LAST UPDATED ON November 16, 2020
DM for Business: Everything You Need to Know about using Direct Messages for Your Business
This guide is here to help you understand DM, what it can do for your business, how to do it well, and how to avoid coming off like an obnoxious spammer.
It’s all going down in the DM…Direct messaging is a growth and customer satisfaction multiplier hiding in plain sight. It’s a way to build personal one-on-one relationships with your customers at scale in a way that’s unique to DMing. In fact, Gary Vaynerchuk called Instagram DM “the single biggest networking or business development opportunity of this decade.”
What is DM?
A direct message (DM) is a private, instant communication on social media which is only visible to the sender and recipient(s). All the major social media platforms have a direct messaging feature, but their rules vary in how businesses are allowed to use DMs. DM marketing is a way of using these messaging features to develop relationships with customers and followers in a one-on-one way. Those kinds of personal conversations offer a more intimate mode than the one-to-many style of communication typically used by brands.
While DMs present tremendous opportunity for businesses, that opportunity doesn’t look the same across all platforms. You may find that one channel is great for sharing user generated content while another is better suited for troubleshooting and customer service. You may need to experiment a bit upfront to find that fit that’s right for you.
Which platforms should I be DMing on?
We won’t get into all the platforms that include a messaging feature. But you should be familiar with the big three: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
It’s tough to get seen on The ‘Gram. It’s easy to throw up your hands and start shelling out money to get your content visible. But DMs can be your secret to breaking-in to Instagram, giving you direct access to your followers in a way that isn’t mediated by an algorithm. While other features change when you turn your account into a business account, DMing remains the same.
Collabs and Influencers
One of the best uses of this platform is finding influencers, since Instagram is where they live. Here’s how to do it, even if you don’t have the budget to hire the Kardashians to use your product:
- Think small. Instagram is full of “micro influencers” who are easier to reach and more likely to work with you than big-name influencers with managers and P.R. teams. Canon relies on Instagram influencers of all sizes to sell their cameras which, they hope, people will use to take pictures for Instagram.
- Focus on engagement, not number of followers. The number one mistake rookies make when looking for influencers is thinking they need to find people with massive followings. The best returns come from accounts with the most engagement. Pay attention to how many comments and likes they’re getting, not just the number of followers.
- Use hashtags and locations to find engaged, relevant accounts to reach out to with your messages.
- Do your homework first. There’s nothing more embarrassing and ineffective than an irrelevant pitch to someone who’s not appropriate or interested in your product. Find out a thing or two about your potential collaborator to make sure they’re a good match. Drop a nice comment on one of their posts and be sincere.
Read and stick to the community guidelines
Nothing kills the vibe like getting penalized for breaking the rules; that’s why you should familiarize yourself with and follow Instagram’s community guidelines. When it comes to DMing, you’re not allowed to send promotional content to anyone who doesn’t follow you. Therefore, the focus, from a sales point of view, should be cultivating and reaching out to your existing followers instead of bothering new people with unsolicited marketing (AKA spam). This applies to all other platforms too.
Send a welcome message
Twitter has a welcome message feature which allows businesses to automatically message new followers. This is the perfect opportunity to share a discount code, a special offer, or a piece of content you want them to check out.
Create a Direct Message Card
Twitter Business accounts can send direct message cards with integrated buttons and media, turning your direct message into an interactive, multimedia experience – and a potential conversion machine.
Solve problems in the DM
The best thing about being a business on Twitter can also be frustrating: It’s a platform where customers can talk about you to millions of users. This is a good thing when they have something nice to say, but when they have a problem, they’ll often use Twitter to vent, complain, and appeal publicly for you to do something about it. By encouraging complainers to DM and reaching out to folks who tweet their grievances, you can control the damage while showing others you take customer satisfaction seriously. Taking a complaint into a private conversation usually de-escalates frustration, makes the customer feel heard, and limits potential fallout.
Like Twitter, Facebook has DMing features built into their site, but they also have a separate Messenger app that works like a texting platform. This puts you front and center with customers, right there amongst their ongoing conversations with friends.
Keep in mind Facebook has recently made changes to their messaging policies, restricting certain features for businesses. However, there’s still plenty of opportunity for businesses who follow the rules.
The 24-hour window
Facebook now requires businesses to respond to customer DMs within 24 hours. Messages sent later can trigger spam filters. Facebook explains, “Businesses are encouraged to respond within 24 hours to user’s messages and Message tags enable sending important and personally relevant 1:1 updates to users outside the standard messaging window.” Note: There is an exception to this rule for “high-value messages.”
- A message tag lets Facebook know what kind of message you’re sending. Certain messages like order updates, confirmations, and human-agent replies are allowed outside the 24-hour window.
- One-time notifications. You can send a follow-up message after 24-hours, as long as the message is relevant to the previous conversation, like a back-in-stock update or a response to a specific request from a customer.
The same general principles can be applied to anywhere you can reach customers via instant messaging, including customer service. We’re still in the early days of DMing on some platforms, meaning there’s a first-mover advantage to be had.
