Which is worse: to follow someone and not have them acknowledge your existence or to follow someone and receive an automated reply?
Of course, there is a third option, to have the individual or organization you are following personally recognize and acknowledge you, but that’s only a worst case scenario for the person being followed, so we won’t include that.
At least one Twitter activist, @Opticon_ thinks nothing is better than something. And he thinks most Twitter users agree with him. This self-proclaimed protector of good content has proclaimed May 2011 to be Anti-Auto-DM Month and is spearheading the effort to collect signatures on a petition asking SocialOomph to disable the auto-DM portion of its service.
The effectiveness of auto-DMs is questionable. Most people are smart enough not to click on links from sources they don’t know and even if they did choose to follow someone on Twitter, there is a good chance they don’t actually know that person. In some cases, followers may even be using auto-DMs as a means of screening their lists, unfollowing anyone they suspect of using auto-DMs, or anyone sending them a link or anyone who doesn’t immediately follow them back.
Jesse Stay, CEO of SocialToo, a rival of SocialOomph, put it this way when the company disabled their auto-DM functionality in 2009:
“Based on my statistics, while a very small percent of you are using auto-DMs for legitimate business reasons (for instance, sending instruction to followers if you are doing an online promotion that included following the Twitter user as part of the promotion), over one-third of you sending automated DMs have some sort of URL in your message to followers. The remaining majority is just sending simple thank you’s, which while I think they are truly genuine, are now being ignored by most people who receive them.”
That may be true. Certainly, very few people respond to Welcome/thank you DMs which may or may not mean they are ignoring them to begin with. It’s possible they may also feel no response is needed to a simple thank you, which, technically, it isn’t even though politeness might suggest a “you’re welcome” is in order.
It is also difficult to quantify the level of outrage Opticon alleges is associated with auto-DMs. Certainly some people find them annoying. Some may even go to the effort of reporting them to Twitter. But outrage? we’ll have to see how the petition drive goes before we’re quite ready to use that label.
Making SocialOomph’s auto-DM functionality a paid service has cut down the number of automated messages, though possibly not in the intended manner. Now, instead of DM timelines filled with acknowledgement and appreciation for following someone all most of us see is the spam. Marketers, legitimate or otherwise, have deeper pockets than role-players. Go figure.
And yet there is some truth to the quote Opticon alleges to have lifted from the SocialOomph blog (whose newest entry was in 2010):
Folks, whether you like auto DMs or not, they are going to be around. There is nothing evil about a DM that is sent by automated means on behalf of and on the explicit instruction of a Twitter user.”