Connect through Direct Messaging on Social Media

What are direct messages?

Direct messages are 1:1 chats with your connections on social media. Sometimes referred to as just ‘messages,’ this type of social media engagement is a great way to connect with your audience.

I’m Jennifer van Alstyne, and welcome to The Social Academic. This is a Higher Education blog focused on managing your online presence. I talk about social media and websites. Plus, I talk with cool grad students, faculty, and researchers like you.

Today we’re getting into direct messages on social media.

  • How social media is my go-to networking tool
  • What are direct messages?
  • How social media can be great for networking (especially for introverts like me)
  • Email vs. DM, which is better?
  • Tips for writing direct messages (be friendly, keep it short, follow up)

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First, let me tell you a story. A while back, after I got up the courage to take my social media profiles public, I sent a direct message that completely changed the way I thought about them.

My dad died before I went to college. He was in marketing, but I always thought he should have been a music teacher. His flute had a reserved space in our home. He gave me a love of classical music. When I discovered electronic dance music after a creative study of the pianist Glenn Gould in college, it felt like contemporary fugue, themes turning on each other.

There was a DJ and music producer I had listened to more than other composers in my lifetime. It was someone I’d admired for years. One afternoon, I discovered he did all sorts of cool projects, like movie and video game scores. I thought…his website doesn’t really express who he is creatively right now.

Sure there are his fans who are more into the club scene. But what about the producers, collaborators, and people who want to know more about him?

It’s a problem a lot of researchers and faculty have as their work changes over time. That’s something I know how to talk about. It’s an area I knew I could help.

So I reached out via direct messaging (DM) on Twitter. I knew, as a long-time fan I’d be a great person to write a new bio. One that expressed who he was to the audiences he most wanted to communicate to. It was a long-shot. I know. You might think I’m crazy.

Here’s the thing. I reached out because I cared, and knew I can help. And I’m going to get into why those things are important soon.

Are you wondering if I heard back?

I didn’t. I sent that direct message and felt proud of myself for reaching out. And then didn’t hear a peep.

Not for months.

And then, 7 months later…

A notification.

A little red dot above the Twitter icon.

There it was, a short note, “I just saw this,” and an email to contact.

That’s right. I heard back 7 months later from the DJ/producer I reached out to. The person I admired so much I direct messaged them to see how I could help now their goals had changed.

Before you get too excited, we didn’t end up working together. By then he had a completely different website and bio. I couldn’t help in the same way I initially intended. I felt bad, and to be honest, I made some mistakes. Like not following-up.

I’ve learned a lot about direct messaging since then. So today I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

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Echo Rivera and I use social media for networking

This post was inspired by my recent live chat with Dr. Echo Rivera of Creative Research Communications. We chatted about how we met through social media. And we got into a whole conversation about how social media is our go-to networking tool.

Watch the full interview below (though I’ll link to specific chapters throughout if you want to just catch the direct message-related bits).

Direct messages are private social media chats

So, what is a DM in social media? Well, direct messages are like the e-mail of social media. Direct messages are a way for one person to send a private message to another person.

Sprout Social defines Direct Message as:

A DM is a private mode of communication between social media users. When you send a direct message, only you and the recipient can see the content.

Sprout Social Glossary, “What is a Direct Message (DM)?”

Some social media platforms also allow you to send group chats, direct messages that include more than one person. Direct messages are available on social media platforms like

  • Messages on Facebook
  • Direct messages on Twitter
  • Direct messages on Instagram
  • InMail and messages LinkedIn
  • Direct messages on Slack (a popular internal communications platform)

Direct messages are a great way to get in touch with people. And, can sometimes be a better alternative to email

How introverts can use direct messaging on social media for networking

A black man holds his phone and smiles with his head facing up and his arms out. He looks happy.

Social media is Echo’s favorite way to network. And mine too. I prefer it because there’s less pressure to have something prepared. Social media feels less formal than email. And that means it’s more conducive to conversations.

“The term networking always made me anxious and stressed out. I just felt so much pressure with networking…I just didn’t do it,” Echo said when talking about conferences.

I’m an introvert myself, and while I like presenting at conferences, I struggle to also have the energy to have meaningful conversations while networking at the same time. I’m much more likely to connect with people before and after a conference via social media.

With social media, I can invite people to my conference presentation. And with a personal website, I can host

  • event details
  • supplemental handouts
  • a copy of the slides

Managing your online presence with websites and social media is a great way to communicate your work. And it’s especially handy when networking because it invites people to connect with you.

Get started with your online presence in academia for free

As an introvert, social media for networking during conferences was the first way that I learned how to connect. I started following people I presented with or met at events.

Direct messaging is about moving beyond just connecting with someone and liking their tweets. Though replying to people’s social media posts and commenting when they share is a great way to network too. Direct messages are like having a 1:1 chat.

Whether it’s a quick note to say how much you liked something they said…

Or, writing to introduce yourself to start a larger conversation…

DMs on social media are a great way to get and keep in touch.

Direct messages should be used when you have

  • something specific to say
  • that doesn’t need to be, or shouldn’t be publicly shared

Email vs. direct message, which is better?

