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

50 Comments

  1. Lovely post, Alex. Really interesting how people can end up losing sight of the person/reality on the other side of the ‘screen’.
    Didn’t follow @nigelslater before, but definitely will be now 😋

  2. Thanks Alex. I ( mostly!) welcome opportunities to advance my grammar. Maybe we could all do this with kindness and well-meaning and not be out to score points. Bad grammar has an effect somewhat similar to bad manners: it creates an unavoidable impression. Not sure how to proceed with this one but worth a thought…

    1. Yes I definitely think it’s in the approach. Personally, when I read someone else’s words with excellent grammar it makes me want to better myself – perhaps those of us who are good at certain things should lead the way with kindness and by example, and provide inspiration to others instead of offering advice when it might not be suitable x

  3. So relevant right now, what a good read! The juggle is hard and replying to messages and working on orders…and looking after children and feeling present at all times…and keeping up with your real life friends…need I say more! Xxx

  4. Oh this is all so right on the money!
    Also the way some people address you in messages is so odd, even disrespectful…
    I run a small business Instagram account where my name is clearly visible yet people will still write to me as ‘hun’ ‘babes’ or ‘lovely’ – it genuinely creeps me out!

  5. I’m going to go against the grain and say this particular blog post has a really scolding and entitled tone.

    Really disappointing. Maybe I’m just too old to “get it” but really? I’m genuinely surprised you’d post this.

  6. I love what you do and have found both your instagram presence and blog brilliantly informative, helpful and a delight to read. I’m currently renovating my house with a baby on the way and have been massively inspired by your work. Thank you, it’s been a huge help!x

  7. I find Nigel Slater’s response completely appalling. He wishes to be in the public eye and have people take an interest in his life and someone wrote a comment as she clearly trusts his opinions and comments. To respond in such a manner is vile. The request was not rude or mean. His response most definitely was. Can you imagine, in a normal office job, you responded in such a manner?

    That being said, your points are all valid!

      1. but also, interestingly, no one did drag him down for that response which is very interesting….is it because he was wasn’t an ‘Influencer’, ‘blogger’ or ‘female’…? I’m not saying any of these but I can’t help but think about it sometimes x

  8. There’s a principal in Eastern philosophy that I really like and think everyone on’t internet could do with checking in with every now and again and it goes like this:
    Let your words pass through these three gates: Is it truthful? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

    Love this blog btw. 🧡

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