A few places to consider DMing
How can DMing help my business?
DM can do a lot for your business. The most exciting thing is it can deliver results that are hard to replicate by other means. A Facebook ad doesn’t let you have a chat with someone who engages with it. Someone who stumbles upon your SEO post can’t ask you a question privately. The personal, private, and instant communication that direct messaging provides is the key to unlocking its many benefits.
Engagement and loyalty
People who take the time to shoot you a message, even when they have a complaint, are often going to be your most devoted followers. Treat them like they’re one of your best customers.
Networking and collaboration
DMs are a quick and easy way to reach out to folks you might want to work with in the future. They’re also less formal than email or impersonal contact submission forms.
The people who take the time to write or chat are demonstrating a level of interest in your brand that’s noteworthy. These can be some of your best leads for future sales. That DM conversation just might get your foot in the door for a transaction down the road.
Promotion (use sparingly though!)
This is a slightly tricky one. In the upcoming “mistakes to avoid” section, we’re going to tell you not to send promotional messages, yet that doesn’t mean direct messaging can’t help promote your business.
The secret to promotion in the DM is to promote your business through the value you offer, through the personal touch you give by speaking to people directly, and through the compelling content you share. Direct messaging isn’t a way to tell everybody how remarkable you are, it’s a platform that allows you to be remarkable. As marketing guru Seth Godin writes, “Remarkable doesn’t mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to me. Am I going to make a remark about it? If not, then you’re average, and average is for losers.”
79% of customers say they prefer live customer service options, like chat and DMs. Instant messaging gives you the ability to reply and solve problems instantly. Bots and automation can help you provide quick-fixes for common problems. That said, the personal touch that comes from having real human conversations can’t be replaced by a bot.
A better customer experience
A conversation with your customer is a way to make your relationship something more than a transaction. It’s a great way to bring back that friendly touch that’s so often lost when we do business online.
How do I send a DM?
If you can send a text, you can send a DM. It’s easy, but keep in mind each platform works slightly differently.
There are a few ways to send a DM on Instagram.
- The little paper airplane logo in the top right corner will take you to your messages where you can draft a new one.
- When you’re watching a story, there’s a bubble on the button where you can reply with a message. The paper airplane logo next to that bubble lets you message the story to someone else.
- You can also just click the “message” button on someone’s profile or click the paper airplane logo under their posts.
To send a Twitter DM, click the envelope logo in someone’s profile. If you can’t see the envelope, you can’t DM that person (Twitter lets users choose not to allow DMs). There’s another envelope in your toolbar where you can see your ongoing chats and send a new one.
Use the messaging bubble in the bar up top on the website or download the Facebook Messenger app which works just like any other texting app.
Reddit’s messaging feature is more like an email, with a subject line and an address line. If your account is new or you’re sending a lot of DMs, you may have to fill out a Captcha verification.
Whom should I target?
Since most social platforms have limits on whom you’re allowed to DM, you’re generally going to have to stick to DMing followers. While that might sound like a restriction, it means you’re dealing with more qualified leads who are interested enough in what you have to offer that they follow you on social media. What if you don’t have a lot of followers? Reach out to the ones you do have and then work on posting quality content regularly in order to gain more followers.
Below are some ideas on how to further narrow your targeting. (Oh, and a good tip: Don’t call these people “targets.”)
Your most engaged followers
The people who Like, comment, and reply the most are the ones you want to connect with via DM. Depending on the platform, you might want to send them special offers or follow up with a post-purchase or pre-arrival message.
People you’ve already interacted with
If you’re messaging someone “cold,” you’re more likely to get a response by interacting with them a bit first. Like, Retweet, comment on their posts and let them know that you’re interested in a genuine interaction (and you’re not a spammer). This is critical when you’re trying to reach an influencer or someone who’s feed gets a lot of interaction.
People asking for help or complaining
Answer these messages immediately. If someone has a complaint in a tweet or a comment, post a polite reply offering to help them in a private message. Angry messages can fester if left unaddressed. Try to get a bandage on the wound ASAP.
What are some best practices in DM?
The biggest mistake you can make is acting like a spammer. You’ll annoy people and may wind up booted from that platform. Here are a few tips for how to stand out from the annoying pests that often infest people’s DMs.
If you deliver value in your messages, people who align with you will be thankful you reached out. Deliver content and conversation that is valuable to your customers. Think about what they want to get out of the interaction, not just what you want.
DMs go both ways. It’s a great way to talk to your followers and it’s also a great way to listen to them and let them know that you’re listening. Be sure to collect their feedback in a place you’ll be able to access easily later; the chat log isn’t a great place to store vital info so back it up somewhere safe.
People expect instant replies. According to a 2020 report, 40% of customers expect a reply within an hour on social media, and 79% expect one within the first 24 hours. Within minutes is ideal. Anything over 24 hours could leave recipients displeased and might get you penalized on some platforms.
