Online communication: When to respond and when not to

Estimated read time: 2 minutes



Online communication includes emails, social media and other digital tools where we don’t see each other face to face and are typically through the written word.

Responding appropriately can help us build connections and grow as authentic storytellers. The best stories come out of relationships and that includes online and offline.

Online Communication: Email

Over the years I’ve heard and read many theories on when people should or shouldn’t respond to emails:

  • Don’t if you say only “OK”, “Yes”, “Thanks”, or other one-word answers.
  • Don’t reply to acknowledge receipt of an email.
  • Do reply to acknowledge receipt.
  • Never use “reply all” when communicating.
  • Use “reply all” so everyone knows the latest.

Etc, etc.

So what are the rules? I don’t know. Sorry. I think it depends on the people involved in an exchange and also on the context of the exchange.

But overall, I found it useful to look at any online communication as being similar to real, traditional, face-to-face communications.



If you would respond in a traditional dialogue you’d also respond in a newer form of communication.

  • Somebody mentions you on Twitter, recommending you to be followed to others. You say? I would suggest “Thank you.” That’s what you’d say in a face to face conversation, right?
  • Somebody sends you a document that you were looking for. Maybe even anxiously waiting for. What would you say if she’d drop off a hardcopy? Of course, “Thanks.” Right? Same here.
  • A team is communicating via email to get on the same page. You have something to add. Reply to all or not? Of course to all, if you are working on the same project. Think of it this way: If this would be a meeting, would you get up and whisper in somebody’s ear with an answer to a question in the meeting? Probably not. Right?

Now, don’t get me wrong, online communication has some limitations. For example:

  • People can’t necessarily read your tone.
  • Sometimes people read something in a negative tone, just because that’s their current mindset and not because you wrote – or meant – it that way.
  • Some things are just easier to solve in person.
  • When everyone starts replying to all people copied on an email things can start to get lost.

But overall, it has never been easier (as far as I know) to communicate with as many people as is possible today. Let’s make the best of it.

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