In a major policy change, Twitter is adding an option that lets followers direct-message a Twitter user without a reciprocal follow.
Until now, two Twitter users could only direct-message one another if they followed each other. Now, Twitter users will be able to activate a feature that lets any follower direct-message them.
That sounds like it'd be a privacy disaster for individuals, but it's actually beneficial to companies and organizations that use Twitter as a marketing tool.
Someone using Twitter to complain about an airline's service, for example, would normally have to air his or her grievances in public. Now, the complainer can message the airline privately, saving the company a bit of embarrassment.
A journalist seeking sources or information can likewise be sent information discreetly rather than out in the open.
To activate the feature, users have to go into their settings on the Twitter website and check the box marked "Receive direct messages from any follower." (The feature is being slowly rolled out, so many users may not yet see it on their own accounts.)
Twitter has done the right thing in making this new feature opt-in rather than an opt-out. Switching it on for all users by default would have resulted in a deluge of spam, and possibly worse, as many direct messages from hijacked Twitter accounts contain malicious links.
We don't recommend that private individuals switch this on. But social-media marketers should jump on it.