IM Etiquette

8 Jun 2008

We use Instant Messaging at my job. I don’t like how some people use it and I wrote this guide a few years ago. As I re-read it today I realize that my feelings aren’t quite as strong as they used to be.

General Guidelines for Business IM

  • Be specific
  • Be direct and to the point
  • Be courteous but avoid too many pleasantries

When to IM & When to Email, When to Call

IM can be a great tool for communicating. It can also be the WRONG tool. Here are a list of reasons to use instant messaging:

  • Your message is urgent
  • Your message is brief
  • You expect your request will not take an extended period of time to fulfil
  • Your message does not require followup

Reasons to use email:

  • Your message is intended for more than one individual
  • You wish to CC the individual’s superior to ensure proper priority is set to your request

Initiating a Conversation

When initiating a conversation it’s best to lead off with what you are contacting the other party for:

Frank: Hey Jane, could you check the fax machine to see if I got a fax?  
       It's hard for me to make it up the stairs since I broke my ankle.
Jane: Sure, just a sec
Jane: Nope, no fax yet
Frank: Darn. Maybe that African Prince email was a scam after all.  Thanks anyway.

Another good example is the following:

(8:32:22)  Jane: Hey Frank, let me know when you are back at your desk, I have a fax to drop by
(10:15:11) Frank: I'm back Jane- that meeting was murder.

Here is an example of what not to do:

(8:12:22) Bill: Hey Ted!
              (meanwhile Ted sees the message but is very busy on something 
               and decides to wait to see if Bill wants anything)
(8:17:51) Bill: Hello? You there?
(8:17:52) Ted: Yes, I'm here. Do you need something?
(8:19:43) Bill: Oh, cool. I thought you weren't around because you didn't answer.
(8:22:23) Bill: So.. hey, could you like do me a favor?
                (meanwhile Ted waits to see what Bill might need)
(8:27:01) Bill: Ted! BUZZ! Hey did you go?
(8:27:35) Ted: No. What do you need?
(8:28:17) Bill: Ok, good because you didn't respond and I didn't know what happened.  
                Can you check the report, I think their might be an error on it.
(8:29:45) Ted: What report are you talking about?

You get the point. Because Bill didn’t specify his needs clearly and quickly Bill and Ted’s adventure cost Ted 4 interruptions and about 20 minutes of time that they won’t be able to get back.