Rules for Sending an Initial IM or Text

How to be polite if your recipient doesn't know you

Close-up of hand scrolling on phone

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If you're accustomed to texting or using instant messaging (IM) to communicate with friends and colleagues, you may not realize how a message from someone unknown can seem completely random to a new contact. When you need to text or IM someone for the first time, especially if they have no reason to expect your communication, keep these commonsense rules in mind.

Ask Permission to Text

If possible, ask in person or via phone or email how individuals prefer to be contacted. You may discover they have a limited texting plan, that IM use is discouraged at their workplace, or that they simply prefer email.

Introduce Yourself

When texting or IMing for the first time, introduce yourself. Remind the recipient of any previous communications (see above) or, if there haven't been any, tell them how you found them and why you're contacting them. Here are some sample scripts:

  • "Hi Alice, I'm Joan Smith from XYZ Consultants. I was referred to you by Sally Jones. Do you have time to talk about Sally's new project?"
  • "Hi Penny, it's Kylie from Joe Jenkins' party. I really want to read that book you recommended, but I'm having trouble finding it. Any ideas?"
  • Hi, it's Brad Jones from accounting, I have a question about your reimbursement request. Do you have time to answer it now, or should I call you later?"

Using this kind of introduction, you'll avoid having your message appear to be random or addressed to the wrong person. You can use a similar strategy if you need to contact someone after being out of contact with them for a period of time.

Keep It Brief

Start with the introduction and context only until the recipient responds. Otherwise, you may compose and send a detailed message that's never seen.

If You Get No Response, Follow up Politely

Sending a text message or IM and receiving no response doesn't necessarily mean you're being ignored. More likely, the recipient just isn't monitoring their phone or computer at that moment. After an appropriate amount of time, follow up with another message. You may also want to attempt to contact the recipient via email or phone. If it's a work situation, you can also try stopping by their desk.