Twitter Direct Messages (DMs) have always been a bit of an anomaly. Twitter is fundamentally a public and asymmetric network – you can follow someone who doesn’t follow you back.
Direct messages work in the opposite direction to every other message in the network – you can only DM people who are following you. This works OK if you are broadcasting on Twitter, but to actually have a meaningful conversation you need to follow each other – creating a symmetrical relationship.
Today, Twitter have announced that you can now set your account to receive DMs from anyone. This is the second time this setting has been made available, and I`d love to know what has changed since the first trial to make this work this time around. I suspect it is to do with the rise of messenger apps, rather than anything technically different.
I won`t be turning it on personally – if someone is that desperate to DM me, the old “can you follow me so I can DM you” works well enough – and I get so few DMs that I am comfy with that.
I can see the temptation for this for businesses…but I am not sure it adds up.
Brands on Twitter can be seen to do customer service well – in public (via @mentions), with only the secure stuff (“send us your username and email”) done via DM.
The side effect of the current system is that the customer has to follow the brand in order to DM – so the brand gains a follower, and that follower is someone who is engaged with the brand in some way (customer, potential customer or complainant).
Complaints will carry on being done in public (because the “public shaming” of the brand is a part of why it is successful), so DMing the brand will only reduce the number of public positive and neutral comments about the brand.
I’d prefer to see a more granular approach to DMs – perhaps “receive direct messages from anyone that follows me”, as well as “DMs from anyone”. This would create a pay off for the person receiving the DMs as well as the person sending.
The core reason for this change is apparently that Twitter are trying to compete with messenger apps (whatsapp etc). The fundamental difference is that these messenger apps are totally private networks – nobody ever “listens in”. The core of the Twitter experience is that everyone is listening in.