When you follow a brand on Twitter what are you expecting or proposing? You probably see your click as an endorsement, a nudge to say “I like you, tell me more”. You want to hear more about them and allow them to be part of your curated feed. You’re in control because if you don’t like their posts you can simply unfollow.
How do brands see your follow? Some, in truth most, also see it as an endorsement and a connection. Numbers are power in social media and the addition of a new follower does add strength to their position. In fulfilling the same position as a friend or colleague, the brand is able to connect with you more closely and on a more level pegging than they have before. Most see this for what it is, an enormous privilege.
Others do not. Others see your follow as a legitimate assertion that any and all of their marketing techniques are now fair game. Because you ticked a box you are opening yourself to communication from them, anyway they want it to happen. This is an abuse of privilege.
Let me give you two examples. After a follow to a philosophical school on Twitter a month ago suddenly my inbox pinged a few days later with their latest e-newsletter. I hadn’t signed up for it via their website, hadn’t actually contacted them on Twitter in anyway other than to register my interest with a follow. Instead they had seen my bio, visited my website and found my email address on there, added me to their database with some sort of tacit understanding that by following them on Twitter and by having my email address available on my website I was agreeing to that. That wasn’t how I saw my follow. My inbox has a habit of going a bit wild west and in an attempt to control it I’m very careful about what I do and don’t sign up for. This mining of information tarnished their brand for me. Others might find it intuitive. I found it an imposition.
The second came this morning when I got a DM from a bar in Liverpool that I’ve followed for a while, but are sadly a little old to frequent as often as I did in my 20s. In 140 characters they pushed information under my nose about their Ladies Day cocktail event (big business ahead of Grand National weekend). If they had asked me they would have found out this; I don’t like Ladies Day, I’ve never been, I tend to avoid Liverpool city centre like the proverbial plague over the Grand National weekend. I love that visitors and racegoers enjoy it, but it ain’t my cup of tea. They didn’t bother to ask me. Simply because I had followed them this was a tacit approval, in their eyes, that any and every promotional activity would be of interest to me. I unfollowed.
When I asked on Twitter what people thought of unprovoked Twitter DMs from brands the response was overwhelmingly negative. Akin to cold calling, said one. A simple creator of noise, said another. Simple spam said a third. OK, not an extensive poll but thought provoking nonetheless. The DM has always been a problematic tool. OK, it’s hilarious when someone accidentally publishes a DM – especially if it contains a) their mobile number or b) hints at a nefarious activity) or c) is just plain bitchy but it’s mainly associated with negativity. Even last year Twitter stopped you allowing to DM someone who didn’t follow you. It’s the most popular tool for spam on the network. Let’s not even mention to people who STILL auto-DM when you follow them (the correct response to this, of course, is to immediately unfollow).
The problem is this. Brands do not fully comprehend what a Twitter follow means. It does not extend permission to mine through the rest of your online profile for contact information. If you follow someone on Twitter it does not necessarily mean you want to Like them on Facebook (do people still do that) or receive their email newsletter. Yes, we know how valuable our data is but a Twitter follow should be enough. If you want more, ask us.
Secondly, a DM feels too personal. Even though we’re following you in the same way we do our friends it is akin to handing us leaflets as we go down the street; it’s untargeted, doesn’t respond to our needs and interests, is likely to make a negative first impression and most likely will go straight in the bin.
Spend time trying to find out about your followers. What do they like, why do they like you? Then give them want they want. Don’t create a one way conversation. It’s too easy to become a man with a loud hailer on Twitter, and everyone knows what we think of them. A follow isn’t the same as a tick in a box allowing you to send all and every communication.