Is Instagram DM the Single Biggest Opportunity of This Decade? Not So Fast.

Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

Gary Vaynerchuk loves to speak in hyperbole. I came across a recent comment that struck me as, well, too far:

“Instagram DM (Direct Message) is the single biggest networking or business development opportunity of this decade.”

At face value, this is a wild claim, but not a surprising one from Gary. I don’t believe in hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake, especially if it gets in the way of understanding the real value of something.

Gary’s statement actually belies lots of very useful advice. If unpacked a little bit, though, there’s many salient points worth examining:

  • 1:1 Marketing
  • Audience Targeting
  • Conversational Transactions
  • Scale

1:1 Marketing

At heart, what’s being suggested is that building 1:1 relationships is possible and valuable at scale. In an age with mass communications, over-polished messages, and obsessive targeting, there is certainly lots of room to build better relationships. Everyone, absolutely, should be doing that.

1:1 Marketing has been the broad trend for marketers, as we’ve moved from mass channels to social ones. Players large and small have recognized this.

The goal is to have 1 billion individual relationships. 
— Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever

Audience Targeting

Engaging in a 1:1 model requires that we know who we’re engaging and what the goal of our relationship is. Different network provide different kinds of audiences and have to be utilized for what they are best for.

Looking at the various networks, we can see that there are fairly well known audiences:

  • Instagram — Consumers / Creators
  • Youtube — Consumers / Creators
  • Snapchat — Consumers / Creators
  • LinkedIn — Professionals / Businesses
  • Facebook — Individuals / Groups
  • Pinterest — Consumers / Curators

Of course, these are very course definitions (even I don’t like most of them), but they still stand up. It would be a poor use of time to leverage Instagram to converse with business professionals.

Conversational Transactions

Gary’s post on the topic points out that the goal is to build a relationship and work towards the “right hook.” These conversations are time consuming, and therefore, must be an investment towards a specific goal.

Gary outlines a couple of uses cases (networking and business development), but there are many different kinds of transactions possible:

  • Ideation
  • Research
  • User Testing
  • Sales
  • Recruiting
  • Relationships
  • Customer Service / Support / Goodwill
  • Business Development
  • Content / Rights

This is not even an exhaustive list, but clearly the scope of what’s possible once 2 humans are engaging a person and a company is broad and diverse. The strength of the relationship or value of the offer ultimately drive the potential outcomes.


The most important thing, however, that is pointed out, is that this is actually a great deal of time and resources. Human relationships don’t scale easily, nor should they. Embracing direct messaging as a method requires commitment.

At scale, these tools likely don’t work for most companies. It is ideal at varying points in the lifecycle of product and business, but most cannot justify the resources that make this grow, yet. Smart brands will devise strategies that maximize their use of this tactic.

All said, the initial notion is far-fetched. It would be better written as:

“Instagram DM (Direct Message) is the single biggest engagement tactic for emerging brands and products looking to connect with visual creators and consumers for advice, content, insight and promotion of this decade.”

Put another way, there is no needto rush out to form a Instagram DM strategy, you should already be building relationships at scale,, everywhere you can.

But hey, what do I know :)

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Gregarious Narain is a serial entrepreneur and product strategist. A reformed designer and developer, he writes on his experiences as a founder, strategist, and father on the regular. Work with him at Before Alpha, connect on LinkedIn, follow on Facebook, or say hi on Twitter.