What does... "DM" actually mean?

In his column "What does... actually mean?", Benno Maggi looks at terms from the marketing and communications sector. This time he deals with the acronym "DM".

The acronym seems to be something of a statement against the ubiquitous publicity of messages. After just over 20 years of social media, have we really all had enough of knowing everything about everyone?

The two letters now stand for Direct Message. Instead of 1-to-all, it is now suddenly 1-to-1 again. DMs are therefore a kind of 1-to-1 dialog. Although it is often more of a monologue than a dialog, but more on that later. DMs allow people on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or X to write to each other directly. This has advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage: DM is a good solution for not having to tell everyone everything (but also not having to read everything). How often have we been annoyed at having to listen - or rather "read" - to two people when they were having a debate on social media for all to see, exchanging feelings or simply looking for a date together? Exactly. That's why DMs are now booming.

But beware: this also has its pitfalls. Or disadvantages. For example, the possibility of posting unsolicited opinions in camera. This can be quite a burden for the recipients of such messages. Especially when it comes to harassment, haters, chat-up lines or other undesirable things. There is even a verb for this: sliden. Which translates to slide or glide. "Sliding into the DMs" means writing a private message, usually a chat-up line, to someone on a social network. And these are often inappropriate and a real nuisance, especially for female social media users. But hateful comments towards politicians and other people in public office, such as teachers and tax officials, as well as journalists, dissidents and people from other backgrounds, are unfortunately also part of everyday DM life on social media.

All decency seems to be lost in DMs

The ability to send DMs seems to have completely removed the inhibition threshold. Disrespectful, foul-mouthed and insulting comments slip so easily from the smartphone keyboard into private chats that you could be forgiven for thinking that there is only one type of person on social media: the antisocial. And if this continues, we should think about renaming it: antisocial media.

It's true! Just because it's possible to send someone a direct message with one click doesn't make it an invitation or even an obligation to do so. But this is probably a phenomenon of the times. Or as Erich Kästner once put it: Bad times. Bad manners.

In the past, people didn't call complete strangers just because their name was first available in the phone book and then later on Telsearch. Here's a call to all those who do this: Stop sending direct messages! Instead, face the public. Or don't do it at all. Nobody cares what you think.

But we've been at this point before in the industry. When DMs were still called direct mails and the term "mail" still meant physical mail and not emails. That was the time when advertising agencies specialized in sending direct mail addressed directly to people. In the 1960s, the addresses of us mere mortals were compiled by hand from telephone directories in specialized companies and then sold directly to companies or direct mailing agencies at a high price. Then came lettershops and later direct marketing providers who earned a fortune, until finally the first "no advertising" stickers on letterboxes tried to prevent such DMs from ending up in them.

Perhaps we should also remember this on social media and put "No DMs" stickers on our profiles to keep uninvited guests away from the direct message box. Or to put it another way: be nice to each other again. Knock on the door and ask if you can come in at all before entering the social media room of strangers.


Benno Maggi is co-founder and CEO of Partner & Partner. He has been eavesdropping on the industry for over 30 years, discovering words and terms for us that can either be used for small talk, pomposity, excitement, playing Scrabble, or just because.

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