Text, Email, DM: Understanding Which Communication Methods Yield the Best Results

Professional carpenters, chefs and golf caddies know how to choose the best tool for the job. A pro caddie’s livelihood, for example, depends on knowing when to hand their player a pitching wedge instead of a nine iron.

Our livelihoods—and personal lives—rely on effective communication. Because we don’t have communication caddies, it’s on us to figure out which communication method will best get a message across. So let’s examine the different strengths of text, email and DM, and when to use which. 

Before you type….

If you’re debating between text, email or DM, let’s first establish what may be obvious: Please don’t do all three for the same message. It will make you appear very overbearing. Instead, determine the best communications course of action by asking yourself these simple questions:

  1. Is my message urgent?
  2. Is my message complex?
  3. How well do I know the recipient(s)?

If you don’t already have a message in mind, begin writing out what you need to communicate and answer the above questions.

If you’re short on time or need help formulating a message quickly, consider using TextExpander to save time. TextExpander enables you to insert saved snippets of text into messages by typing abbreviations.

Now that you’ve got your message written down, let’s consider your communication methods.

Text: the speedy, informal option

Consider your relationship with your phone. You probably check for texts frequently and read them immediately.

One statistic often cited claims a 90-second response time to text messages (versus 90 minutes for email). We don’t have to log in to see texts, they’re usually brief and sent to our phones, so they’re likely from people we know.

Sending a text is the logical choice if your message is urgent. But before your thumbs get to typing, remember the two other questions to ask yourself.

Is my message complex? If it’s lengthy–like, exponentially longer than a standard 160 character text—or you need to attach multiple files, email is likely the better fit.

If your recipient is awaiting your urgent and lengthy message that requires attachments, consider texting them a heads-up that you just sent it to their email. You’re not sending redundant messages; you’re using what’s in your toolbox resourcefully. 

Lastly: How well do you know the recipient? Are they a professional acquaintance? Would they be surprised to receive a text from you?

If so, tread carefully because texting puts you in what many consider personal territory. They may or may not want you there. Assume your text interrupts family time. If it’s worthy of that interruption, type away! 

Two more of text’s strengths: Text messages are less likely to be overlooked the way emails and DMs can be (more on this later). And for recipients, replying to texts isn’t perceived as burdensome as replying to emails. That explains one report that says Americans sent 2.2 trillion texts in 2020.

Our Recommendation: If your message is urgent and brief, and your recipient wouldn’t view a text as an intrusion, texting is your best option. 

Fun Facts: In conversation, when we say “text,” we’re usually referring to either SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). A standard SMS message contains a maximum of 160 characters—i.e., letters, numbers and punctuation if the sender is a grammar stickler. Longer texts are transmitted using different technologies, depending on senders’ and receivers’ phones. Your message becomes an MMS if you include an emoji or three, a pic, a video or a link. MMS was developed as an extension of SMS; it accommodates more characters by design. IM (Instant Message) isn’t the same as text and won’t be discussed here.

Email: the SUV of modern communication

Email doesn’t receive all the love it deserves. It’s the all-purpose SUV to text’s sexy sports car.

We associate text with impressive speed and response time. But email moves heavy loads—lots of text and big files—as easily as lighter ones. Its integration into business communication and marketing testifies to its utility.

That’s not going to change any time soon. According to one projection, more than 330 billion emails will be sent and received worldwide in 2022 every day.

Because there are far more emails in the average inbox than SUVs in the average suburb, individual emails can get overlooked. If you’re missing important emails in an inbox stuffed with unimportant ones, check out SaneBox.

SaneBox uses artificial intelligence to learn which emails are important to you, then sorts new inbound messages into user-friendly folders. You’ll no longer be the person who didn’t see important emails from clients, colleagues or your kids’ school.

Marketing emails from your favorite brands automatically land in their designated folder(s) for you to browse when you want. They won’t disrupt you by landing in your primary inbox and yanking away your attention anymore.

What about emails you never intend to open? Banished to the SaneBlackHole, never to return. SaneBox restores time and productivity too often lost to distractions.

Our Recommendation: Use email for longer messages or messages that benefit from a degree of formality or nuance. These messages aren’t as white-hot urgent as those suited for text but are no less critical.

Another plus: Email isn’t as personal or intrusive as text. Receiving an email from someone you don’t know is less disturbing than receiving a text from them. As long as you have your recipient’s email address, you’re good to go. 

DMs, and when to slide into them

Direct messaging is both a convenience and an asset when your message is relevant to the platform you’re using. DM-ing a friend-of-a-friend on LinkedIn about a job opening or business opportunity makes complete sense. Go for it; that’s why it’s there. 

However, sending a DM isn’t ideal when your message requires immediate attention. Recipients might not log into a social media platform or check their DMs frequently or at all. They might have turned off the notifier that sends them an email when they receive a DM. 

In DM’s favor, it can accommodate lengthier messages better than text can, though not as well as email. Another strength is that recipients surely receive far fewer DMs than emails (assuming you’re not DM-ing a celebrity). Less noise, more visibility.

Our Recommendation: Direct messages don’t have text’s sense of urgency and aren’t a cornerstone of life the way email is, but that doesn’t lessen DM’s usefulness. In our LinkedIn example, it’s not only a sensible choice; it’s the most sensible. When you have no other contact information for someone, DM just might be your lifeline. 

The best tool for the job?

In all cases, the best tool for a job is sound judgment. Text, email and DM each have strengths that amplify our voices, deliver our ideas and get our messages across. Consider this article your communication caddie. We can’t promise your messages will be read or replied to, but choosing your method wisely will increase your odds of landing on the fairway.

For more communication tips, sign up for our April 20 webinar.