probably not a broadcaster, and reciprocity is an important part of the social experience.. When I first started using Twitter in 2007, I thanked every follower personally and followed them back immediately. I noticed that only about 4% of new followers actually answered my thank-you message, but that was OK. It was still fun.

After a while, Twitter bored me, and I ignored it for a few years. I came back when tools became available to do a better job of targeting follows and followers. I started looking for other people interested in small business and entrepreneurship, and I sent every new follower a personal welcome note. But at around the 8,000 follower mark it started taking too much time to personally greet all my new followers. Even with better tools for targeting, the answer-back rate to a welcome note was still the same – around 4%. When a personal thank-you meant writing 20 quick notes a week for a 4% response rate, that was acceptable. But when I got to the point where it meant writing 100 notes a week, it was no longer sustainable.

Enter the Auto-DM welcome message. I hated the idea at first – absolutely hated it. It felt impersonal, and yes, spammy. I didn’t want to be one of those social media people – self-interested and uninteresting. But I calculated that spending my time (or staff time) sending out personal welcomes would not provide a satisfactory Return on Interestedness.

So we did what all good marketers do. We tested. A simple thank you for following. A description of our interests. An invitation to also follow on Facebook or Instagram. Lots and lots of tests. And what we finally came up with was a warm welcome and a question. My current Auto DM says:

“Thanks for following! What is your personal interest in small business and entrepreneurship? Andrea.”

The earliest Auto DM tests didn’t yield, well, anything. But by the time we tested our way to our current message, the response rate was back to 4%.

No, it’s not any better than when I was sending a personal note. But it’s not any worse. And it’s the best solution for me, because at 17,800 followers and ~250 new followers a week, the only alternatives are to not send a welcome message at all or to send one to only a fraction of new followers.

But oh what a marketer can do with a 4% response rate! When people respond to my initial question – my Auto DM – I respond back. We chat about business and interests and this is where the relationship actually begins. We ultimately engage with a much larger percentage of our overall followers, and that engagement is typically based on responses to Tweets. But the percentage of people who seem to value and respond to a welcome message holds steady (for us) at about 4%.

Do some people dislike my use of an Auto DM? Sure, it probably turns some people off. But then, some of my tweets might turn some people off, some of my pictures might turn some people off, or the fact that I look like their Aunt Justine could turn some people off. The reality is, I don’t need all the customers – I just need the right customers. As a marketer, that’s all you need too. If you’re going to use social media for business, you must be pragmatic. You must analyze every action and assess whether or not that action provides enough value to continue doing it. Of course, if you’re using social media solely for personal reasons, by all means, do whatever you want! In that case you’re spending leisure time, not marketing dollars.

Can I promise that my solution will work for you? No, I can’t. Social media strategies are highly variable depending on who is involved, what their interests are, what their budget is, and how they communicate. But what I can promise you is this: Social media is changing constantly. So are social media tools. So is your business. So is the market. Anyone who thinks he has the answers about what it means to be social is kidding himself.  The best thing social media marketers can do is stay abreast of all the new approaches, tools and apps, test the ones that make sense, and prudently add and subtract tools from your social media practice as conditions change.

And always remember. You don’t need all the social media followers. You just need the right ones.
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