“He slid into my DMs!” Whether of disbelief or delight, the exclamation should sound at least somewhat familiar to anyone using social media today.
That’s because sending a ‘DM’, or ‘direct message’, is infamous as a daring tactic used, often obtrusively, by online connections hoping to become better acquainted with someone in their personal or extended social network.
This is certainly true, in some cases. Receiving a spontaneous message from a stranger on the internet can be extremely off-putting, not to mention downright disrespectful. However, when carefully crafted, a classic ‘DM slide’ can work wonders.
Typically used to express romantic interest, Kate Leaver from Refinery29 describes the gesture as “a way to take an otherwise public conversation discreetly into one-on-one territory”. No surprise that, like dating apps, the hidden exchange took time to cast off its air of taboo.
Not just a vessel for romance, but a surprisingly rewarding career networking strategy.
A virtual backyard
Social media experts cottoned onto the value of DM-ing for business as far back as 2014. Nicky Kriel recommended Twitter’s DM function as “a great way to share details that you don’t want to be visible publicly”, like email addresses or arranged meetings.
Come to think of it, it’s this idea of having a blanket of privacy that really allows for meaningful exchanges – personal or otherwise – to happen at all.
“People like to do business with people they know through friends and other shared connections”, wrote Nicolas Cole in 2019. “Real” networking opportunities, he says, are found in social settings like backyard gatherings; as opposed to events that require a nametag.
Obviously, such meet-ups are impossible to have at the moment, so consider DM the virtual equivalent of a backyard – a place where you can make an authentic first impression with a potential employer or business lead by “being human and having a chat”.
Be mindful of the following advice before shooting off a networking DM, and you might just find yourself sliding into success this year.
Start with an end-goal
I asked him how the same tactic might be useful in 2021’s networking climate. Within 24-hours, I had received a reply with some helpful advice.
“When DM-ing for networking you need an end-goal in mind”, he said. That will determine your unique approach strategy. Ignore template messages, “[they] don’t work anymore”, and think instead about why you want to DM someone.
Try to familiarise yourself to them “indirectly”. If looking for a job, research your potential employer and interact with their shared content; or if they’re a company exec, network with current employees and ask for a reference to connect.
Using an end-goal to instruct your online engagement prior to messaging will “increase the chances of them [the DM-ed] being interested in you”.
Strike the right tone
Of course, knowing what you want to say is only half the battle: phrasing is everything.
Coming across as friendly and inquisitive is key to making a good first impression. Mark H. Maxwell believes that this comes more naturally when we “focus on serving instead of networking”.
The same goes when sending a DM. Make sure that whoever you are speaking to knows how you can create value for them. “Ask yourself what you can offer, rather than what you can get” advised experts from Forbes last year.
Showing enthusiasm for a shared passion, or a genuine interest in promoting the DM-ed’s work, makes this value implicit. Strike an open tone by addressing them by name, mention a recent post of theirs that you admired, and why this inspired you to connect.
Easy. Then, end with a call to action before signing off – a politely-phrased question to encourage them to respond. For example, “I wondered if you had time to share some key tips about using DM-ing as a networking strategy?”.
Clean up your profile
Last, but not least, you want to bolster your chances of receiving a reply by putting your best (virtual) foot forward.
With Facebook set to enhance interconnectivity across DM tools on Messenger, Instagram Direct and Whatsapp, our searchability between platforms is increasing. So, it’s important that your public accounts reflect who you really are.
Think about it. Before replying to any DM from a stranger, what’s your natural response? It’s to have a nosy of their profile. Position your own as being a trustworthy source by treating it like a personal résumé.
By including a snappy bio, grammar-checking your content (which should display interests and achievements), and keeping socially active, this makes it easy for your recipient to gain a sense of your credibility – an imperative to professional networking these days.
Now, watch those DMs work their magic. Happy sliding!