Twitter: Cold-Calling 2.0

by Ron on May 25, 2009


Guest post by Bill Swallow.

Imagine you’re at a large social gathering. You float from conversation to conversation, greeting old friends and acquaintances and meeting new ones. You have some interesting conversations with some of the new people you meet, so you hand them your card to keep in touch. At the close of the evening you return home, and your answering machine and email inbox are filled with business opportunities, marketing messages, and random hellos. As you go through them you realize these are all from the people you handed your cards to. What bothers you more than the messages is the context; there is no context, and the messages are not even remotely related to what you were conversing with these people about at the gathering. They are cold-contact messages devoid of any direct meaning to you.

Welcome to Twitter and the direct message auto-response phenomenon. You’ve likely received many of these if you follow more than 100 people. On the surface they seem rather harmless, just a one-off message likely sent as a robotic response to your friending of another person. But have you thought about how contrary these are to the fundamental idea of Twitter?

When you friend (follow) someone on Twitter, you likely do so because of some kind of commonality. Either you are a friend or colleague of theirs, you like what they are saying, or they are involved in something that you are interested in. And when you friend them, you are making a direct social connection. You are interested in what they have to say.

The auto-response direct messaging seemingly running rampant on Twitter lately is anything but social. It is nothing more than cold-contacting a new connection, usually to shamelessly self-market one’s self, though occasionally you might receive a “hey, thx 4 following!” which also amounts to nothing more than noise. If there is one best practice I can advise for Twitter, it would be to not use auto-response direct messages. They undermine the fundamental core of Twitter as a social medium. Auto-replies are anything but social. Instead, engage your readership with compelling public contact, and leave direct messaging to those important private 1:1 conversations for which they were intended.

Bill Swallow is a technical writer and leader of several online communities. You can follow him on Twitter as Techcommdood and read his blog at

Photo by DoubleFeature on Flickr

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 angelos May 25, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Agreed, but it seems like we’re tilting at windmills.

I’d say 1/4 of the people who follow me are 100% marketing tweeters. As in every single one of their updates is how they lost weight or found inner peace. They’re not even people at that point.

I only follow people I can “know,” not marketing bots. I don’t even let marketing bots follow me, I block them.

So, if you are a real person, act like it. Stop with the auto-DMs. I don’t even need a personal “thanks for the follow.”

2 FARfetched May 29, 2009 at 11:13 am

I agree with Angelos. Most of my followers are “attention whores” and marketroids. My personal algorithm for dealing with these is: if I recognize the person, I follow back. If not, I’ll check their posts… and like I said, the ones who haven’t already been banned usually fall into the two categories above and I simply ignore them.

Quality, not quantity. Or does that miss the point of social networking? (Frankly, I don’t care.)

3 ron May 29, 2009 at 11:39 am

Thanks for the comment, and no you don’t miss the point of social networking at all. The idea isn’t to collect followers. It’s to collect a group of people who matter to you and care about you and what you’re doing. Doesn’t matter whether that’s 10 people or a thousand.

In fact check out my post Outside a Small Circle of Friends, which discusses the idea of quality over quantity.

You get it as far as I’m concerned. If you really are following people you don’t like, I would encourage you to unfollow them and find people you care about. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.


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