One of the best parts about this blog is that it puts me into direct contact with hundreds of bloggers from around the world every week. This happens on a variety of levels – comments, email and increasingly Instant Messaging. I have my IM details on my about pages which is a great thing – but also at times a frustrating thing.
I don’t want to come across as a grump – I really do enjoy the interaction that I have with readers – but after a week where I’ve had almost 50 IM conversations with people I’ve not had contact with before I’ve decided it might be worthwhile coming up with a list of Instant Messaging etiquette when contacting other bloggers for the first time (let me emphasize that the majority of those who have contacted me this week have not inspired this post). I’ll also admit that I’m not always the best on IM – I need to learn to turn mind off more when I don’t have the time to chat.
Here’s my Top 14 Instant Messaging Etiquette Tips for contacting Bloggers:
- Introductions – When instant messaging a blogger for the first time – politely introduce yourself and don’t just launch into conversation. In fact it might be worth introducing yourself for the first few IM conversations – if the blogger gets a lot of readers contacting them they might not remember who you are form conversation to conversation. A good introduction might include your name, your location ad if you have one – your blog’s URL.
- Ask if the have time to chat - The blogger you are messaging might be halfway through something, might be about to go to bed or could have 37 other IM conversations going on at the same time. Check out if it is convenient for them to chat – if it’s not ask if there might be a better time to try?
- Have something to Say – Don’t IM someone with a greeting and then let them start a conversation with you. It’s probably not a good approach to simply say ‘Hi there…..’ and then say nothing else. This might be OK with someone you know well but with someone that doesn’t know you it’s probably not the best way to make an impression unless you’re going for the ‘strong silent (and slightly freaky) type’ impression. Similarly avoid multi tasking if you initiate an IM conversation – if the phone rings consider not answering it or at least telling the other person where you’ve gone.
- Keep your initial IM conversations brief and to the point - again I’m talking here more about those first IM conversations. Many bloggers are busy people and while they might have time for a long rambling chat on some occasions, on others they may not. When I IM someone I don’t know very well I attempt to get to the point and then give the person a way out of the conversation. If they want to keep chatting then that’s fine – but it’s probably better to leave them hungering for another chat than for them to get to the conversation and block you for being long winded.
- End conversations well – first and last impressions are everything. Thank the blogger for their time and bring the conversation to a definite end. There is nothing worse than those awkward silences at the end of conversations when you don’t know if the other person is done or not.
- Don’t expect them to be there 24/7 for you - the great thing about blogging is the global nature of it. Of course this can be frustrating at times because people are in different time zones to you. Some people leave their IM client open when they sleep or while they are away from their computer (sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose). If they don’t respond to your greeting then it could be that they just are not there. Don’t IM them every three minutes for hours on end until they return while getting angrier and angrier (yes it’s happened to me). On a similar topic – if the person has an ‘Away’ or ‘Do not Disturb’ message showing – consider that they are ‘away’ or ‘do not wish to be disturbed’.
- Consider Cultural Differences - Another thing to consider out of the global nature of blogging is that your culture could well be quite different from other cultures. This comes out in IM in a variety of ways including different spelling of words, geo-specific words, people not having a grasp of your language and what is and isn’t acceptable to talk about. Consider what you’re saying before you say it and how it might impact the other person. If you don’t understand something that they say – politely ask them to repeat it.
- If you’re going to ask questions at least make some attempt to find the answers for yourself first - You may be getting in contact with the blogger in question to ask them a question about their area of expertise. It might be a good idea to head to their blog before you IM them and do a search for the information you’re looking for. At least make an attempt to do this before asking your question – you’ll probably find they’ve answered the question at least once already on their blog.
- Don’t get too personal too quick - You might not want to make your opening greeting to a blogger you’ve not talked to before – ‘hi – how much do you earn?’ or ‘what’s your wife’s real name’? While these questions might be appropriate to ask a friend or of someone in real life – remember that you’re online and people might be a bit hesitant to give such information out to a complete stranger that they’ve had no contact with before. There are also some questions that might not be appropriate to ask because they are business related and they might not want to reveal all their strategies. In general I’d advise building up to deeper and more personal question over a number of conversations. Establish trust, prove that you’re not just pumping them for information, be willing to share some of your own information and in time you might find it appropriate to ask what you really want to know.
- Try using words like ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ - Being polite will get you a long way with online interactions. One of the fastest ways to shut down an IM conversation is to be arrogant, rude or over familiar.
- Make contact before the IM conversation - While not essential – it could be helpful to email the person you wish to have a conversation with to introduce yourself and let them know that you’re planning on contacting them. I find IM conversations tend to go better if the other person has some idea of who they are speaking to first.
- Avoid too much jargon – Abbreviations and acronyms may make your job of typing faster but you might just disallussion, confuse or anger the other person. Try to keep your spelling at least resembling the language that you’re writing in.
- Be aware that some things don’t convey well in written form – sarcasm is one thing that often gets people into trouble with IM. Until people know what wave length you’re on it might be worth clarifying attempted humor. Sometimes emoticons (the little faces) can help with this – sometimes they can get you into even more trouble!
- Don’t be too Demanding – You might want to take a breath in conversations to allow the other person to ask a question of you. Don’t let your IM relationship get too one sided. Look back over your past IM conversations with bloggers and see who is getting the most out of your conversations. While there is nothing wrong with asking question – one way to wear out a relationship in real life is to always be taking and never giving. IM relationships can be similar. Similarly if you’re a fast typer you might want to slow down and let the other person respond – don’t overwhelm them with 10 comments for every 1 of theirs.
I guess a lot of these tips on instant messaging etiquette can be summed up by a reminder that you’re actually speaking to a real person. Remind yourself of this before you IM them and ask yourself how you’d approach them in real life – your answer might be a good starting point to how an appropriate IM conversation might start.
On the flip side I’m sure we could come up with a list of IM etiquette tips for bloggers who make their IM details public. Here’s two that I’ve felt like saying to a couple of bloggers that I’ve tried to contact via IM over the past few months:
- Don’t make your IM details public unless you’re willing to respond to people contacting you
- If you don’t want to be contacted turn your IM off or to ‘Away
I’m sure there are other instant messaging etiquette tips – feel free to mention yours in comments below.