Instagram: Why your Direct Message isn’t getting a reply (and how to change that)

Instagram: Why your Direct Message isn’t getting a reply (and how to change that)

Social media makes it easy to weave illusions: of wealth, of happiness, of personal relationships. When you choose to follow someone and see what they share, it’s easy to feel like you “know” them. We do this with celebrities all the time with magazines and articles commenting on the most intimate parts of their lives – people care about what they eat, where they like to go, who they date, how their breakups are being handled. 

The magic of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook is that the people who you choose to follow often aren’t celebrities, they’re just normal people you have something in common with who are sharing parts of their lives. Maybe you like their photography style, or their careers, or the way they use certain words. Maybe it’s that girl who you went to elementary school with who posts all her life drama (and you follow it like a soap opera) even though you haven’t spoken in 10 years. Whatever the reason you follow them, the mere act of following them makes you feel closer, makes you want to reach out. 

Instagram has a nifty feature I call the “outer inbox” – where messages go when you don’t follow a person. It’s a kind of safety net so that random strangers can’t harass you and force notifications to come up on your phone. As your follower count grows, the number of messages in this outer-inbox increase and you have to develop a way to figure out what messages to respond to (and what not to). So if you’ve ever messaged an Instagram account and wondered why you never got a response, it might be because of these*:

*Disclaimer: These are guidelines based on personal anecdotes over the past 6+ months running a personal account

7 Reasons Your Message isn’t Getting a Response

Reason #1: They do not owe you their time

This one is probably the biggest: unless you’re messaging a business or celebrity with a PR person, you’re trying to get in contact with a real-live-human-being. When you’re looking at accounts, it’s easy to forget that they’re real humans with jobs and errands to run. Responding to messages takes time and energy that could be spent doing other things, like, sleeping.

Personally, the only people I choose to dedicate my time and consideration to are my family members, my significant other, my coworkers (because I’m literally paid for that), and friends who I love and care about. Those are the people who I willingly allow to interrupt my day and take up time where I could be doing laundry, reading a book, gardening, going to the grocery store, etc. If I respond to messages, it’s because I’ve set aside time in my day to respond to them (and sometimes life just gets busy).

What would be a better message: It doesn’t matter what message you send, people do not owe you their time

Reason #2: Your message might make them uncomfortable

As a girl (I don’t know if guys get these kinds of messages and comments) I have people that will comment on my appearance. It’s the equivalent of a digital cat-call. If you want to see how much girls enjoy it when it happens in real life check out how much fun this girl is having. 

I’m not going to respond if you message me telling me how beautiful I am because I don’t want you to keep doing it. Unless your message is followed up with “And I work with xx agency and we would love to sign you up as one of our petite-ethnically-ambiguous models, we will pay you more than your day job if you come work with us” then your comment on my appearance doesn’t really contribute to my well being. 

What would be a better message: If you feel the need to comment on something purely aesthetic, look at what their account content is about and show appreciation for that instead. If they post about going to the gym, talk about their gym workout or their sense of fashion. Talk about the composition of the photo, the colors, etc. etc.

Reason #2.5: You “just want to get to know them”

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I have a significant other and I have friends and family who I talk to regularly. I share very specific parts of my life/creativity on Instagram and when internet-strangers want to be included in other vague parts of my life it makes me a little uncomfortable, that’s a hard boundary that I don’t cross.

What would be a better message: Ask them about the theme of their account, why they started the account, what they want to do with it. Look at what they are willing to share and ask about that.

Reason #3: You’re being inappropriately familiar

I understand that social media sharing breaks down perceived boundaries, that’s one of the great parts about being able to do this whole micro-blogging thing: sharing common experiences. However, nothing throws up a red flag faster than a stranger saying “Hey, why haven’t we talked in a while” when the entirety of our previous interactions was me answering a question. You might just be trying to be nice, but take into account that social media sharing accounts for mere minutes of a person’s day and they have a lot of other things going on.

What would be a better message: If you want to follow up with someone, then make it meaningful. Send them a link related to what their interests are, ask a question. Don’t assume that because you have a major interest in them that they have the same level of interest.

Reason #4: You are purely just seeking attention

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Only saying “Hello” is not a conversation starter if you aren’t on a dating application or in real life. Only sending a heart is just kind of weird (refer to reason #2). It isn’t that I think you’re a bot, there is just no incentive to spend time replying when dinner needs to be cooked and laundry needs to be done.

What would be a better message: Pretty much anything else

Reason #5: You are trying to sell something they don’t need

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I don’t want to waste either of our time’s when I know I won’t change my mind, and I don’t want to get harassed for four months because I tried to be nice and say “no” gently (this has happened). 

