Kristin J. Arnold

Article Summary:

The basics of instant messaging from a business perspective.

Instant Messaging Basics for Business

Instant messaging is gaining ground in the business world. I confess, I don't know much about instant messaging (IM), other than my daughter loves to chat online in hieroglyphics that r kinda like English. While my ignorance may be bliss, an Osterman Research study found that IM is being used, either officially or unofficially, in 84% of the organizations surveyed. Garner Inc. predicts that businesses will rely on IM to interact with customers - and that most customers will use IM more than email!

First popularized by America Online, IM is a communications technology that basically does two things:

  1. It tells you who else is connected to the network at that particular moment and
  2. Lets you exchange data - typically short-hand messages - instantly.

Over the last few years, more and more teams are using IM as a way to connect - especially "virtual teams" of geographically dispersed team members. Like the telephone, IM is a "synchronous" method of communication, which means you get instant responses to the information you share and questions you ask. Email, on the other hand, is "asynchronous." There is a time delay from the moment you press "send" to when the message actually lands in the receiver's inbox, especially if the receiver is using a dial-up connection. Some IM programs also allow you to share documents, graphics, video clips or voice clips, just like email. If used correctly, IM can increase the fluidity of discussion, encouraging collaboration among team members who are not within arms length of each other.

To get the most out of using IM:

  1. Be Picky.
    Just like your cell phone number, don't hand out your screen name to everyone. You may want to limit those who can access you in real time to your assistant, your spouse, your boss, your project team or your departmental team. Unlike email, if you carefully control who has access to your IM screen name, you won't be constantly copied (cc'd) on messages you don't care about.
  2. Tailor Your Options.
    IM has the potential of being really distracting with useless pop-up boxes chiming in. Most instant messaging software allows you set your options to allow messages to come through (or not) and to alert you (or not).
  3. Master Multi-tasking.
    These days, everybody multi-tasks and IM just makes it easier. For example, IM is useful when you are talking with a customer on the phone and need to get some information internally. Check to see if your team mate is online, then "ping" an instant message their way. Even if that person is also on the phone, they can read your IM and get back to you. And you can have an immediate answer for the customer.

Sidebar: In instant-messaging, spelling and grammar are not as important as swapping information quickly. A eubonic shorthand has emerged to include standard business shorthand (FYI, ASAP, OK), traditional email acronyms (BTW, LOL, F2F) and IM code (below). If you're going to use instant messaging efficiently, it's helpful to know some common acronyms.

  • BFN or B4N: Bye for Now
  • BRB: Be right back
  • Convo: Conversation
  • CU: See you
  • GFC: Going for coffee
  • HAND: Have a nice day
  • IC: I see
  • JK or j/k: Just kidding
  • JW or j/w: Just wondering
  • NP or n/p: No problem
  • OTL: Out to lunch
  • OTP: On the phone
  • Ping: To send an IM
  • SB: Stand by or wait
  • SN: Screen name
  • TTYL:Talk to you later

Kristin J. Arnold, CMC, CPF, CSP helps corporations, government and non-profit organizations achieve extraordinary results. With years of team-building and facilitation experience, Kristin specializes in coaching executives and their leadership, management and employee teams, particularly in the areas of strategic, business and project planning, process improvement, decision-making, and collaborative problem-solving. For more information visit www.extraordinary team.com.

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