A quick guide to Instagram DM etiquette

Hi, my name is Alex and I spend a lot of my time online. I share a lot of my life, personal thoughts and feelings here as well as create imagery, useful content and tips.

But with this growing online presence comes a new, different responsibility. Primarily, the expectance to be ‘on’ at all times, and to answer everyone’s questions on pretty much everything. Instagram, in particular has made everyone so accessible and really broken down barriers in terms of contacting your favourite chef, asking the opinion of a great stylist – it’s all at your fingertips (literally!).

Now this isn’t a moan – I actually love this part of my job, I used to work for magazines and brands where no one interacted – no would ask a question because they never expected a response. Personal relationships (and dare I say friendships?) are what I love about Instagram – it’s ‘social’ media, after all – and I love how engaged everyone is.

But with it comes a whole host of what I would call ‘less friendly banter’. With the introduction of ‘Direct Message’, people can send a private message, one that no one but the recipient will see. And as you can imagine, some aren’t that pleasant.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a ‘pity’ post, I am 100% for free speech and often, a well argued point has made me rethink some things. I am very fortunate that I have very supportive readers but there are lots of accounts that receive unnecessary trolling everyday (I even reported someone on another account today). So this is for them, too.

I am a big fan of turning messages off when it gets too much, I get around 200+ DMs a day on top of my daily workload (some days it has been more like 700), personal and work inbox, Instagram comments section etc) and generally love having a natter with my readers – I’ve even had some 5am laughs during my delirious baby-feeding all-nighters.

But what I am saying is that this is new territory for us all so I thought it could be useful to put down some thoughts on etiquette. This is meant to be light-hearted, not a complaint – and might open just some eyes to the kind of messages we receive….!

1. If you’re not willing to post your message publicly, does the message need to be sent? I am all for constructive feedback, but often there is a reason the message is being sent behind closed doors.

2. Don’t correct people on grammar if they haven’t asked for feedback. This is something I have written about in my newsletter before  – it gives people a complex, mistakes happen, most bloggers are one-person bands, they don’t have sub editors, most are self edited and published, they might not be good at spelling, perhaps dyslexic.

3. If you’re typing a question in the middle of the night, think about whether you really need to know the answer. I used to be a middle of the night emailer at work – I’d email to ‘get things off my chest’, often to junior members of staff. It was rarely important, but I had no idea how it affected other members of my team, they would open the email just before going to bed and then be thinking about it as they went to sleep. This wasn’t my intention but I try not to do it nowadays.  I think it’s nice to think of this for Instagram too.

4. Please be kind.

5. I know we’re all busy but perhaps word the question as a phrase, don’t just type ‘shoess?????????’ under a picture.

6. Maybe rethink sending a pure rant to your favourite blogger (unless they are opening a discussion about something). I am not on Instagram to hear other people’s rants unless I have chosen to follow that individual. Someone grrrr-ing at me because I shared a photo of our Queen, because they were appalled that she sat in first class on a train is not how I wish to spend my time.

7. If you can help it, try not to give away plot spoilers to a programme I have said I’ve just this evening started watching. I know it’s tempting….!

8. Just because we (bloggers) have a public, online account does not mean we ‘owe’ anyone information or content. A few people have told me recently that I have a responsibility to share certain things; I try my hardest to be mindful, polite, helpful but it is, at the end of the day, okay for me to use my channel as I so wish. I do not owe anyone anything other than what I put out there.

9. Try to remember Instagram isn’t real life. Even the seemingly realest of real accounts aren’t showing you everything – it’s still a highly edited version of what people wish to portray. If someone isn’t ‘real’ enough for you, unfollow them – some people prefer to be real, others don’t. It’s their choice.

10. Equally, some people have a moral compass, some don’t. It’s life, I tend to unfollow accounts that I don’t feel are authentic to themselves before I get too annoyed.

11. Let’s not be outraged when people disappoint you. People change, mature, their opinions develop. If it’s not how you want them to act, that’s okay but it’s their choice. People can be lots of things, most of which seem at odds with each other: nice yet annoying, seemingly perfect yet flawed, feminist and love makeup, care about the environment and clothes. We’re complex beings and that’s what makes us interesting.

Even lovely Nigel Slater has off days with Instagram!

And finally: remember there is a human at the end of the message. Not an automated assistant, it takes time to respond to people and sometimes a quick, icy message just reeled off on a bad day (sometimes even well meaning) can be the message that keeps the respondent awake at night or ruins their evening.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram and it has brought so many lovely opportunities but sometimes it can be a great big time vacuum…which is why I love the blog so much – I can write long articles, have more focused discussion and debate and share with less anxiousness. The way we’re consuming media is changing at such a rate it’s nice to have my own, personal platform to place my thoughts. And I count myself lucky to have lovely, engaged readers who love to share their thoughts and recommendations with me, but as with most popular platforms, it seems to come at a price.

