"I Wanted To Send You A Direct Message, But You're Not Following Me…"

Sound familiar? I get approaches like this all the time. I’m sure you get your share, too. Indeed, it seems a fairly common occurrence on the network.

Sometimes, the sender will put a spin on this, and ask you to send them a direct message. Either way produces a follow from you to them, which in many cases is neither desirable nor necessary.

The catch is, direct messages on Twitter are only two-way if both parties are following each other. If I follow you, but you don’t follow me, then I can’t direct message you – but you can direct message me. It’s a bit of an alien system but it was established to prevent spam, bombing and abuse. Imagine if it was the other way around, and worked like email – you’d get gazillions of invasive DMs each and every day.

That said, like a lot of people, I’m not a big fan of the direct message (DM) system on Twitter – it’s clunky and limiting, and the administration of direct messages is an awkward process. Moreover, a lot of people on Twitter abuse the DM feature, and use it to send spam and other messages where they’re trying to pitch some useless product in your direction.

So what to do when you get a message like this?

First, don’t just automatically follow the person – remember, you’re under no obligation to follow anybody, and certainly shouldn’t feel you have to follow somebody just because they want to send something privately to you. As I keep saying, it’s very important to keep your network both relevant and optimised.

Moreover, because @replies on the Twitter network are open – you can @ people you aren’t following, and vice versa – communication and engagements can be (and often are) made between people who aren’t following each other at all. Certainly, a one-way follow is not the end of the world – I follow over 50 people who don’t follow me back. Why? Because I find them interesting.

But Twitter as a social platform fails completely if we don’t follow anybody, and in these instances it pays to do some vetting first.

  1. Are They Actually Following You? You’d be amazed how often somebody who sends this tweet isn’t even following you at all. In all likelihood in these cases it’s a sneaky way to gain a follower, as many will follow back, wait for the DM for a little while before forgetting about it completely.
  2. Check Out Their Profile. Before following anybody, you should always check out their profile and read as many of their tweets as you can. Get an idea of the kinds of things they talk about – does it interest you? If not, don’t follow.
  3. Check Out Their Network. This might seem a little extreme, but if you go to Twitter search and check out the messages that have been sent to this person, it gives you a reasonable indication of how their network perceives them. To do this, enter to:username in the search box.

So, you’ve done this, and the person seems okay. So, do you follow them? Not necessarily.

  1. Enquire. Sometimes, a simply reply from you asking, “What’s on your mind?” is enough to bypass the DM entirely.
  2. Propose An @Reply Instead. Even if the person checks out, there’s no reason that you have to follow them, and there’s no reason why what they have to say can’t be delivered publically. Propose an @reply instead – there needs to be a good reason why a message from somebody you don’t know needs to be sent privately. From my experience, nine of ten messages sent by DM could just have easily have been sent publically.

If all things seem good, and the person seems interesting and valid, and you’re curious about their DM, then by all means follow them. This is, of course, how relations start and blossom.

If the DM turns out to be spam or something equally worthless, it takes two seconds to unfollow, and Twitter life goes on. Indeed, the power of the unfollow button affords us the luxury to have a cavalier attitude to everybody in our network, but a little bit of caution is never a bad thing, and I encourage you to follow the steps above before accepting people who want to direct message you before any other form of contact.