Whether you run a small business or simply a personal channel on Instagram, the ease with which you can communicate with your customers or followers through Instagram Direct makes Instagram messages one of the go-to forms of effective communication online.
Having said that, Instagram now boasts over 700 million users with about half of those users using Instagram messages every day.
Who are you messaging? What are you trying to say? How are you saying it?
With such an influx of users now using Instagram every day, having a clear answer to each of these questions has become a necessity for effectively connecting with an audience.
Fortunately, it’s our business not only to understand the answers to those questions but also to provide you with the tools and know-how so that you yourself can effectively communicate on Instagram.
Below you can find 36 ways to optimize your Instagram messages, broken down into three categories: Preparing your DMs, Constructing your DMs, and Sending your DMs.
Preparing your Instagram Messages
Expect people to take a long time to respond: although people can certainly respond sooner, allow a period of two weeks to a month for people to respond to your messages. This is especially important when sending time-sensitive messages or when sending DMs as part of a larger scheduled strategy. As explored below, this period can be shortened through such tactics as sending a follow-up message.
Use UTMs to track the success of links within your messages (or bio): Instagram doesn’t provide any statistics regarding open rate or click-through rate, so in order to track such statistics you can use services like bit.ly and Google’s URL Builder. While you can technically include bit.ly links in your messages, too many messages with the same clickable bit.ly link can result in Instagram stopping your DMs. A safer route is creating a UTM with Google’s URL Builder, shortening it with bit.ly, and placing the shortened link in your bio. You can then include a clear CTA in your messages asking people to check out the link in your bio and track the traffic from that link in Google Analytics.
Message the right people: this isn’t as important if you are messaging your current followers, but if you are messaging people who aren’t already following you, they have to approve the message before they can see it. This is why it is important not to message indiscriminately. As explored more in-depth later in the article, there are a number of different ways to find the right people to message and improving your chances of being approved, including:
- Hashtags (message people using hashtags that express interests related to your channel or business)
- Geotags (if you are a business looking to connect with local customers, use geotags to message people close to your business)
- Related Channels (if you find a channel that perfectly fits your target audience, use the “Related Channel” option to find other similar channels
- Competitors (if a competitor offers content or services similar to what you offer, message the followers of that competitor to find people likely to also be interested in your channel)
Engage with people before your message them: like the point above, this is especially important when messaging people not already following you. Ask yourself – are you more willing to accept a message from someone who you’ve seen constantly asking questions and leaving thoughtful comments in and around your Instagram community, or are you more willing to accept a message from a complete stranger? You’re much likely more to accept a message from someone fitting the former description.
Create a campaign tracking system: as illustrated below, a tracking system can be as simple as an excel sheet noting who you’ve contacted, when you contacted them, what message you sent them, and whether or not they responded. A campaign tracking system is absolutely necessary if you want to track the success of your Instagram messages and/or experiment with A/B testing.
Message enough people: social media extraordinaire Gary Vaynerchuk said it best when he said:
Success is a numbers game. Be prepared to get 100 no’s for every yes. Most people won’t even reply. But don’t get discouraged and don’t be romantic. It’s part of the game.
While one yes for every 100 nos might be a little exaggerated, the main point is to not get discouraged by a low response rate. It should be noted, however, that “low” does not mean receiving o responses for weeks on end. In that case, there is likely something with your message that needs to be changed.
Instagram messages are still too new to have developed concrete statistics regarding acceptable DM response rates, but we can look to DM’s older brother, the email for guidance. Generally speaking, an acceptable response rate is somewhere in the range of 5-15%. That means that for every 100 DMs you are sending, you should be receiving at least 5 responses back.
Research your recipients: quickly looking at someone’s recent posts and bio can give you an idea of what to include in your message to quickly grab their attention. For example, if you see in a recent post that they went to a coffee shop in Brooklyn, you can start your message off with something like “I saw you went to x coffee place! I went there last fall when I visited New York. What did you order?”. This helps your message seem much more personal and less sales-y.
If you are short on time, you can group people together with similar characteristics. For example, if you have a group of people who all own a pet shelter, you can begin your message to them with something like “I see that you own a pet shelter! My GF and I are going to one this Sunday. Any tips on how to pick the right pup?”. This allows for mass messaging while still seeming somewhat personal and thought out.
Tailor your messages based on communication style: in real life, you change how you speak depending on who you’re speaking with (friend, parent, doctor, business associate, etc.). The same thing applies when speaking with people through Instagram messages. Look at a someone’s bio, post descriptions, and comments to see how they communicate and modify your messages to fit their communication style (lots of emojis, casual lower case messaging, etc.).
Scale your messaging strategy slowly: too fast of an increase in any Instagram activity, whether that’s liking, following, commenting or DMing, may result in Instagram putting a temporary ban on your account. It’s easy to get motivated and want to immediately send out as many messages as possible, but a safer strategy is to warm up your activity, slowly increasing the number of messages you send on a daily or weekly basis until you’ve reached your desired amount.
