Using Instant Messaging for Business
Instant messaging (IM)has become a popular way to communicate with clients and coworkers, and for good reason. Communicating over the Internet in real time can streamline communications and save you time and money. Plus, since most instant-messaging software is free, you don't need to invest more money in technology.
But before you rush into using instant messaging, think about whether it will really improve your business communications or just serve as another distraction. First, consider reasons to use an instant messenger:
Save on long distance. Using instant messaging to communicate with employees and clients in other parts of the world can reduce your long-distance phone bills. And most instant message services now also support voice conversations as well as video.
Conduct real-time interaction. When you work on a project with coworkers who have busy schedules or work in different offices, instant messaging facilitates quick and simple communication. Unlike e-mail, when you use an instant messenger you don't have to wait for messages to download from a mail server.
Reduce spam. Instant messengers get a lot fewer unwanted messages than e-mail.
Host chats and conferences. Public chat rooms are often chaotic, and it's difficult to conduct a focused conversation -- especially for business purposes. Although instant messengers are most commonly used for two-way conversations, most programs offer a conference or chat setting where your workgroup can meet.
Now that you've considered the advantages of instant messaging, take a look at the disadvantages. Like most technologies, instant messaging does have some drawbacks:
Proprietary software. While it is now possible to use software that lets you connect to multiple instant message services, most services only let you send messages to other users or add them to your contact list using the same instant messenger you do. Trying to mandate a particular messenger can be difficult, especially if employees are attached to specific programs.
Word limits. Most messaging programs have a character limit for messages. If you need to communicate a large amount of information, an e-mail or a phone call is a better choice.
Security. Use caution with the information you share over chat or instant messengers. Take a look at your profile to see what information you've made public, and find out if the software creates public directories of its users.
Misuse. Employees may be tempted to communicate with their friends during work hours because instant messaging is easy and fun. You may want to adopt an instant-messaging policy (similar to your e-mail policy) that outlines how messaging should and should not be used for business.
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