What also falls into this category is if you’re trying to promote something. If your first message to me is “Hey, tell people about my website” with no context, that doesn’t leave a great impression.

What would be a better message: Target your messages and if you think you’ve got something good then send it as a request, not a demand. I am happy to share resources and recommendations, but only if I feel like I can actually get behind whatever I am recommending.

Reason #6: They don’t need to prove anything to you

When my account started gaining enough attention that strangers started messaging me, I felt like I had to respond. If they asked what languages I programmed in, if they asked if I was really a developer – it felt like if I didn’t respond then the world would end. What I eventually realized is that it wouldn’t end, and my life would be better if I didn’t respond to those messages because they will literally never stop. I talk about what I do publicly on my feed, I have answered those questions publicly. If someone wants to find out the answers they can look at the captions on my photos and find the answers in less than 2 minutes. 

What would be a better message: Ask yourself why you’re taking the time out of your day to ask this question. Is it because you just want to get a response?

Reason #6.5: You’re giving unsolicited advice

There’s no good, honest, response to unsolicited advice that makes everyone happy.

Reason #7: You are asking them to help you with your projects/job/networking (for free)

I think this one is pretty straightforward (for me at least):

  1. I have a full time job
  2. I have personal projects that I work on when I am not doing that job
  3. It is not my job to do your job 

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I do connect people who seem like good fits (ex: if you’re a WordPress developer and someone asks me if I develop on WordPress, or you’re looking for remote work and someone legitimate asks me if I am willing to work remotely). If I say that I can’t be of use to you then I’m not lying or trying to hide resources from you, I just honestly don’t have the capacity to help and trying to push me further isn’t going to get a positive (or any) response.

What would be a better message: If the person HAS a job and you think you might want to employ them: say that. Connect on LinkedIn, ask about what kind of work they want to do in 5 years. If the person is an artist/freelancer then ask about rates, or ask if they’re taking new bookings (if it isn’t clarified on their website/profile).

4 Types of Messages that Anyone can Appreciate

Not all direct messages were created equally, and there are some that are always cool to receive. If you aren’t getting responses to the messages below, then the person running the account is probably just really busy doing their thing.

Message #1: You’re telling your story/genuinely asking for advice

I like stories, I like hearing about people succeeding (or people who need encouragement). I am so down for that (and assume other people are too). 

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When talking about advice, I’m not talking about “What should I program in?” (I don’t know what you should program in). I’m talking about ‘Hey, this is my situation, I see that you have experience with x” “X” could be: the Dallas job market, working as a developer in consulting, working for the specific company I’m with, what the real world is like versus being in school, etc. If enough people ask the same questions I will probably write a blog post about it. 

Caveat: When your question is specific to your life/region I can’t help you out. I can really only speak to my own experiences

Message #2: You’re asking about something I have mentioned in a story

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If I mention something and you don’t know what it is – I will absolutely tell you. If I’m posting about it then it’s just general knowledge for me, but not necessarily anyone else. I also really appreciate people who ask questions in the comment section of my posts because it can then help other people as well.

Message #3: You are providing encouragement, camaraderie, or talking about something that helped you

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The greatest thing I have achieved in social media thus far might be more people buying this shirt (“Petting Cats is my Cardio”)

It probably won’t start a long conversation, but I will probably say thank you. When people tell me what I do that they appreciate it helps me know what I should be focusing on more (talking about personal experiences, technical things, or posting cute pictures of animals, etc). 

Message #4: You are asking me to do something for you that could potentially help or encourage other people 

Things like asking me to write something up for a blog, do an interview, or recommend a product. If it’s something that makes development more accessible, I’m all for it. If you’re a company that wants me to recommend something then I’m not going to unless I have personal experience with it, but I am always open to trying stuff out. 

Caveat: Life gets busy and these things take time, sometimes that’s the biggest factor in whether these messages get a response or not.

Message #5: You are a real human in close proximity to me and we just haven’t met yet

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I had a coworker who I vaguely knew message me on Instagram and ask me to grab coffee – I said “yes” in a heartbeat because A. I knew she wasn’t a serial killer or stalker and B. I thought it was a great idea. Working a 9 to 5 is hard in that sometimes you’re so focused on your work that it’s hard to make friends.  Also, if a reputable company holds an event in Dallas (like a coffee shop or a technology event) I totally want to hear about it if they’re doing something cool (and invite people, and tell the world about it).

TL;DR

It’s important to remember that the people on the other side of the screen are people with lives and feelings. Just because social media gives you opportunities 24/7 to contact people doesn’t mean that you should just because you “want” to. It is, however, a great place to network with people who have different experiences than you and to learn from what others are willing to share.

Do you have a different way of handling your inbox or are sometimes baffled as to how to respond to weird messages? Let me know in the comments below.

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