Twitter’s Direct Message Function: Friend or Foe?

By Fabio Weissert @Fabio_online, Digital Communications Officer, World Intellectual Property Organization @WIPO

wipo-direct-messagesSay it in 280 characters or less and say it well: that is the Twitter challenge. The opportunity is reach to a broader audience. An often-overlooked tool to enrich the engagement is the “private side” of Twitter: Direct Messages, which let users interact privately with each other.

Direct messages are not new but have been underused because they were only available for use with accounts that you followed or followed you. In 2015, Twitter opened up (optional) direct messaging from non-followers and removed the character limit. Curse or blessing?

@WIPO’s experience

At the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), social media is a platform for engagement with our customers and social community. It was therefore a no-brainer to open up direct messaging from accounts that we don’t follow.

Ever since, the flow of messages to @WIPO has steadily increased while remaining at a manageable level. We receive messages from both organizational and individual accounts from around the world. Popular topics include WIPO Academy courses, our business services, internships, and general questions about intellectual property.

For more than basic questions, the social media team works closely with specialized colleagues to provide responses as quickly as possible to direct messages. We’ve noticed that our social community appreciates this way of reaching out to us so we expect the volume of messages to keep increasing.

Pros and cons

On balance, opting in for direct messages from accounts you’re not following:

  • is a quick and easy way to be in touch with your social community;
  • gives you more freedom than @replies which are limited to 280 characters;
  • allows you to ask for semi-private information such as for an e-mail address for follow up, since it is not a public channel;
  • gives you the possibility to take issues “offline” which is better suited for the community member and/or your organization.

However, there are a few things to bear in mind when opening up to direct messages:

  • you may receive irrelevant messages, spam or be added into futile group conversations (Twitter recently made this easier to manage);
  • responding to and keeping track of direct messages requires extra time – some social media management and CRM tools include private message workflows;
  • Twitter’s direct message interface is still extremely basic, without search or “order by” options.

At @WIPO, we are considering setting up a workflow via a social media management tool.