Coordinate any links you include/mention in your messages with links in your bio: if you’re going to be directing people to any specific links in your bio, make sure that the link you’re directing them to is the correct link. It seems simple, but there’s no quicker way to lose a potential follower or customer than by confusing them by sending them to the wrong page. This is particularly important if, for example, you send people a new link every week directing them to your blog’s newest article.
Turn on your notifications: with some statistics now showing that we have an attention span of about 8 seconds, you want to be able to respond to people as quickly as possible, when you’re still fresh in their minds. Receiving a notification whenever someone messages you can help you do just that. Also, turning on notifications can be especially helpful for customer service. Most brands on social media ignore about 89% of messages sent to them by their customers. Knowing exactly when customers are messaging you and being able to provide a prompt response can be what separates you from your competition.
Have an accessible portfolio: people like evidence, especially when you’re claiming the superiority of your service. For example, if you’re a concert videographer reaching out to a famous singer claiming that you make the best concert videos around, make sure that on your Instagram profile there are recent, quality concert videos that you’ve made. This way, when the people you’re reaching out to visit your profile, they can quickly see the truth of your claims.
Use geotags to find relevant audiences: if you are a small business trying to attract more customers in your area, geotags are a no-brainer. Let’s say you are an ice cream shop located in Lincoln Park, Chicago. A quick search of #lincolnpark on Instagram brings back almost 300,000 results. You can then message people using this hashtag saying something like “Hey! I saw that you were near my shop a couple days ago. I’d love to offer you a free first ice cream cone if you wouldn’t mind posting your experience afterward. Just show me this message next time you’re in the neighborhood and I’ll get you hooked up 🙂 Cheers!”. You can then keep track of the number of people who come in and show you the message to gain an idea of the success of your messages.
Constructing your Instagram Messages
Keep it short: the quicker and more concisely you can communicate what you want in your message, the better. Keeping with the point on attention span above, make it as easy as possible for your recipient to quickly understand the intention of your message.
Put important information as close to the front as possible: you want to make sure that even if people lose their attention halfway through your message that they still see all necessary information. If you want to get real extreme, form your message so that even people skimming their inbox can absorb most of the necessary information. Generally speaking, the three most necessary pieces of information you want to convey is how you can bring them value, what you like from them, and a clear CTA.
Don’t give Instagram a reason to stop your messages: this one can be broken down into three points:
- Vary your message (the exact same message with no variation in wording or formatting is an indication to Instagram that you are spamming people. Switch up greetings, change wordings, vary the order of sentences, etc.)
- Avoid direct selling (directly asking people to buy things and including links to product pages is what Instagram paid advertising is for. If Instagram thinks you are trying to avoid paying them to advertise your products on their platform, there’s a good chance they’re going to stop your messages.)
- Watch your daily message quota (although the exact amount of messages you can send on an hourly and/or daily basis is unknown, the hourly quota is believed to be somewhere in the range of 15-30, while the daily amount is around 150. To automatically space out your messages throughout the day and create enough variation to avoid suspicion, we suggest using a tool like AiGrow)
Include relevant links: much to the delight of Instagram marketers, Instagram added the ability to add clickable links to DMs last year. Direct people to recent articles on your company’s blog, your general website, product page (caution – see point above), and any other location you would like to emphasize.
Bring value to the people you’re messaging: have you ever actually checked out someone’s channel because they messaged you saying “Check out my channel”? Probably not. These types of one-way messages aren’t enticing to people, especially if they are not already following you. You need to present value in your message and quickly explain how you can bring value to someone’s life. If you’re a web designer, explain how you can make their website better. If you’re a dog walker, explain the vast amount of things someone can do with the free time gained from not having to walk their dog. See the example below for more inspiration.
Include a clear CTA in your DMs: if you have a clear reason for sending people Instagram messages, then including a clear CTA (call-to-action) at the end of your message is a must. Examples of CTAs include: “Check out the link in my bio!”, “Message me back when you have the time.”, “Have a look at my work and let me know what you think!”. The idea is not to sound bossy or spammy, but simply to make clear what it is that you want from someone. However, only include your CTA after you’ve provided all other necessary information (your value proposition, what it is you want from someone, etc.). Neil Patel found that including the CTA before this essential information decreased conversions by 17%.
Sending your Instagram Messages
Use group messaging: to save time and message specific groups of your audience with the same message (up to 15 people per group), you can use Instagram’s group messaging feature. However, as everyone can see your message, you must construct your message so as to be general enough to apply to everyone in the group, but personal enough to not sound spammy. You can do this through the method explained in the “Research your recipients” section above. To further simplify this process, you can use a tool like AiGrow. which allows you to automatically send customizable Instagram messages to up to 150 people per day. See the video below for a quick demonstration.
