Everything You Need to Know About Messaging Etiquette

Follow these rules to show courtesy and respect

Person using instant messaging app on mobile phone

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If your conception of how to behave online is limited to guesswork, read the following rules for how to show courtesy and respect in instant messaging (IM) conversations.

This article pertains primarily to personal messaging. There are also etiquette rules for messaging at work.

Take Charge of Your Availability

When you sign up on a messaging platform, let others on that platform know that you’re available to communicate.

  • If your status shows that you're online, respond to a messaging request within five minutes.
  • If you’re in the middle of a messaging session and need to leave your device for more than five minutes, type BRB (which stands for be right back). If it will be more than 10 minutes, sign off with a brief explanation about why you’re leaving, then change your status to unavailable.
  • If you leave a conversation, return to the conversation when you get back online.
  • When explaining why you are away, don’t post your entire schedule. Instead, choose a simple description that describes where you’ll be such as in a meeting or personal appointment.
  • It’s okay to initiate an IM conversation when your status shows as offline.

Instant Messaging Don'ts

Avoid these IM pitfalls to enhance your communication effectiveness.

  • Don’t respond with one-word answers. Instead, write something that moves the conversation forward.
  • Don’t use sarcasm unless you know the other person well and they know that you’re kidding around.
  • Don’t use too many acronyms. Other messaging participants may be less online-savvy than you.
  • Don’t use messaging for important news or a long story. Email and voice calls are better communication choices in these situations.
  • Don’t use IM as a substitute for face-to-face time, especially if you want to talk about something serious.
  • Don’t set your status to angry or sad then refuse to talk about why you feel that way.
  • Don’t fix all spelling errors or typos, just those that impede the understanding of what you want to convey.
  • Don’t use light or small text, unusual fonts, or anything that makes a message difficult to read.

Instant Messaging Dos

Follow these tips to stay courteous and safe online.

  • Do follow the rules for online breakups if you decide to end a relationship over IM.
  • Do use emoticons judiciously. Use emoticons to emphasize what you’re talking about, not as a substitute for words.
  • Do write “Goodbye” or “TTYL” rather than suddenly signing off.
  • Do be careful about what you say in IM conversations. The other person could be saving the messages.

Contact Management

Online relationships are still relationships. Use these pointers to stay safe and show your contacts that you care.

  • If you haven't messaged with one of your contacts for some time and don’t think you will in the future, delete their name from your list.
  • If you use a friend’s IM client, tell anyone who contacts you that it’s you and not your friend they’re talking to.
  • If you IM with people you don’t personally know, use extreme caution. If they want to meet in person, do it in a public place and bring a friend. If they ask for money, immediately discontinue communication with them.
  • If someone blocks you, unless it’s someone you’re close to, don’t worry about it.