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How to deal with direct messages on Twitter

Twitter Phone

How to deal with direct messages on Twitter

This week’s decision by Russian football champions Zenit Saint Petersburg to allow supporters to get in touch with the club directly via Twitter may have seemed noble and innocuous enough, but it ended up making the news as fans of Manchester United and Arsenal saw it as an opportunity for high-jinks.

Zenit have taken it in good humour, making the most of the publicity. The direct message facility remains open and they have even called out The Sun for falsely implying that it had been disabled.

However, this does highlight that opening up direct messaging (DM) on Twitter means keeping an eye on another channel of communication, and it’s important to handle it well.

Can I turn direct messages off?

This is an option. If you go to your ‘Settings and privacy’, then ‘Privacy and safety’, you’ll see the option to untick the box under ‘Direct Messages’ marked ‘Receive messages from anyone’. However, if it’s a business’s Twitter page, you should think carefully about whether you want to do this.

Enabling direct messages makes your business seem much more approachable and multichannel, and bear in mind that if customers can’t contact you directly on Twitter, they may resort to simply dropping your hashtag into a complaint. This means something that may have been easily solved through a private message turns into a case of dirty linen being aired in public.

Most companies that have a product or service to sell welcome direct messages on Twitter – even Ryanair! On the other hand, media companies like the BBC and The Guardian generally don’t. Interestingly, even Twitter doesn’t let you DM its Twitter page, although it does have a Twitter Support account that allows other users to get in touch.

Let’s assume that you do enable direct messaging – here are some ways to manage it:

Don’t miss messages

This might seem obvious, but with Twitter notifications sometimes being rather unnecessary (particularly the ones along the lines of ‘Account X just tweeted Account Y about Subject Z that you couldn’t care less about’), it can be easy to overlook something important.

It’s worth going into your Settings again and looking at ‘Notifications’ to make sure you’re getting more wheat and less chaff. Ensure the ‘Quality filter’ box is ticked, and if you go into ‘Advanced filters’, you can check whether you might be missing out on anything important due to any accounts being muted.

Manage read receipts

By default, Twitter’s settings mean that when you read a DM, the account that sent it can see that you’ve seen it. This is fine if your plan is to jump on to messages as soon as you get them, but if you intend to respond to messages within three days, for example, it could leave customers wondering why you are ignoring their message when they know you’ve seen it.

If this concerns you, it is possible to turn read receipts off. Go to the ‘Privacy and safety’ section of your Settings and untick the ‘Show read receipt’ box.

Acknowledge messages even if you can’t deal with them immediately

An alternative to disabling read receipts is to check for messages periodically (perhaps once a day) and reply thanking the sender for getting in touch, letting them know you will reply within X days. This at least lets them know they aren’t being ignored, and sets their expectation as to when they can receive a response.

In truth, it has to be said that the majority of DMs are a waste of time. They’re either spam, or someone thanking you (often via an automated message) for following them. Nonetheless, that’s not to say that DMs can’t play an important role in attracting business and maintaining a high standard of customer service.

John Murray

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