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Instagram DM (Direct Message) is the single biggest networking or business development opportunity of this decade. If you’re late to the IG game, check out my blog, How Does Instagram Work? Everything You Need to Know, for a comprehensive guide. If you’re a veteran user and looking to grow your platform, read 10 Ways to Get More Followers on Instagram. For the purposes of this article, we’re honing in on one of my favorite features of the app — DMs. 

Here’s my step by step guide to deriving the most value from Instagram direct messaging to upgrade your networking strategy. Do this, and you will win! 

How to Network in 2021:

In a world full of salespeople, there are so many individuals just trying to market, sell, or take advantage of you, and not enough people leading with service. There are not enough people thinking, “how can I actually solve a problem?” or “how can I bring value?” The key is to connect first, provide value, and THEN — given the right opportunity presents itself — ASK. This is the essence of my book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.” Remember, business lasts a lifetime, not a day. 

With that said, Instagram is one of the most under-utilized resources when it comes to networking. You can connect with anyone from a social media influencer to a nearby business to a Fortune 100 CEO, all the way up to a famous celebrity…IF you are persistent enough 😉

Here’s what you need to know — my top 5 keys to remember when connecting on instagram. 

1. Find New Instagram Accounts to Target

In the world of social media, there is a lot of noise. First, you need to cut through it all and locate your point of interest by doing a quick search through the Instagram app. The beauty of Instagram is that you can find a nearly infinite amount of leads through a number of unique search methods. You can choose to search by location, hashtag, or user. For instance, If you’re a business and you want to grow your audience, start by searching hashtags for the most used terms in your industry and engage in a meaningful manner. 

Let’s say you’re a hairdresser on the Upper East Side of New York. You can easily begin your Instagram strategy by searching the hashtag “haircut” and find posts you would like to engage with to create conversation and gain visibility for your business.  For more information, read How To Use Hashtags Correctly. Alternatively, you could also filter by location using the address of your store. Go to the search tab in Instagram and select “place”, then look at the top and most recent posts and start examining each account for possible people to DM. These people could be prospective customers! 

When deciding which accounts to target, don’t overthink it. Too many people get caught up thinking they have to identify people with 100,000+ followers. Unless you’re a big time business with a big budget, you don’t need this approach. If you can activate “micro-influencers,” or people with smaller followings but tremendous engagement that live nearby, you can win.

2. Look at the Instagram Profile and Audit Their Account

You’ve targeted some accounts — nice. Now, spend about 30 seconds scrolling through their account(s) and understanding their likes, dislikes, and activity on the app. 

There are so many people out there who focus on top level metrics like follower count when trying to determine which accounts to contact. The truth is, even though follower count can be important, there are tons of instances where accounts with large followings actually produce zero ROI for a business. For example, some big accounts may buy their followers, or do “follow for follow” tactics to grow their numbers, etc. 

In other words, follower count does not equal attention! Focus on how they’re actually using their platform. 

REMEMBER: Pay Attention to Engagement!

Even if the account you’ve targeted only has 190 followers, they may have high engagement. If every single post that Instagram user creates has 60 likes and 20 comments, REACH OUT via DM. If the relationship between their following and their engagement is strong, that means that they have their audience’s ATTENTION, which is so crucial in today’s digital world. 

Pay attention to micro-influencers that are within the region you’re targeting. They can provide tremendous value to you and your business and all it takes is a single direct message to start building a relationship. Look at their posts and consider: Do they interact? Do they engage? Do they post regularly? Do their fans like them? 

This is the key to success. 

3. Bring Them Value

Now, it’s time to bring the value. My one reservation with this article is that it may turn a lot of you into spam bots — that you’re just going to copy one message, go into DMs, and start pasting it everywhere and end up getting banned by Instagram for spamming random accounts. That is the opposite of my intention. The point of this post is not to simply help you reach the most people, but to get you to understand how you can bring people value. 

Right now, your entire energy is predicated on, what can I get out of this? Of course, you can DM The Rock, Warren Buffett, Tyra Banks, or some founder you love, but if you don’t consider what that person actually needs or wants, you will never get through. This is the number one key for success: if you are not providing value, they will not respond. 

The key to any tactic – and this is THE tactic – is to provide more value to the other person, especially when they are the one with the leverage. Formulate your proposition and prepare to do what is so crucially important in today’s digital world – network. 

Remember, your value proposition is this: how can you help solve the problem they are currently experiencing, or the problem they haven’t thought of yet? 

4. Direct Message

This step is easy, but a lot of you still don’t understand how to send a DM. 

Open up the app and go to the profile of the user you’re trying to reach. Instagram has made this nice and easy with a “Message” button on the home page of each user’s profile. Click that button to begin drafting your message.

Not sure what to say? Check out this 2017 YouTube video where I literally walk you through some suggestions on how to DM for product placement, how to DM celebrities or people with big followings, and how to DM for your small business by location! 

5. Rinse and Repeat

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. Many people at the top have similar skills. A LOT of companies, individuals, and influencers can bring you A LOT of value and opportunity. Needless to say, most individuals are fairly well connected, and many might be friends or employees of the person you are trying to reach. 

For example, The Rock might not DM you back, but a third or fourth tier celebrity might. The CEO of Versace might not hit you back for a fashion internship, but another lesser known fashion brand might…and if you spend a few months or even years getting experience at that smaller brand, a bigger brand (or influencer) might take you more seriously. It’ll help build your personal brand too. 

Getting one “yes” will build your foundation. Keep the ball rolling and use your work and speed to gain momentum. You will need to be doing this 10-100-500 times a day. It’s all about putting in the reps. 

Now You Have To Deliver

Once you get the opportunity, you need to deliver! Don’t be upset if you DM 900 people and 2 say yes, but then you fail to deliver. Ultimately, skill and execution are everything. Direct messages just help you get your foot in the door — they are the entry point. It’s up to you to do the work. 