Leverage the status of other people in group chats: instead of creating an entirely new group chat and inviting people who don’t necessarily know you (something that can be fixed by building brand recognition in and around your Instagram community), building a personal relationship with one person who is already known and respected in your industry and asking them to induct you into an existing group chat can give your messages more influence.
Easily access influencers: forming relationships with other people in your industry is a hashtag, comment, tag, or direct message away. If you are a brand looking to take advantage of influencer marketing, DMs are the easiest way to get in touch with influencers in your industry. Research and reach out using the methods explored in our guide Instagram Influencers: Finding Them, Working With Them, and 10 Cases to Learn From.
Take advantage of various touch points: Instagram messages are great, but why not increase your chances of people seeing your message by contacting them in as many ways as possible? Particularly when researching influencers, you will notice that a lot of them include their email in their bio. That email is there specifically so that people or brands like you can get in contact. When possible, email and direct message in combination.
Send a follow-up message: just because someone hasn’t responded to your message doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to. People forget, people get flooded by other messages, people go on vacation… The possible reasons for not responding to your message are endless. This is why sending a follow-up message is crucial, especially when contacting larger channels. According to Salesforce, it takes an average of 6-8 touch points to generate a sales lead. While that may be a little excessive in the world of Instagram messages, the point is clear – following up with someone significantly increase your chances of connecting with them.
Streamline your customer service: people have no problem being candid on social media, especially when they’re not happy with a service. This can actually work to your benefit as it provides insight into the sorts of questions or concerns people have about your channel or brand. If through tools like Hootsuite you notice that people are expressing an issue regarding your channel or business, you can use Instagram messages to quickly address these questions and provide possible solutions.
Use intelligent commenting to support your DMs: similar to the point above about engaging with people before you message them, comments can be a simple and non-intrusive way of following up with people after you have messaged them. This can be as simple as leaving a thoughtful comment with a notification at the end like “Check your DMs for more information.” or “I DM’d you a great idea for a collaboration!”.
Emphasize particular posts: if you have a post that you really want people to see, you can follow the directions in the image below to quickly send the post as a DM to someone. This can be helpful when trying to promote a sale, for example. A similar process can be used to share hashtags or locations through DMs.
Reward valued followers: if you’re noticing that you have a group of uber-dedicated followers who like, comment, and share the majority of your posts, use DMs to reward their efforts. This can take the form of sending them exclusive coupons, pictures/videos of behind-the-scenes content, exclusive content, or product sneak peaks.
Run contests: the number of different types of contents you can run through Instagram messages is really only limited by your creativity. Contests can include:
- posting a specific photo and rewarding the first 20 people to send you a DM containing your specific photo.
- rewarding the first 20 people to comment on your post by messaging them with an exclusive coupon code.
- asking customers or followers to DM you a creative use of your product and rewarding the best entry with free product or exposure.
- asking followers or customers to post a photo or video using a specific hashtag and rewarding the first 20 people by messaging them an exclusive coupon code
- entering the first 50 people to create a post with your branded hashtag into a sweepstake to win free product or exposure for a month
If you’re going to run a content, however, make sure you’re familiar with Instagram’s contest regulations.
Use automation (with caution): automating your DMs can save you countless hours of crafting individual messages, opening up your phone, navigating to Instagram and ultimately sending your messages. Where automation can go wrong is when tools begin messaging with no sense of targeting. Ensure that you use automation tools like AiGrow that allow you to customize your messages, specify who you want to send to, and send out your messages over the right amount of time.
Send direct messages from your desktop: sending messages and managing your inbox from your phone can be annoying and time-consuming. Check out this article exploring the different ways you can send DMs from your desktop, or simply use a desktop tool like AiGrow, illustrated in the video below, which provides all of the same Instagram inbox functionality found on your phone.
Take note of Instagram’s new “Last Active” feature: as of December 2017, you can see when your followers were last on Instagram. Although people can turn off the feature, it can be helpful for knowing when to message people with a higher chance that they will see your message.
Send Instagram messages according to when your target audience is online: as explained in our guide 62 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Followers in 2018, understanding when your target audience is active on Instagram is incredibly important. For example, if your target audience is 9-5ers, before 9 am, between 12 pm and 1 pm, and 5:30/6 pm would be the best times to message as people are either on their way to work, on their lunch, or coming home from work. It is during these downtimes that your target audience is much more likely be on Instagram, and therefore see your messages.
Take advantage of Instagram’s unsend feature: if you accidentally send an Instagram message to the wrong person, fear not! As long as the person you’re sending the message to hasn’t already seen your message, you can simply unsend your message through instructions below.
Time to get down and dirty
Whether you’re a personal channel looking to simply grow your following or a business trying to grow your client base, take any handful of the suggestions above and get experimenting.
For those overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, an easy place to start is AiGrow. It takes many of the suggestions above, such as smart mass-messaging, precise targeting, inbox management from your desktop, and paced message distribution, and condenses them into one easy-to-use tool.
Interested? Learn more about AiGrow here.