The verdict is in on auto-DMs -- those direct messages you receive shortly after following somebody on Twitter. The judge and jury agree: everybody hates 'em. Some people unfollow anyone who sends one. Don't use 'em.

But wait...breaking news! The decision has been overturned on appeal!

That is, if you know how to write an auto-DM with the right appeal, they can be a powerful tool for sparking engagement on Twitter. If you're skeptical, I don't blame you. I've only seen a handful of auto-DMs in my life that pass muster. Today, I'm going to tell you how to write yours.

Most auto-DMs fall into one of the following categories (none of which win on appeal):

The Polite Irritant

These are the ones that say "Thanks for following me! I look forward to getting to know you." Even if they're sincere, and even though they're the kind of thing you should say during a real-world interaction with a stranger, on Twitter, they're just annoying.

It's like when my kids yell at me from across the house that they need to tell me something. Then, when I stop what I'm doing and go ask them what it is, they say "I love you." That's it. Sure, I appreciate the thought. But the least they could have done was prove it by coming to me and saying it at my convenience instead of theirs.

Auto-DMs that don't deliver a benefit fail because they don't pay the recipient for their time and attention.

The Freebie

One of the most common types of DMs are those that attempt to deliver a benefit by saying, "Thanks for following me. Download my free eBook."

Sure, one person in two million will download and enjoy your free eBook. But it's still a UBT (Unsolicited Business Tweet). If you were to engage your new follower first, and verify through that engagement that they're the kind of person who'd benefit from your book, then it'd be fine to DM them and tell them where they can download it. Otherwise, your offer is spam -- at least that's how it feels to the recipient.

Reader Comment:
Antone Roundy said:
Britt, Sorry if that annoys. But yes, it's something I do here from time to time. All of the posts in the "Premium Content" category [http://whitehatcrew.com/blog/category/premium/] are partially limited to Inner Circle members. Most of the pos...
(join the conversation below)

And by the way, don't fool yourself by thinking that everyone in the world would benefit from your book. Even if your book really is something anyone could use, it's like the sandwich you're eating for lunch. Everyone in the world would benefit from eating your lunch. But most of them already have their own lunch -- possibly even a better lunch -- so they don't need yours.

The Spam

Getting even worse, there are the DMs that say, "Thanks for following me. Check out this cool [product] I found."

No, thanks.

No matter how well-intentioned your auto-DM, no matter how great the resource is that you're linking to, no matter how sincerely you really, from your heart, do want to send that message to everyone in the entire world, nearly all auto-DMs suffer from one major handicap. They're auto-DMs, and people hate 'em.

They've already seen so many polite irritants, self-promoting freebies, and spams, that the moment they catch a whiff of that auto-DMs smell, they start to gag and click the "delete" button.

So, how do you craft an auto-DM that gets a response? Let me share a few keys:

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