You have to make sure your Instagram account and your execution is on point. You can’t just DM a celebrity with no prior experience and say that you want to make videos for them. You have to show that you can execute and provide value to back up your offer. Start by making awesome Instagram videos for your friends, or your uncle, or your dog. Do something to show that you can execute and make great work! It doesn’t cost a lot of money. If you have a smartphone and access to the internet, you can not complain! 

Start a blog on Medium,or  create a podcast with your phone on Soundcloud and interview your friends. Check out How to Start a Podcast for guidance. Start taking photos and become an iPhone-ographer. Help your friends edit their vlogs. Whatever it is, you have to do it. You have the resources available to you. Walk in to your local hardware store and say, “Hey Rick — I know you have never heard of Instagram, but it’s a really cool platform and I think it could drive better conversion to your business through hashtags and promotional content.” Follow up with, “I make videos and would love to make your hardware shop a 30 second ad to help you launch your social profile.” 

Please guys. I want you to win. 

Making a video on Instagram may literally take you 10 minutes from concept to execution. If you are just starting, frequency of content is more important than quality. You just have to put something out and see how the world reacts. Then, you can learn and grow. 

Recalling The Arbitrage of 2003 Email Marketing and Blogs

So, you might be asking yourself, “Gary, isn’t this just messaging people on social media? Why do you care so much about it?” 

My answer is that an opportunity like this comes around once in a decade — where a new platform arises and you have unprecedented access to individuals you never had before. That, and I’ve seen it before. This same thing happened in the early days of email marketing in 1995/1996 and again in 2003/2004 with the first set of internet blogs. I remember the day when CEOs were sending out email newsletters and marketing themselves! All the while, leaving their phone number as the contact number for support. 

The first adopters (those “in the know”) and usually working at the top were well positioned as early adopters looking to try the latest thing. People who had multi-million dollar salaries in business and media would open themselves up to the internet with the ability to comment, contact, and connect. 

Why Do I Think Instagram is Important?

Well, what’s the one difference between Instagram and your app? 1 Billion+ users. This is what I had to say back in 2015: 

“I think that Instagram will be easily one of the top two social networks in America and globally. It’s going to be a major force. It’s a beas; it is the current social network of the moment, and I think it’s an incredibly important platform… and I’m very, very bullish on it. As somebody who day trades attention, I think it’s massive.” 

Clearly, this played out. Some individuals literally have 100+ million followers on the platform. 

Whatever your approach, here is the one way I promise you that you will not build your Instagram profile: by not doing anything. By sitting and having a beer with your friend and complaining about how hard it is to build your account. Enough. Search the hashtags, click them, look at the accounts, see how you can bring them value, DM them, go in soft, bring more value, rinse and repeat. Two, three, four, five thousand times. Whether or not you’re going to go all-in on Instagram DM like this article suggests, you should still take the platform seriously. Very seriously. Instagram is a behemoth of a platform with a slew of increasingly innovative features and updates, including the popular Instagram Reels.

What If I’m a Small Business?

I go to a barber on the Upper East Side. His name is Manny and he had never used Instagram in his life (until I showed him how, and now he’s crushing it 😉). His entire business is built on word of mouth. So, here is another example of what Manny should do to use Instagram DM networking to his advantage. 

If you are a business trying to sell, use your audience and grow your reach through DM. For Manny, he can search the Upper East Side, and see everybody who’s posting in the area. You can literally see that someone recently posted from a nearby restaurant, click on their account, and message them saying, “I like your Instagram account. If you would like a free haircut, I’d love to have you come by.” What’s great about this is that these are all individuals who already like to share their lives on social media. So if they come, it’s likely they’ll give you a shout out. This is word of mouth on steroids. 

THE FUNDAMENTAL KEY is always and forever providing other people with more value. 

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It is absolutely going down on Instagram DM, and I just don’t see enough people taking advantage of it. 

What If I’m an Influencer?

Even better. If you’re an influencer, DM can be a tremendous asset to engage with your fans. Just sending a simple message like “Thank you ❤️” can mean the world. Your followers aren’t just fans — they are your supporters. Think of answering and sending DMs as customer service. 

I had a conversation with football superstar Brad Wing and this is what I had to say: 

“You should check the Giants hashtag and literally just DM that person. Just say “Awesome,” and they’ll be like, “Holy crap.” It will open up so many doors and provide the human element of being an influencer that so many of you lack. All of a sudden, when you do that and engage with them as the Giant’s punter – whether they know you or not – you will win. Before you know it, that same fan could be setting you up with a business meeting or their brother happens to be the VP of sales at Reebok and wants to do a shoe placement or a sneaker deal.”

What If I’m a Musician or an Artist?

To me, vlogs are the answer. DM’ing Drock on Instagram to get your song on DailyVee is the answer. Every single rapper, every single artist should literally DM and message every single vlogger that has 100,000 views per video and give them free music to put in their vlogs. This is literally how simple it is. If you are good enough, you will win. People have no idea how much influence they can get from having their music in one random vlog. Having an influencer listen to or promote your work is the ultimate word of mouth, and three years from now, some random person discovers that episode and happens to be an exec at a huge record label like Sony and your life is literally forever made! 

It’s all just work. Three of those 79 people say, “Yo, send me a song, a shirt, a quote, a photo.” One of those three that you send a shirt puts it in their store, one popular model with a million+ followers walks in, wears it, takes one picture and away you go. 

Hustling. 24/7 on Instagram DM. It is THE opportunity. Direct messaging is available via phone OR your computer, so there’s really no excuse not to take advantage. 


Thank you for reading! 🙂 If you found value from this post, say hello to me on Instagram and share this article with a friend.