The Ultimate Guide to Business Texting Etiquette

Sharon Hurley Hall November 4, 2015
The Ultimate Guide to Business Texting Etiquette

If you’re texting for business, you’re not alone. In 2004, Americans sent 56 billion text messages, according to Statista. By 2012, that figure was 2,109 billion. In fact, Americans send an average of 460 mobile messages a month – and not all of those are for leisure.

Mobile text messaging has exploded in the last 10 years. That’s not hype – it’s fact. Click To Tweet

For a few years now, businesses have used SMS messaging to reach their customers, and it’s now more common to text your boss, team members, prospects and colleagues. But there’s a problem.

Texting your friends is a casual affair, characterised by emojis and abbreviations. That won’t work in a business setting.

If you want to avoid annoying your contacts or causing offence, it’s important to learn the rules of business texting etiquette. This guide will help you.

1. Avoid Abbreviations

When you send a single SMS, you only have 160 characters to convey your message. That’s probably the reason that most people use abbreviations. There are a few issues with this:

  • Abbreviations look casual and are not businesslike
  • Some colleagues (especially if they’re much older) may not understand the abbreviations
  • Some abbreviations may not cross cultural boundaries, which is an issue if you’re working with a multilingual team

On the same subject, some abbreviations are a definite no-no. If you wouldn’t say WTF in full in a business conversation, don’t put it in a business text message.

In most cases, it’s just as easy to type out the entire word, particularly if you’re using a mobile keyboard with a good autocomplete function.

2. Avoid Emoticons

The second rule of business texting etiquette is to avoid emoticons, which are very, very casual.

The second rule of business texting etiquette is to avoid emoticons, which are very, very casual. Sure, they can help to soften the tone of a text message (more on that in a while), but they’re not businesslike and people won’t take you seriously if you use them. Unless you’re working with a group of people who are all in their teens, stick to plain old words.

3. Watch Your Tone

The trouble with typed messages is that it’s hard to convey tone. It’s even harder with business texting, where it’s easy to sound curt. Take some time to craft your message so you say what you need to say without offending the recipient.

While you’re at it, avoid typing in all caps. As in email and social messaging, this is perceived as shouting and will only annoy the recipients. Just as you wouldn’t shout at business contacts face to face, don’t do it by text.

The trouble with typed messages is that it’s hard to convey tone, so make sure you are not offending the recipient.

4. Check Your Language

When composing text messages for business, watch your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Misspelled words and poor punctuation create a bad impression.

Business texting requires business speak; it’s not a casual affair. Click To Tweet

Proofread your message to eliminate errors before you hit send. Pay particular attention to autocorrect and autocomplete fails. Pay attention to what you’re typing and make sure any correction actually says what you meant to say.

Similarly, if you’re texting by voice, check the message before sending, as there’s no guarantee it will actually be correct.

The bottom line? Always strive for error-free business communication, whether you’re writing a letter, an email – or a text message.

5. Check the Recipient

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s accidentally sent a text to the wrong person. Those autosuggest functions on your phone are great, but can lead to confusion if contacts have similar names. Check that your message is going to the right person or people before you send it. That way you won’t waste your time or accidentally send inside information to the wrong person.

6. Sign Your Messages

In a business texting situation, you can’t be sure that the recipient has your contact details. If they don’t know who you are, they might ignore the message. So add your name or initials at the end of the message to make it clear who the sender is.

 Brand texts with your company name. Your SMS Sender ID can turn a simple SMS message into a powerful branding tool.

7. Get Permission

Only 4% of business professionals prefer text over other forms of communication, so make sure it’s OK to send business texts to your contacts. Just ask for permission and send only to those who are happy to use texts for business communication. (Hint: if you send contacts texts and they respond by email, then that’s a sign that they don’t like texting for business, so stop texting them.)

This also applies to group texts. Group messaging can quickly get noisy and annoying, so make sure you have permission to add people to a contact group BEFORE you send the first text. This guide to group texting on Huffington Post has some other useful guidelines.

8. Send the Right Messages …

As much as we love texting, it’s not always the right way to convey information. For business especially, use the most appropriate method of communication. If a particular issue requires an email, then send an email, which will give you a permanent record of your interaction. And if it’s better to make a phone call, then make the call.

There are also some types of message you shouldn’t send by text. You wouldn’t break up with your partner by text (yes, I know people do it, but it’s pretty rude), so don’t do the same in business.

Avoid using texts for quitting your job, firing someone, providing a performance review or anything negative. That kind of feedback is best given face to face.

Business Insider suggests that you avoid using text messages to change meeting times or venues. Those changes are easy to miss, particularly when some colleagues don’t check their phones often.

That said, there are times when a text message is the perfect form of communication. If there’s an emergency and that’s the best way to reach people, then send a text.

9. … At the Right Times

Ever had a work email when you were in the middle of enjoying your evening or weekend? Did it throw you off balance? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. That’s why it’s important to keep business texting to office hours.

Believe me, if your notifications arrive in the middle of the night, it won’t be long till your contact blocks your number.

That won’t help your business relationship.

10. Once is Enough

When you’ve sent a text, don’t keep resending it if the person doesn’t respond immediately. It just means that that person hasn’t checked their phone. That will happen, and it’s another reason to avoid changing meeting times by text. Give the recipient enough time to pick up the message before you start worrying. And if this happens regularly, see rule 7: maybe texting isn’t the right communication method for this particular colleague.

11. Don’t Text During Meetings

Don’t text when you’re supposed to be paying attention to what’s going on in the room. Whether you’re in a meeting, discussing business face to face or watching a presentation, hunching over your phone to send a surreptitious text message is just plain rude. You would be offended if people did it while you were presenting, so don’t do it to anyone else.

Close-up of three young creative designers working on project together. Team work.

12. Emergency Measures

Sometimes you need to check your messages – life happens, right? In that case, let people know if there’s an emergency which requires you to check your phone during a business occasion. Advance warning usually smoothes out any ruffled feathers and stops people being surprised by the loud vibration of your phone.

Follow these rules and you’ll have a head start on business texting etiquette. What annoys you about business texting? What tips would you add?

Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger who has previously worked as a journalist, editor and journalism professor. Her work has been published on IBM Pivotpoint, CrazyEgg, Unbounce, Search Engine People, Search Engine Journal and elsewhere.

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