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Online Etiquette: Acceptable Instant Messenger Behavior

I got a cheap laugh out of the instructional How to Behave in an Internet Forum video last week, but soon realized there's never been any real etiquette on this wild Internet.

I've put together a list of tips for acceptable instant messenger behavior that addresses some of my biggest pet peeves. This one goes out to all you iChat, AIM, Yahoo messenger and Gchat regulars.

  • Start with a "Hello" or some sort of greeting: I am on iChat all day long for work and readily available to anyone who IMs me, but I still think you should say "hey!" to someone before you start asking them a question. Call me old fashioned, but it's like starting an email with "Can you please do this for me" instead of a nice greeting.
  • There are more rules, trust me! Just


  • Try not to trail off: It's always awkward when you are engaged in a conversation with someone on iChat and they suddenly stop responding to you. If you're chatting with someone and busy, just let them know with a simple "BRB" or "one sec." It will calm their insecurities that you are ignoring them.
  • Use your away message: Sure, you may have set your chatting preferences to make it look like you are always online to keep your boss happy, but that doesn't mean your friends know it. If you leave the computer or don't want to talk to people, put up an away message. If you use AIM for work be courteous to your co-workers by letting them know when you are in a meeting, grabbing lunch or at the gym. That way you won't return to your desk and have 16 unopened windows.
  • Back at your computer? Change your away message!: When you return from being away change your away message back to available. You don't want your boss thinking you took a six hour lunch break or your boyfriend thinking you spent four hours at the dentist. People might start to worry about you.
  • Be smart about screen name exchanges: Don't give your screen name to someone unless you want them to know it. And IM you. Often.
  • Don't want to be bugged? Go Invisible: Most chatting services allow you to set your online status to invisible. If you do, you will have to initiate contact with friends online but you won't have people bothering you when you're busy.
  • Some things are best said in an email or (gasp!) in person: If you have a lot of important stuff to say (particularly if it's for work or an important project) put it in an email. It's much easier to have all the information in one place for future reference than to go back and forth and try and make sense of a chat chain.
  • Let people know when you're signing off: Okay, so this one isn't as important, but if you have been chatting with someone for a while and are getting offline let them know! A simple "TTYL" (as in, Talk to You Later) will do the trick. You wouldn't just hang up on someone on a phone call, would you?
droguedemusique droguedemusique 9 years
I have a pet peeve for poor syntax. That being said, it is difficult for me to be online for too long. I get frustrated too easily by all of the abbreviations, grammatical errors and internet slang.
LilGlamDiva LilGlamDiva 9 years
These are good. One of my friends will walk away from her computer while I'm in mid sentence and I find it sooooo rude. there's nothing wrong with a little BRB
Murmur314 Murmur314 9 years
These tips are slightly odd. Instant messaging is an asynchronous conversation to a lot of people, including me - much like eMail is. I leave a message for someone and he/she answers whenever it's convenient fo r him/her. "It will calm their insecurities that you are ignoring them." People are getting insecure when the response doesn't come immediately? Something's wrong with them. IMing is *not* a regular conversation and if people interpret it as such, it's their fault. As for away messages: I like my privacy, thank you very much. If someone wants to know whether I'm around and available to talk, message me. I don't need everyone else to know when I sit at the computer and when not. Going invisible so "you won't have people bothering you when you're busy"? How about just telling people that you're busy and can't talk? Sneaking around is not good and can cause resentment when people find out you're hiding from them while happily messaging others at the same time. Be online. Or offline. Not both.
sparklestar sparklestar 9 years
I always start with "hey, how's it going?" because it's acknowledging them and saying hello all in one sentence! Lovely.
MissMarisol MissMarisol 9 years
We have IM at work and it is the best thing since sliced bread. I agree with TidalWave. When I send IMs through work, I just ask the question rather than start with a greeting or small talk. I may be on the phone while I am sending the message or doing something else and I just need an answer to my question. I guess if I wanted more of a personal touch, I would call them. Now with my friends/family on my personal accounts, I usually start with a Holla! or something cheeky.
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
i don't remember when i last used IM...maybe 6 years ago or more? i would again if i worked in an office. i think it'd be quite handy and a time saver for sure!
dootsie dootsie 9 years
Use real words instead of idiotic "TTYL LOL k :)" crap. It doesn't take THAT much time, and you look like a grown up that way.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Great tips. I don't use AIM or Yahoo all too much anymore but when I would I have to say some people annoyed me with their lack of IM etiquette.
CanadianDana CanadianDana 9 years
Maybe it's because I have been using IM for what seems like forever, but these tips seem painfully obvious. I agree with aistea311 though, the LOL's are out of hand and running amok all over the internet. Though I must admit, I too am guilty of putting them out there.
aistea311 aistea311 9 years
Ahh, I remember AIM. I barely use it anymore, but when I did, it sucked because people would just phase out or get kicked off when we had 56k connections. My biggest pet peeve from IMing? It isnt the actual chatting, but how people use the phrase "LOL" in letters or emails at work or within school essays, come on people!
graduatedsqueaks graduatedsqueaks 9 years
Something one of my friends pointed out recently that I think many of us have forgotten is that on google chat, sometimes you forget who has access to your profile. For I while I had it set that anyone who had my email could put me on their buddy list, and then they could see my status. So, either control who can see your profile, or remember that your away message might be as public as a blog post or other online profile!
millarci millarci 9 years
I don't use instant messanger as much anymore. But when I did, these were all my pet peeves with IMing people. I think the one that annoyed me the most was leaving the conversation and not saying 'BRB'. Although I am guilty of not changing my away message. LOL!
TidalWave TidalWave 9 years
i disagree with the "hello" Many of my emails don't have a formal greeting anymore, I just start typing. Or mesh it in with "hey, whats up? I was wondering if you could do me a favor?" Like how you would with a telephone call. I think for IM's it's even less necessary. Because when someone IM's me, esepcially at work, it is because they need something. So to type "hey" or "hello. how are you?" that is a waste of time.
SweetnLow SweetnLow 9 years
I dunno- my office stays on all day, typically we just float in and out of conversations all day without saying bye or brb, and it becomes really natural to converse like that.
Masqueraded_Angel Masqueraded_Angel 9 years
I don't use instant messengers anymore, but when I did...yeah, up and leaving the conversation for 20 minutes and then coming back with a, "Oh, sorry 'bout that...had to take care of blah blah blah," got a little annoying. Or signing on and off twenty times a day so that no one has a chance to send you a message. But whatever...I use good old-fashioned email now. :)
devils devils 9 years
Good tips. Most is common sense, but sometimes we forget how to use etiquette on AIM/iChat. I hate it when people simply abuse the away message, and leave it on even when they are available. (I'm talking about doing it intentionally - I understand if a person forgets, I forget too!). I know some people who just do it on purpose and it annoys me, I never know when they are free to chat.
i-heart-monster i-heart-monster 9 years
I also think that you shouldn't share your buddies' screen name with what you perceive are mutual friends - there may be a reason that your friends aren't connected that you are unaware of.
hotstuff hotstuff 9 years
Oh, I hate when your talking to someone and they suddenly disapear. Just say BRB geez.
ALSW ALSW 9 years
Great tips. I rarely use these anymore, but a few of these were definitely pet peeves.
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