Things are beginning to change, but for a long time – and I still hear this from certain quarters – one of the main reasons given as to why you should always follow everybody back who follows you is because it allows them to contact you privately via direct message (DM).
To this I say: poppycock. (And I don’t use that term lightly.)
As if that’s ever been any kind of perk. The DM feature on Twitter is and always has been broken. There’s no way to search or filter messages, it’s awkward to delete (certainly in bulk) and it doesn’t come with any kind of spam guard.
Why, then, would we encourage the use of a system that is so clearly flawed?
Moreover, while Twitter is fantastic for quick, punchy exchanges of information and thoughts, it doesn’t stand up too well when you want to have a long, detailed, drawn-out conversation with one or more people. It becomes a little awkward sharing all those words in bite-sized, 140-character chunks. People speak out of turn, it’s easy to get confused, and it quickly becomes messy and problematic.
When I find myself in any kind of extended dialogue on Twitter, I always rapidly come to the same conclusion, which I readily propose to the other user(s) – can we continue this via email?
Email is really good at the things at which Twitter is bad. It excels in long, detailed, drawn-out conversations. (And conversely, it isn’t so hot at real-time exchanges of information). Email allows YOU to write a longer, more thorough message, and lets ME quote from your message and respond accordingly.
There’s no real reason why direct messages should be limited to the same number of characters as a standard tweet, but they are. If and when Twitter decides to completely revamp the private message system and opens it up to a fully-featured experience that allows for broader conversations, then the argument that follows should be reciprocated (assuming, of course, that they are still relevant) will have a lot more weight.
Until that happens, direct messages are essentially just a private way to share a tweet. And unless that tweet absolutely needs to be private – and your latest get rich quick scheme doesn’t really qualify, as you’ve already sent it to 10,000 other people – then just contact me using a standard reply.
And for those times when your message is for my attention only and/or requires a lot more breathing space than that provided by the 140-characters of a standard tweet, then please:Â contact me by email.
I’m very happy to look at (and maybe review) your Twitter client. I’d be thrilled to test-drive your Twitter app. Absolutely I’d be interested in speaking at your conference. And I’ll certainly help you or your brand find a better way to do business on Twitter.
Go ahead, send me an email. I promise you I do read and (where required) reply to every single one.
(Unless, that is, it’s spam or contains the ranting and ravings of a disturbed person. That kind of stuff is far better suited, and significantly more prevalent, within the direct message system. Especially if you follow everybody back.)