Twitter announced this week that it was rolling out round two of the changes to its ‘Direct Message’ policy. Traditionally, users could only be contacted privately through Direct Message if both parties were following each other. With the update however, Twitter is now allowing anyone to contact any user via ‘Direct Message’ whether they are following them or not.

The move is an interesting one, particularly for marketers and retailers. The ‘opt-in’ feature will allow brands to directly engage with consumers from both a marketing and a customer service angle, giving companies a new channel from which to identify and target users. However, it is imperative companies don’t abuse this feature for communication, turning it into the new “send-all” marketing email. It has to be relevant.

As consumers, we’re happy to sign up to receive updates from brands, but only bother to open the ones we find relevant. Companies sending blanket messages to all contacts are wasting large chunks of their marketing budget. By repeatedly sending consumers things they don’t care about, companies could be turning them off. Research has identified that 36% of Brits unsubscribe from brand communications simply because what they receive isn’t personalised to be relevant to them.

Technology allows marketers to constantly test, analyse, and optimise campaigns to better target audiences where you were not able to fifteen years ago. This has been further improved with the emergence and proliferation of social media platforms. Through social channels, marketers are able to see, in real-time, the click-through-rate on their sharable content, to measure what is and isn’t working.

As well as being able to measure what messages are resonating with consumers, marketers are able to use Twitter to target users at key points in the day e.g. first thing in the morning when waking up, or between 1-3pm, the most optimal time for companies to push messages for maximum engagement.

Importantly, marketers are able to use Twitter as a tool to segment the audience by what consumers are tweeting, and can even track and use any existing patterns to inform campaign strategy. For example, if Sally tweets about pizza every Friday at 6pm, Dominos could use this information to target her with discounts to encourage Sally to buy from her nearest takeaway store. A key difference between a simple ‘Mention’ (where a brand can target a user publicly by typing @ and their Twitter handle), and a ‘Direct Message’ is that users can feel it is exclusive to them, rather than looking on the brand’s page and seeing they are one of many that tweeted the right key words to be offered the promotion that day.

As the service is opt-in, it’s important for brands to keep in mind that the messages must be relevant to the user, so that the recipients will happily continue to receive and engage with messages. Whether brands are sharing discounts, or driving consumers to content on their websites, it is important that everything sent to consumers may be of interest to them and bring added value.

The data collected from interactions on social media can enable brands and marketers to close the online and offline loop. With the increasingly evolving innovations in technology, omni-channel retailers can use information from a consumer’s online interactions and use this to engage with them in a physical store. For example, using beacon technology, retailers can alert passing consumers to offers on items of interest in their closest store. This is a trend that is set to rise – our survey found that more than one in ten Brits (11 per cent) would like real-time reminders from their phone when in store, so that they can be directed straight to the item previously searched for online.

It’s critical to understand the real value of social media within marketing initiatives, not only because of the time consumers spend on social channels, but because as the name suggests there is a high level of interaction on them. When on social platforms like Twitter, consumers are extremely engaged with both friends and brands, sharing activities and interests multiple times a day. Twitter is a service that is rich in personal data, and has real-time effects on engagement, but brands must bear in mind that this rollout requires them to build trust with consumers by only sending them content they believe is of benefit.