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The Dark Side of Twitter: What Businesses Need to Know

by Michael Stelzner  |  
February 24, 2009

Right now, Twitter is the talk of the Web among marketers. Use of the elegantly simple social-media site has rocketed unlike anything in recent memory—and it's businesses that are leaping onto the Twitter bandwagon.

The New York Times calls Twitter "one of the fastest growing phenomena on the Internet." A recent study (pdf) determined that at least five million people are using the service and new members are signing up at a clip of 10,000 per day. And unlike other "here today, gone tomorrow" services, Twitter seems to have staying power.

As companies tighten their ad spending, inexpensive social media is clearly the next marketing frontier. As with any new craze, there are enormous opportunities—and large pitfalls that must be avoided.

For this article, I spoke to some marketing professionals who've been exploring the Twitter terrain for a while. My quest was to identify the Twitter landmines so you can fast-track your adventure into this vast new frontier.

But, first, a short story to convey the power of Twitter.

The Shot Seen Around the World

Remember the downed plane floating on the Hudson river? How could anyone forget the picture of people crowded on the wing as the plane gently floated in the frigid January waters.

Janis Krums was nearby as US Air flight 1549 fell from the sky that day. Just moments after the crash, while onboard an approaching ferry, Janis snapped a picture with his iPhone and posted the following on Twitter:

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Michael A. Stelzner is the author of Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them EngagedFollow Michael on Twitter.

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  • by Kev Sonic Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    hi guys

    i'd be interested to know what is the perceived wisdom about using tools like tweetlater to send DMs to new followers.

    we weren't thinking about doing anything too salesy - just a thanks for following us and a link to our site...

    i know that some people think this is simply not good and others seem less offended by it...

    it'd be great to hear/read your thoughts on this!

    MD -

  • by Michael A. Stelzner Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    Hi Kev;

    Here's the thing. If you send an initial direct message to new followers, using a tool like, it is wise to send some valuable content that is not related to you personally.

    This will help reduce the feeling of spam.

    For example, if you are a real estate professional and you found a great new report on the real estate market, you might want to link to that in a DM message.


  • by Kev Sonic Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    thanks mike

    so it's not a definite no-no then? just proceed with caution?


  • by Connie Reece Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    Kev, one of the hottest topics on Twitter lately has been the use of auto-DMs. The overwhelming consensus among those in my Twitter circle has been against the use of auto-DMs. It's like meeting someone at an event, pressing your business card in their hand and launching into a marketing spiel.

    So I have to disagree with Mike that even if you're attempting to add value by linking to important information, it will not likely be received that way. Many Twitter users have informally adopted a policy of unfollowing anyone who sends them an auto-DM. Some are going so far as to "out" those who send auto-DMs, calling them out in public.

  • by Cindy King Wed Feb 25, 2009 via web

    Kev, we are in the middle of change in how auto-welcome DM's are accepted. It does seem like they are on their way out.

    If you have good social media networking skills you may find the right way to use them for your business. Depends on who you are and who your ideal followers are. If you do go with DM's be prepared to revise this tactic sometime soon.

    How many people would you send an auto-welcome DM to? If there are not too many and you can do your welcome messages manually, why not try that and see what works?

  • by Jenn Givler Wed Feb 25, 2009 via web

    I'm going to chime in and agree with Connie - I've seen some really heated discussion to suggest that auto-DM's seem spam-like. And for some folks, it doesn't matter what you're sharing - it still feels spammy to them.

    Depending on how often new followers find you on Twitter, it might be impossible to send everyone a personal DM. It's actually totally fine to not personally welcome all of your followers.

    If you engage in your Twitter community, provide great resources and information for them, and are genuinely immersing yourself in conversations - people won't mind not receiving a personal welcome.

    People follow you because they are interested in your Twitter stream... not necessarily to receive the personal touch of a DM.

  • by valencio Fri Feb 27, 2009 via web

    I don't believe that DM's like Tweetlater are a good thing for Twitter. The essence of that service is real people talking about how they live their lives. Automated DM's are like answering machines, marketing robots.. just plain annoying..


  • by mark kelly Wed Jul 22, 2009 via web

    I had a discussion yesterday with a potential business partner about social media and the tools in the box. My advice to him and those in the meeting was "that we must never forget that we build relationships with social media tools"

    People respond better to a personal message and word of mouth more than an automated messaging systems .... have you every had to delete 30,000 spam messages from your myspace profile .....

    Oh yes you may look good with 100,000 follower but in relationship terms how many do you actually know and do business with or in the terms of sales .... sell to via the tool.

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