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The Group Text Mistakes You Don't Even Know You're Making

Here are 9 do's and don'ts for communicating with a crowd

By Michelle V. Rafter
July 24, 2019

Group texts are a fast way for family, coworkers or far-flung friends to share news and make plans. In case you've never sent or received one, a group text connects people with some kind of affiliation to each other in some way to get the same text messages at the same time.

Group Text
Credit: Adobe Stock

But group texts can go sideways just as fast. Messages veer off topic, and people flood replies with "Me too" responses. Want an earful? Ask people how they really feel about emojis.

"It's a modern-day nightmare, especially if you really aren't interested in participating in the first place," says Robin Becic, 58, a Portland, Ore., watermedia artist. "I opt out quickly or silence it."

A common group text faux pas is using the group text to send a message to just one person.

But if you follow some simple guidelines, group texts can serve their purpose without being a pain, says Barbara Pachter, a New Jersey business etiquette expert. The rules of efficient, respectful communication are the same regardless of the medium, says Pachter, author of The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes. "Think of who's reading it, the purpose and how you're going to communicate."

Kathleen Stewart, 57, is a group text super user. She's in four texting groups, including one with six fellow Gonzaga University college friends and acquaintances that's gone nonstop since they took a trip to Palm Springs, Calif. in October 2013. Stewart, who's also in long-term group texts for her husband's family, a book group and a different friend group, follows a few self-imposed rules to keep her additions to group texts from going off the rails: Don't text people too late at night or too early in the morning. Keep language appropriate. Don't get too political. Don't bicker, get catty or preach.

"The Gonzaga one is the core of my texting," says Stewart, an international sales manager for a biotech company who lives in Salt Lake City. "I like to make little movies, or I see a funny bumper sticker and share it. And then it starts a whole cascade of things. For me, it's a good way to make people laugh. It brings a lot of joy."

9 Group Text Do's and Don'ts

Here are nine more valuable suggestions from Pachter, Stewart and other group-text regulars:

1. Know your audience. If you're using a group text to share a lot of information, then emailing or picking up the phone might be a better way to go, Pachter says. "If you have a lot to say, put it in an email. But you have to know the recipients. If they're working, they will check their email. If they're not, they might not," she notes.

2. Stick to the point. If a group text is supposed to share information about your book club, for instance, limit texts to book club. Pachter, who's over 50, is in a walking group where one woman sends out a text in the morning about when and where to meet. But the conversation sometimes devolves to other things. "Don't have everyone wish everyone Happy Holiday," she says. "I don't need all of those texts. It's overload." If it feels like the conversation is drifting away from the reason the group text was set up in the first place, create a different thread and add people to it who are interested in the new topic.


3. Don't start a private conversation. A common group text faux pas is using the group text to send a message to just one person. "People forget they're still in a group text and begin other conversations and you continue getting them all," says Jennifer Nelson, a Neptune Beach, Fla. ghostwriter.

4. Limit the number of people in a group. The number who can be in the same group text depends on the app and mobile network. Apple's iMessage group text app for iPhones and iPads can accommodate up to 25 people, according to the Apple Tool Box blog, but Verizon customers can only add 20. However, just because you can add that many people doesn't mean you should. When Pachter's walking group numbered five or six people, group texting was great. When it grew to more than 10, the phone the group's leader used wouldn't allow her to have that many people on a single group text, so communicating with everyone became unwieldy.

5. Don't make people guess why you added them. If you're creating a group text for people who don't know each other, your first message to everyone should be to explain what you're doing and make introductions as needed, Pachter says. Once a group is established, don't add new people unless there's a good reason. When Stewart and several of the college friends in her original group text went to Nashville to visit a friend who wasn't part of that group, they started a different group text.

6. Keep your contacts up to date. If you don't regularly add people's names to your contacts list, they'll show up in group texts as a phone number. It's okay to ask "Who is this?" in the thread, Pachter says. If you're the one creating the group text, suggest that people add each other to their contacts if they haven't already. If the group meets up regularly, take the opportunity to swap information.

7. Wait for an answer before asking another question. See the three little dots on the screen that indicate someone is typing? Wait for the person to send the reply to your message before posting another question to avoid having multiple conversations going at the same time, which can be confusing.

8. Go easy on the emojis, GIFs and bitmojis. Stewart and her Gonzaga group love to add to their replies emojis, animated GIF (an image file) and bitmojis — cartoonish avatars that represent you in a group text. But not everyone is a fan. "An emoji here or there is fine," said one New Jersey resident who asked that their name not be used. "Too many emojis are annoying, whether or not accompanied by text."

9. Bow out gracefully. If you no longer want to be included in a group text, it's polite to let the group know. You don't need to, "but why not tell people? Be nice about it," Pachter says. If everyone in a group text of four or more people uses iMessage, you can go to the group text, tap on the top of the conversation and then tap the information icon to leave. If not everyone uses iMessage, you can't leave, but you can follow these instructions from Apple to mute the conversation. Android phone users have a few options, including asking the creator of the group to remove them, muting notifications or deleting a group text through the SMS app, according to this Joy of Android blog post.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Oregon, business reporter and long-time chronicler of the intersection of technology and work. Read More
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