Unsolicited direct messages (DMs), the only kind of non-public interaction available on the platform, have been vehicles for spam and malware since the microblogging service’s early days. Now it seems that the game is changing as the number of DMs being bandied about is almost certain to rocket. On the other hand, the number of links sent through them, which is how malware is delivered, is dropping significantly.
Anyone can do it now
It used be that in order to send DMs back and forth both parties had to already be following each other. In an attempt that I’m guessing is spurred by the need to monetize that restriction is being lifted. As it rolls out, people are finding that they can send messages to and receive from anyone on Twitter. While this does open a lot of doors (anonymous sources tipping off the press is one scenario that comes to mind), it is also an area where marketers should consider their approach.
Most users cannot stand advertising. The notoriously vocal Twitter users can often be found making public statements about unfollowing an account because of “spammy DMs.” Most of the time, advertising is what keeps a platform free, just as in the old model of TV ads, which makes it inevitable that every platform will adopt some form of paid promotion.
The trick is to not be spammy about it. Make it a valuable interaction, not a sales pitch. Think of it as content marketing in 140 characters. You’re helping out, or providing some other value, rather than selling.
Links in DMs?
It seems that Twitter has limited the links you are able to send in a DM. This happened last month, after a veritable tsunami of spam DMs rolled through the twitterspehere. Engaget noticed that the limitations seemed to be based on account status:
Some Twitter users can no longer send links through the social network’s direct message service. According to our early tests, unverified users are the ones seeing the issue, with unverified-to-verified and unverified-to-unverified DMs both affected.
Digital Trends notes which URLs seem to be unblocked:
Links go through without a problem for www.twitter.com, www.instagram.com, www.google.com, and www.facebook.com, so it appears Twitter has unblocked links from specific websites. This is consistent with the idea that the link ban is a bandaid fix to combat a problem with malicious links, since the service is still allowing links to websites it knows to be safe (or, in the case of its own site, has a vested interest in spreading, although I honestly have no idea why anyone would send another Twitter user a link to the Twitter URL).
Note that since this article came out spammers have been circumventing the link ban by putting their malicious links in public tweets and then DMing links to those tweets. Since they are using an acceptable URL the messages go through just fine.
Follow the action
To keep up with the blow-by-blow developments, watch the updates on Twitter’s direct message support page here. Currrently it reads:
We’re restructuring back-end elements of our direct message system. As a result, users may be unable to send some URLs in direct messages. We apologize for the inconvenience.
George "Loki" Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.