Reading list:

Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life, by Katherine Ormerod

Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions and Get REAL Work Done, by Jocelyn Glei


  1. Hi Alex
    What an informative post
    I throughly enjoyed reading it
    May I just thank you again for always replying to my DM’s, you are always prompt and perfectly pleasant plus give great advice and recommendations
    It’s clear to see you are genuinely a good person with such positive energy
    Keep up the good work

  2. The Nigel Slater response was brilliant. The nerve of people astounds me.

    I don’t post many comments on Instagram because I get irritated, the grammar mistakes irk because I believe if you are touting wares and getting paid for it, you should know the difference between you’re and your. Grammar matters and I don’t care if I seem old fashioned. However, I don’t point them out because if you do that, you come across as a superior dick.

    If you can’t say something nice etc.

    1. Yes, well that’s the point, I think – we all care about lots of things (and grammar is an important one!), but if someone didn’t ask for feedback then it does come across as a bit petty (I try and be good at grammar and correct mistakes as I see them!) x

  3. You know it’s bad when Nigel Slater drops an F bomb. 1000% agree. I’m not a blogger or anyone with a “following”, but I am very ethics orientated. Boundaries and etiquette are obvious to me on social media. I wouldn’t dream of sending a photo to you with, “shoes?????????” It annoys me to no end that people have to be told these things. Reading Instagram comments sometimes feels like being in a Customer Service chat. There’s a difference between asking a question in a polite way and straight up barking it at a person. You are a person, not a multinational corporation with call centre staff. Hope some people understand that and are more thoughtful about it. They wouldn’t do it IRL.

    Lastly, you are doing the right thing by protecting your mental health, which is what this is all about. I appreciate your “voice” on Instagram and your blog. Some people don’t realise the toll all this “access” has on Bloggers(a.k.a normal people). Hope this new-territory business sorts itself out. Sending love and support!

  4. Ha, love the Nigel Slater response. I always think you’re remarkably patient and courteous when responding to comments on your Instagram posts (there was one on an outfit post recently where my response would be a whole lot more sweary!). One of many reasons I couldn’t do your job!

  5. I’m always shocked when some instagrammers share the content of the vile messages, not shocked at the share, but the comment. I’ve always thought that if you can’t be kind, just don’t say anything. If instagrammers make me cross or I feel I really don’t agree, I unfollow. There are some points worthy of ‘discussion’ but frankly, unless it’s about something important in life, is it really worth it? Becoming a massive fan of the ‘you do you’ school of thought.

    I always enjoy your content, I think you come across beautifully on camera and Peggy is just adorable to watch. I am glad that you have followers who obviously feel the same and I am always grateful for the interesting content that you provide x

    1. Yes, sometimes it can be a burden reading all these messages in private, I must admit! I am lucky, I do not get even a fraction of what others do – but I think it is a good point to remember what is really important in life….! xx

  6. If only there was a Police equivalent for Social Media (or maybe I’ve been watching too much Line Of Duty?): “You have the right to remain silent & refuse to answer questions”😄

    As ever, your ‘kill them with kindness’ & honest approach is commendable, ma’am.

    S x

  7. What a great post Alex – I have noticed at times you’ve turned DM’s off and I so respect you for that. I don’t get anywhere near the number you do on a daily basis and even then, it often takes a good couple of hours to reply adequately – especially to more detailed questions. Because when you reply, that person replies and so on….it can end up being 10 messages from 1. It’s definitely made me share less on stories in recent months. I think you strike the perfect balance of lovely genuine content and you are one of my go-to accounts every day. Keep doing what you do…especially writing posts like this. LOVE x

  8. I agree completely with your etiquette rules! They should be law! And thank you for replying to my messages and comments – I’m always really happy to get a response from a very busy and popular instagrammer that I follow so thank you. It actually means a lot x

  9. I couldn’t agree more with all of this! Connecting with like-minded women and the friendships that have translated into real life (including you!) is hands-down my favourite part of blogging and the internet. But it is also a source of my deepest insecurities and self-criticism, and although I rarely get a nasty comment, the ones I do stick with me and eat into my self-confidence for days or even years. So I always try to make my blog and feeds a place where people feel better, not worse about themselves, and remember to comment and treat others exactly as I would want to be treated myself. There’s something about the anonymity of a screen that makes people forget common civility sometimes!

    Thank you for always being a ray of sunshine on my feed (and in my life).

    Briony xx

    1. Completely agree B, and your feed always makes me smile and feel good about myself – the internet can be a lovely, friendly place – I am also going to message you now about our Foundling trip! xx

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