Keep it casual and friendly
Your customers are using direct messages to chat with their friends. Don’t show up in their inbox sounding stuffy, cold, and business-like. Talk like you would to a friend. And don’t send any novel-length messages either. Big blocks of text look bad and are hard to read in a message thread. Plus, they come across as rather aggressive.
Solicit and share User-Generated Content (UGC)
DMs are a great way to ask for user generated content and to distribute it to your fans. For example: If you see a post of someone using your product, send a DM asking for permission to repost it. (Make sure to take a screenshot of the permission in case the message disappears.)
You’re going to get a lot of the same questions again and again. Answering all of them might be annoying to you, but a bot doesn’t mind. Set up automated responses properly and you’ll save yourself tons of time in the future.
Be sure to let your followers know you’re available to answer questions, respond to customer service inquiries, and explain how to get the most out of your product.
Just say “Hey”
One of the most underrated and underused DM plays available to your business is just saying “hello,” checking in, and talking to your customer like a normal human being. This is one area where small businesses have the upper hand on Fortune 500 companies; they can provide a personal touch. Don’t be afraid to sound authentic and have 1-on-1 conversations.
Know your audience, know the platform
We’ve talked about how community guidelines vary from one platform to another and the culture at platforms can vary too. People behave differently on TikTok (dance routines!) then they do on LinkedIn (resumés!). The same person who’s sharing serious political thoughts on Twitter might post mostly fun baking pics on Instagram. Read the room and communicate accordingly.
DMing is just the beginning. Be sure to actually follow-up and deliver on your promises in the real world.
ABDM (Always Be DMing)
Gary Vaynerchuk recommends sending hundreds of direct messages every day. Like any of your marketing work, direct messaging is a long game. And it’s a numbers game too. You’ll get shot down a lot so get used to hearing “no”s. Experiment with different approaches to see what works and then double down on DM techniques that yield the best results.
Have a system
Social media can be distracting so it helps to have a set strategy, schedule, and approach. As you interact with more followers, you’ll need structure around your DMing activities in order to keep track of it all. Develop a workflow for DMing and to structure your messaging around peak hours. You can also save time by keeping frequently-used quotes and links in one place. TextExpander is a helpful tool that lets you instantly insert snippets of text from a repository of content as you type using a quick search or abbreviation.
What are some DM mistakes to avoid?
When DMing goes wrong, it can squander opportunities, tarnish your brand, and even get you kicked off a platform. Here’s what not to do…
Don’t Spam. Don’t even think about it.
Most of the policies and rules surrounding DMing were written in response to people abusing direct messages and harassing random people. The same technology that enables social media also makes it easy to flag spammers. It just isn’t worth the risk. Guidelines vary, but you can’t go wrong following a few common-sense best practices:
- Don’t message people who don’t want to hear from you (or probably don’t).
- Don’t send generic copy-pasted blasts to hundreds of accounts.
- Don’t explicitly promote your business or send offers to people who didn’t ask for promotional content.
- Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t promote, do share value
Direct messaging is not a good channel for traditional advertising. You should keep self-promotion to an absolute minimum.
Don’t ghost, answer everyone
Nobody is too small to deserve a reply, especially when a little acknowledgement is all they want. There’s terrific upside to being a company that responds right away with a personal, friendly touch. And ghosting customers can damage your reputation. Remember: You never know who might be on the other end of that message window so you should treat them with respect.
MavSocial has 40 Instagram DM templates you should check out to get ideas. You’ll also find some great examples at Bigbangram and Ingramer. These are just suggestions for inspiration, go ahead and customize them so you’re being unique.
A few general tips:
- Be friendly and casual.
- Get to the point. Brevity is your friend.
- Do your homework and let them know you’re not just another random person begging for their attention.
- Write the kind of message you’d be excited to see in your inbox.
Below are some messages you can templatize. Note the parts that you’ll need to fill in with customized content.
The welcome message and discount
Hey! (Friendly introduction.) Thank you for taking the time to follow us. To show our appreciation, we’d like to offer you a welcome discount – (Discount details and promo code.) The discount is available through (Date) so act now. Thanks again!
Updates and follow-up
Hey there, we just updated the hours of operation of our shop in (City and Address). It’s open from 9 A.M. to 10 P.M on weekdays and from 11 A.M. to 8 P.M. on Saturdays. We’re closed on Sundays. Hope to see you soon!
Feedback and surveys
Hey there! We hope you’re enjoying (Product Name). We’d love to know what you think and it would mean the world to us if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review (Link to where you want them to leave the review). Thank you!
Hi! I am a (What you do and something interesting/ impressive about your business). I’m reaching out because I would love to collaborate on (Potential Project). (Say something specific and nice about their work and why you think a collaboration would benefit both of you.) I’m open to any other ideas that might work too. Looking forward to hearing from you. Have a nice day! (Link to your work.)
Now that you’ve learned all the ins and outs to DMing, it’s time to get out there and start communicating. The best path is trial and error so start reaching out and see the great results you can get from DMing in a mindful way.