10 tips for making the group chat less terrible

How to stay in contact with your college friends, kickball team, and siblings without sometimes wanting to throw your phone away.

You don’t need to be a social butterfly to find yourself ensnared in half a dozen group chats across several apps. And while group chats are great for staying in touch and making plans, they’re also great for irritating you when you’re trying to get some work done.

Notifications ping you at all hours of the day, stacks of unread messages build up until they aren’t worth the effort to catch up on, and important information gets lost in the stream. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Below are 10 ways to improve your group chatting experience.

1. Tweak your notifications

Notification settings on iOS
Adjusting notifications for apps on iOS. David Nield

If you’re getting overloaded with alerts, change the way your chat notifications appear. You can make those pings silent and/or invisible easily on both Android and iOS.

On Android, open up Settings then go to Apps & notifications and choose an app to make changes. On iOS, you can take even more control over the style of alerts: From Settings, pick Notifications, then tap on a particular messaging app to see the available options.

2. Mute noisy conversations

WhatsApp app for Android
Muting conversations inside WhatsApp. David Nield

You can also silence individual conversations temporarily. This is useful if you want to make sure alerts from certain people come through, while limiting the number of pings you get from all your college friends discussing a concert you can’t attend.

Most messaging tools let you mute conversations for a period, and the option should be easy to find in your app of choice. In WhatsApp for Android, for example, tap the menu button (three dots, top right), then choose Mute notifications and pick a time period.

3. Switch to the web

WhatsApp on the web
Step away from your phone. David Nield

Many chatting apps—more than you might realize!—have desktop versions that help you carry on the conversation in your browser. It makes typing and reading through threads easier, and helps with sharing photos and searching for messages posted a long time ago.

You can get WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram on the web for example, while Apple’s iMessage can also be accessed from the desktop on macOS. Just sign in with your usual account credentials and you’ve got easy access to all of your group conversations.

4. Say it with GIFs

Facebook Messenger for iOS
Adding GIFs to chats in Facebook Messenger. David Nield

Using more GIFs—or short animated clips—means less clutter and more entertainment in your group chats. Just about every chat app out there supports GIFs, which means you can drop in moving pictures to quickly convey ideas. For instance, in Facebook Messenger for iOS, tap the emoticon button on the right then GIFs to take your pick of images.

5. Search through messages

WhatsApp app for Android
Using the conversation search tool inside WhatsApp. David Nield

Trying to find an old message feels futile, but in fact the majority of messaging apps for Android and iOS now have relatively competent search facilities to make going back through history simple.

Take WhatsApp for example: In the Android version of the app, you can tap the menu button (three dots, top right) then Search to look for something specific. In the iOS version of WhatsApp, you need to tap on the group name at the top to find the search option.

6. Take back what you said

Facebook Messenger for iOS
Removing sent messages in Facebook Messenger. David Nield

You might have noticed a number of chat apps introducing an unsend feature, or the ability to take back what you said. This is great, because plans are easy to clarify, which means fewer messages overall. Plus, if you accidentally send a private message to the group, you’ll be relieved to expunge it from the record.

Facebook Messenger is one of the chat apps that now has this superpower built into it. On the iOS or the Android version of the app, you can press and hold on a particular message then choose Remove and Remove for everyone up to 10 minutes after sending it.

7. Share your location

Messages app on iOS
Sharing locations in Messages for iOS. David Nield

More people should share their locations with the group. It would save dozens of typed messages about current location and ETA. Most group messaging apps now include the feature. In the Messages app on iOS, it can be found by tapping the information button(top right) in a conversation, then Share My Location.

8. Save your chat history

WhatsApp app for Android
Backing up chats in WhatsApp. David Nield

You can also save or export your chats, which is handy if you’re moving between different devices, or want to keep a record of what’s been said.

WhatsApp has some of the best backup and archive options. From the Settings page on iOS or Android, tap Chats then Chat backup to choose a backup method (like iCloud or Google Drive) and to make sure your conversations are regularly saved.

9. Clear your chat history

Messages app on iOS
Clearing out older chats in Messages for iOS. David Nield

Maybe instead of backing up chats you want to delete them. This could be for privacy or legal reasons, or due to personal preference. The Messages app that comes as part of iOS does this particularly well, though it’s available in other apps too. From the iOS Settings screen, tap Messages then Keep Messages—you can choose to keep them forever, or for a year, or for just 30 days.

10. Leave a group chat

Instagram app for Android
Leaving a conversation in Instagram. David Nield

Sometimes you’ve got no other option but to leave a group chat—the notifications have become too much, the conversation has become increasingly irrelevant, and your phone has become cluttered with too many group chats for you to really keep tabs on them.

You should be able to find the exit button fairly easily in most of the messaging apps you use. In the case of group chats on Instagram, for example, you can tap the header banner in a group conversation to see its participants, then tap on Leave Conversation to quit it.

David Nield

David Nieldis a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.