BlackBerry Messenger quick tips: Mastering BBM basics

If there’s one particular aspect of the BlackBerry platform that Research In Motion is heavily promoting to the masses today–besides security, RIM’s true strength–it’s the company’s BlackBerry-specific mobile IM application, BlackBerry Messenger.

BBM sports sponsorships. Ads plastered across major cities, including the subways in Toronto and all over New York’s Times Square. TV commercials. BBM is everywhere.

BBM transcends the line between “business user” and “consumer” because it’s an application that brings value to businessmen and teenagers alike. And that’s precisely what RIM’s attempting to do with its BlackBerry platform, in general: Cater to the vast consumer masses with cool, fun features and functionality, while still meeting the often-strict needs of corporations and other security-conscious organizations.

BBM uses unique “PIN” codes associated with every BlackBerry to connect RIM smartphone owners. Currently, some 25 million BlackBerry users regularly employ BBM, according to RIM. And that number is growing every day with each new BlackBerry user.

The basic BBM functionality is incredibly simple; it works just like any other IM application. But it’s the little features that really make the app. Below you’ll find a handful of basic tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your BBM. And you also might want to check out my popular BBM best practices piece for advice on how to avoid common BBM pitfalls, back up and restore BBM contacts and keep your device protected from related security threats.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) “My Profile”

First things first, you should customize your BBM profile options. To do so, simply open your BBM application and on the main screen, scroll all the way to the top and click your avatar-image, if you’ve added one, to open your My Profile options.

If you have not added an avatar yet, or you’d like to change your current image, you can do so by scrolling over the blank “dummy” avatar or your existing image, clicking it and selecting a new image that’s stored somewhere on your BlackBerry smartphone. Position and/or crop the image as you see fit, save it, and you’re good to go.

Next, you can choose to enter a note in the box marked Personal Message. Simply save your entered text, when prompted, after you attempt to exit the BBM profile screen, then your message will be viewable by all approved BBM contacts. So, for example, you could write something like “Busy at the library. Hit me up after 5PM,” to let you friends know your whereabouts and/or schedule.

Finally, you can also choose to let your BBM contacts see what music you’re listening to at any given time, and you can share your location/time zone information. To enable these features, make sure the corresponding boxes on your BBM My Profile screen are checked and then save any changes you may have made. The appropriate information will then be viewable to contacts within your status box, in the same place your personal messages would appear.

Sharing Files, Location via BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)

BBM is first and foremost an IM chat application, but it’s also a great way to share information and files stored on your BlackBerry smartphone. For example, it’s quick and easy to send an image, video clip , voice note or contact information via BBM.

Send a file in BBM by first starting a chat with the appropriate contact. Once you’re in an active chat, hit your BlackBerry Menu key–located directly to the left of the trackball/trackpad on most BlackBerrys–and then scroll down to and select the Send option. In the corresponding pop-up box, choose which option you want from the following: Picture; Voice Note; File; Location; Messenger Contact; BlackBerry Contact.

Depending on the option you choose, you’ll have to navigate various BlackBerry directories to find the file/information you wish to share. Then, in some cases, you can add a personal message to accompany the file. When you’re finished selecting your file of choice and entering in any personal messages, just click Send and, assuming your contact accepts the transfer, you’re all set.

BBM Chat Options: Group Chat, Custom Subjects

Initiating and conducting a BBM chat is simple; just send messages back and forth between contacts. But that’s only just the beginning of BBM chat’s full functionality.

For example, you can communicate with multiple BBM contacts at once via a group chat option. You can initiate such a chat via BBM Groups–more on Groups, and why I’m not a big fan or the feature, here. Or simply invite all of the desired contacts into one new chat. For the purposes of this post, I’ll describe the method of adding individual contacts, since many of your probably don’t employ BBM Groups anyway.

To add contacts to a BBM chat, simply hit your BlackBerry Menu key while within a chat, scroll down to Invite Others, and then either choose each contact to add one by one or fill in the check-boxes next to each appropriate contact. Once you’ve selected the contacts you wish to add to your chat, you can confirm the choices by clicking the OK box. You’ll then be returned to the chat, and the contacts you selected will all be a part of the conversation.

Heavy BBM users with lots of open chats at one time may want to label their conversations as reminders of chat subjects. To add a custom BBM chat subject, open up the chat you wish to name and again click your BlackBerry Menu key. Then choose the Set Local Subject option and type in a title for your chat. Save the title by clicking OK, and your chats will have a new name.

For more BlackBerry tips and tricks, as well as free software downloads and device reviews, check out my BlackBerry Bible page.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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