Jennifer van Alstyne smiling with her arms wide. In the background are icons of direct messages and speech bubbles.

During our live chat, someone asked which is better: email or direct messages?

While email is a tried-and-true method of communication, it may surprise you to learn we both agreed direct messaging can be more effective.

It’s a good communication practice to reach out to people where they’re spending time. People tend to spend quite a bit of time on social media.

Here’s what Echo said “I will also sometimes not open email for hours on purpose. Just because I don’t want the distraction. I want to stay focused on my task. But while I go and grab coffee…I might sneak a look at Twitter. That’s also why you might get a faster response.”

Katharina Buchholz writes for Statisia, “On average global internet users spent 2 hours and 23 minutes on social media per day, though trends differed widely by country.” In the USA, it was about 1 hour and 57 minutes (Global Web Index).

Matt Plummer writes in the Harvard Business Review, that workers spend about 28% of their day on email. “For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day.”

Do you feel like you get too much email? I asked Twitter earlier this week and here’s what you said:

An email tells the reader a bit about you, like your name. And the information you share in your email signature.

A direct message on social media is a good alternative to consider because it also shares a bit about you

  • your name
  • profile photo
  • bio
  • link to your personal website (if you have one)
  • recent posts

The art of the DM, what to write in your direct message

Direct messaging tips

Echo and I both said reaching out to people via DM is a great way to get in touch. Here are the best practices we discussed.

  • Be friendly and introduce yourself
  • Keep it short and specific
  • Follow-up when you don’t hear back

Be friendly and introduce yourself

Are you wondering how to introduce yourself on social media? The most important thing to remember is to be friendly in your direct messages. Unless you’ve talked before, or as Echo said, know each other from social media (i.e. liked/shared each other’s tweets before)…

It’s a good idea to say hi and introduce yourself when you send a direct message. The video below is the start of our conversation about direct messaging tips.

Please note that many women receive unwanted DMs from strangers. Introducing yourself goes a long way to knowing a message is coming from a real person. There’s so much to say on this topic, I’m adding it to my list right now.

In general, introducing yourself whenever starting a conversation with a person you’re connecting with is a good practice.

For your next DM, say hi. Introduce yourself. And let them know why you’re reaching out.

For those of you reaching out for a potential collaboration, Echo says “make sure it sounds like a mutual ask…no matter who it is. Don’t make it seem like you just want to spend the whole time asking for them and not giving back…there has to be some kind of give and take.”

And she’s right, that’s what a conversation is all about. Give and take.

Keep it short and specific

Don’t feel the need to write an essay in your direct message. When you have a message from anyone, if it has a clear message for the sender, that’s good communication. When you’re also succinct, you help ensure your point gets across in the time and attention your reader has.

Maybe you’re like Echo, and your natural inclination is to write all the details.

My weakness is I write essays for emails. When I write my essay, I will save that as a draft and then send a short email that has almost no details. So then if they ask I have it ready. I get it out of my system. It’s the way I organize my thoughts…but I have learned to follow Jennifer’s advice and not send the entire essay. Because I also don’t like getting essays. Keep it succinct and be clear about expectations.

Echo Rivera, YouTube LIVE, July 22, 2020

In a direct message, a long detailed note can be overwhelming. Especially since many people read DMs on their mobile devices.

So try to keep it short. Or, just as long as it needs to be.

Follow up when you don’t hear back

Following up when you don’t hear back is a great practice. There is so much going on in our daily lives, it’s a good idea to think of following up as normal. You have no idea what someone’s day, or email inbox looks like. And for that reason, I like to think of following up as a courtesy.

It was kind of a mindset change for me, which I talked about in my webinar, Stay Connected When Social Distancing. Assuming someone may not be able to respond right away is communicating with empathy. Following up when you don’t hear back is also communicating with empathy.

Echo and I both appreciate when people have followed up in the past. And we’ve heard back from people we’ve followed up with ourselves.

Oftentimes, an email was missed.

It was lost on a particularly email-heavy day.

Or beneath the 20 other things to respond to it wsa overlooked.

Rarely, an email can end up in the SPAM folder.

And direct messages? Well people check on their phone. If they were in the middle of something and put it down, they might forget. Pro tip: Don’t want to forget to respond to a direct message? Mark the message as unread.

So, if you don’t hear back after sending a DM, try sending another message.

If you don’t hear back again, try email.

Back to the Direct Messaging tips

Save this infographic on direct messages for later

Here’s a quick run-down of our tips for direct messages.

You’re welcome to share this infographic on social media. Please tag @HigherEdPR for credit.

Direct messages infographic: DMs are 1:1 chats between people on social media. They're a great way to network and have conversations with people. Be friendly and introduce yourself. Keep it short and be specific. Follow up when you don't hear back. The Social Academic blog. @EchoEchoR @HigherEdPR

Good luck with your direct messaging

Let me know how it goes! If you want a challenge, reach out to someone you admire. Tell them why. You’ll be surprised who responds. I know I was.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.

Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at

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