Twitter has for years tested a feature that would allow anyone to opt in to receive direct messages from other users on its platform, even if the accounts weren’t following each other as per earlier requirements. This setting was rolled out more broadly to a portion of Twitter’s user base in 2013, but never became an option for the general public. That changes today, says Twitter, which announced this morning that anyone on its network can now opt to accept direct messages from any other Twitter user.
Previously, in order to receive a direct message from another person, you would have to be following that user on Twitter. For some public figures, and especially for journalists, that restriction made it difficult to communicate more privately. For reporters, it could also potentially tip people off about one’s sources, since users would have to engage in public tweets asking to get a follow back so they could send that direct message in the first place.
In the past, Twitter users including brands and some verified users have been able to, in some cases, enable a setting that would open up their Direct Message inbox to anyone. But now any Twitter user can turn this option on for themselves if they choose. (Twitter says the feature is rolling out now , so if you don’t yet see it in your Settings, just check back in a bit.)
Related to this change, the company is also updating its messaging rules so you can reply to incoming DMs regardless of whether that person follows you in return.
And to better highlight the newly added option, Twitter says that a new Direct Message button will appear on profile pages on both Android and iPhone. This button will only appear on the profiles of people you can send Direct Messages to, making it more obvious with a glance who’s turned the feature on already.
Finally, if someone who has the “Receive Direct Messages from anyone setting” switched on begins to receive spam or abuse, they can still block the abuser on Twitter in order to stop that account from being able to DM them.
The updates come at a time when Twitter has been focusing heavily on improving the Direct Messaging for its users, in light of a shift in the mobile application ecosystem which sees private communication apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp significantly growing their respective user bases and increasing their users’ engagement. Snapchat reportedly has some 200 million monthly users. WhatsApp recently announced 800 million users. Twitter, however, has 288 million monthly actives.
The company may be hoping that by improving its private messaging functionality, it can grow the number of users who register for accounts as opposed to those who more passively use its service only to view tweets. In recent months, Twitter has rolled out a number of changes to DM’s, including support for group DM’s and the ability to share public tweets via DM’s, for instance.
As to why Twitter has made the decision to finally introduce this setting more publicly after all these years, another answer may have been hinted at in the company blog post, it seems. Here, Twitter offers an example of how this feature could be used by businesses, noting that if users wanted to tweet feedback to a local ice cream shop, they would first have to ask the shop to follow them. Now business could simply adjust a setting in order to hear from all their customers – even if those customers didn’t want to be publicly tweeting about their thoughts and opinions.
We had previously heard that this use case for brands and businesses was something Twitter wanted to focus on in the near future, as it would allow users and brands to communicate directly and privately without the hassle of the following request. This is important because many businesses use Twitter for customer support, and that can sometimes require the exchange of personal and private information, including financial info, which, for obvious reasons, needs to take place over DMs.