But if you’re new to this back-and-forth, rapid-fire style of communication, instant messaging can be a dizzying experience — and open you up to unexpected gaffes. Navigating the waters in tricky enough that some wealthy Chinese women take etiquette classes that feature an entire module on WeChat, China’s most popular instant messaging service.
No matter the platform, there are a few basic rules that will keep you from annoying, insulting, or otherwise infuriating your instant messaging contacts.
Understand notification settings. Unlike email or voicemail, your recipients on instant messaging services can see whether you have received and read their messages — and if you let a long period of time go by without responding, it’s nearly as bad as not paying attention to someone who is speaking to you in person. Respond to direct messages promptly, even if it’s to say that you’ll follow up later.
Complete your thoughts before hitting send. Every message sent results in a notification. Don’t blow up your contact’s phone by sending 50 messages when you could send 10.
Know when to join a group … Have a well-formed idea that you’re willing to share with your team? Need to share a document or a link with an entire group? Want to brainstorm with multiple minds? Group chat is the way to go. Think of group chat like a meeting: Don’t speak out of turn. When you do, don’t trail off in the middle of a thought. Don’t bore your contacts with drawn-out trains of thought, and definitely do not start talking about your personal life in a group setting.
… And when to leave. If you have something private to say, don’t do it on group chat. It’s the social media equivalent of having a very loud side conversation during a large meeting (and no one wants to know your business, anyway).
Respect the rules. PublicWeChat groups often have administrators and rules. Make sure you read them before posting.
Don’t ask your contacts to repeat work. If you’ve received a document or an important message, do not ask your contact to re-send the same information in an email. In many places around the world, like China, instant messaging is a complete communication medium. Asking to follow up on another platform just creates unnecessary busy work (and, possibly, aggravation).
Voice is next-level communication. Limit communication with new contacts to text and save audio messages for when you have a more defined relationship. This is especially true on WeChat.
Know your emojis. WeChat, WhatsApp, and LINE include plenty of emoji options, but there are subtle differences between each messenger’s offerings. As blogger and businesswoman Zara Zhang notes, WeChat offers more emojis that express embarrassment. You should be aware of cultural differences, too: The thumbs-up emoji you use with your colleagues in America is not something you would send to your colleagues in Dubai.
Messages can have a long shelf life. Above all, keep it civil. Don’t bad mouth anyone. Remember, you’re still contributing to a written record. Those words can easily be copied and shared with other people.
Instant messaging opens up worlds of communication and makes it simple to do business with clients and colleagues in far-flung countries. It may take a while to master, but proceeding with courtesy, respect, and an open mind will do wonders as you learn this new medium.