Direct messages or DMs are a good way to contact someone 1:1. On Twitter, if you follow someone and they also follow you, you can send them a DM. Many people have their DMs open for everyone, meaning you can send them a message even if they don’t follow you. This means you might have the ability to contact some of the most interesting and influential people you follow.
You can use DMs in a similar way to how you would use comments: sharing appreciation for someone’s work, providing anecdotal support for something they’ve said, sharing recommendations, et cetera. In all these instances, again, it’s important to hold low expectations for a response—but it’s always worth a try. It’ll happen someday.
DMs can have a few use cases:
Cold compliments. Provide positive feedback on someone’s work—whether a great blog post, podcast episode, design work—without asking for anything in return. If they respond, you have the option of extending the conversation, either now or in the future.
Extending conversations. If you’re having an interesting conversation in Twitter comments, that well may be a chance to move that conversation organically to direct messages. This can deepen conversation because messages are obviously private (at least purportedly so) and don’t have the character count restrictions of tweets and replies.
Cold outreach. With some of the greatest minds available to you, messaging people you respect and asking for their help or guidance is always an option. Cold messaging can be effective if your ask is short and specific. This means not rambling or asking things that can easily be Googled. A surprising number of people will help you if you just ask. Write messages that are short, concise, and to the point. Couple this with a compliment that demonstrates appreciation and familiarity with their work so it’s clear why you’re reaching out to them specifically. Outreach on Twitter can be more effective than email—some people include in their bios or on their personal websites that DMs are open and the best way to reach them. They may follow up with an email, so it’s ok to include yours in the DM. As always, don’t expect a response. It’s OK to follow up twice, but after that, move on.
I think people underestimate how far a message just to show appreciation can go. There are several people I thought I would never get to meet in person until I was more senior that I was able to grab coffee with just from DMing them some appreciation for stuff they’ve written. It’s so little effort to send that message and it goes such a long way. It’s even better if you disagree with something they’ve written or have follow-up questions, because then it opens a dialogue naturally. A thoughtful DM can go an extremely long way.Nikhil Krishnan (@nikillinit), Strategic Partnerships Manager, TrialSpark*
Scrolling through someone’s timeline will give you information about them as an individual. This is helpful for finding something in common and showing you’ve done some homework when you DM them, meet in person, or apply for or interview for a role.
caution However, there is a thin line between demonstrating interest and appearing too familiar. Even though people often post intimate details about their lives on Twitter, it’s best not to leverage this in professional correspondence. Women are commonly victims of harassment via DM, often in the guise of professional outreach—it’s very important not to go overboard here and misrepresent your intentions or make someone uncomfortable.
Before you get to know someone better, stick to these general guidelines:
Good to mention: Similar appreciation for someone’s work, a book, film, or sport’s team you both enjoy, a shared professional interest.
Bad to mention: Details that date back years, someone’s family, personal details (romantic relationships, health issues, et cetera).
Table: Effective Cold DMs
Don’t do this
Why it’s bad
Why it’s better
“Can I pick your brain over coffee?”
This is an overused phrase that many professionals now cite as a pet peeve. It’s nonspecific and implies a time-heavy and unpaid commitment for the person you’re asking.
“I really liked your work on X. I’ve been thinking about Y, how do you think this relates?”
It’s specific and takes less effort for the person asked.
“Will you be my mentor?”
This is a vague request that requires a high time commitment from someone who is likely very busy.
“I’m struggling with X and know you went through something similar while you were doing Y. Do you have any advice?”
It’s specific and lets them know you’re contacting them because you’re familiar with their experiences and feel they can help. They can potentially respond quite quickly. If they respond with advice, you can follow up with results and potentially build a relationship more organically.
“I wrote X. Can you share it?”
This requests a transactional favor of someone you don’t know, asking them to leverage their following and reputation for someone they don’t know.
“I found your article on X very thoughtful. I wrote something related and thought you might like it.”
It discloses exactly why you’re sharing the article with them and leaves the ball in their court on whether they’ll share it or not.