Ten Tips for Effective Business Instant Messaging

The scene is as follows: In an open room devoid of office walls and partitions, a couple dozen professionals at a large advertising agency quietly type away at computer screens adjacent to one another.

The silence is occasionally broken by a laugh. However, no one is speaking. They communicate almost exclusively via instant messaging (IM).  “I can not help but notice this [lack of conversation] when I visit this firm. To an outsider, this may seem strange, but this has become a significant part of their corporate culture “Helen Chan, an analyst for The Yankee Group, a technology research firm based in the United States, has friends at the agency.

A technology originally intended for one-on-one personal conversations has made its way into the workplace. Numerous business professionals prefer text-based Instant Messaging to phone calls and email. They prefer its responsiveness and efficiency in obtaining real-time information from partners, suppliers, and remote colleagues.

Instant messaging is essentially a text-based version of telephone communication. It is increasingly being used for communication in businesses large and small. For many, it acts as a backup for e-mail issues and other emergencies — as evidenced by the spikes in usage following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to the Wall Street Journal, over 100 million people now send instant messages. Gartner Group predicts in a report titled “IM: The Sleeping Giant” that instant messaging will surpass email as the primary online communication tool by 2005.

Having said that, businesses that work in teams or on projects will benefit from IM more than many retailers, independent professionals, and others. That is because instant messaging facilitates collaboration but does not lend itself to the establishment of new relationships. Apart from the time and cost savings potential, there are risks and drawbacks to its use.

Whether you are a business owner, an avid IM user, or a combination of the two, here are ten instant messaging do’s and don’ts.

1. Take action Adopt an instant messaging policy.

If you are an owner, your employees must understand whether you believe instant messaging is an appropriate mode of communication for communicating with customers or business partners. Any policy should include at the very least general guidelines for its application. You may not believe this is significant — unless you are familiar with the story of the hedge fund manager who caused a stir by allegedly using instant messaging to spread false rumours about a publicly traded software company. (Word spread, the stock of the software company plummeted, and the hedge fund manager and his company found themselves in serious trouble.)

2. Use instant messaging to communicate only non-sensitive or confidential information.

Consider the preceding example. If your business provides professional advice on stocks, finances, medicine, or law, it is probably not a good idea to do so via instant messaging. Instant messaging is better suited to conveying urgent information about project status, meeting times, or a person’s location.

3 Carry out Separate business contacts from family and friends in your contact lists.

Assure that your employees follow suit. Eliminate any possibility of a social contact being incorporated into a business conversation with a partner or customer — or vice versa. MSN Messenger[link] enables you to meticulously organize your contacts.

4 Allowing excessive personal messaging at work is not a good idea.

Yes, you make personal phone calls and emails at work, and you permit your employees to do the same. However, you encourage them to do so and (hopefully) do the same for yourself. Take it a step further with instant messaging. Encourage personal chats to take place during breaks or lunch — or to generate new customers or revenue for the business.

5. Bear in mind that instant messages can be saved.

You may believe that instant messaging is fantastic because it allows you to relax your guard, make bold statements, chastise a boss, employee, or coworker, and then have it all wiped from the record. What you are unaware of is that one of the participants in your conversation has the ability to copy and paste the entire conversation into a notepad or Word document. Certain instant messaging services enable you to archive entire messages. Take care with your words, just as you would with an email.

6. Avoid jeopardizing your company’s liability or your own reputation.

The courts may still be determining the legal status of instant messages in terms of libel, defamation, and other legal issues. Almost certainly, any statements you make about other people, your company, or other businesses will not land you in court. However, they may jeopardize your reputation or credibility. Take care with your words.

7. Carry out be aware of virus infections and the security risks associated with them.

The majority of instant messaging services allow you to send files along with your messages. Alexis D. Gutzman, an author and eBusiness consultant, says that during her recent research for a book, she discovered that instant message file attachments containing viruses penetrate firewalls more easily than email attachments. “Instant messages [carrying viruses] will traverse a firewall in search of an opening,” she explains. You would be wise to educate yourself about the strength of your own firewall protection before deciding whether or not to restrict file transfers via instant messaging.

8. Avoid exchange personal data or information via instant messaging.

Even if you have complete trust in the person or people with whom you are communicating, including personal information that you would prefer to keep private (such as a phone number) is not a good idea. This is because the text of your chat is relayed to your contact via a server. “Anyone who is connected and can see the traffic can see the personal information,” Chris Mitchell, lead program manager for MSN Messenger, explains. Perhaps not. However, it is preferable to send such information via encrypted email or not at all.

9. vigourous

Carry out Keep your instant messages brief and succinct, and be aware of when to say goodbye. It is difficult to prescribe how you should use instant messaging. Kneko Burney, director of eBusiness research at Cahners In-Stat Group, prefers it for the simple purpose of determining whether a colleague is available for an in-person or telephone call. “It is akin to peering into another person’s office.” On the other hand, Gutzman views IM as a means of conducting rapid research and obtaining information from consultants and even lawyers. She recently used instant messaging to conduct research for a book, saving entire conversations in her personal archives. Both agree, however, that you must confine your inquiry, get straight to the point, and avoid superfluous blather. “With instant messaging, a lot of pleasantries are unnecessary,” Gutzman explains. “I can pretty much say, ‘How are you?’ and then proceed with my question.”

10.  Avoid

Confound your contacts by using a false user name or status. Like email user names, IM user names should be consistent throughout your organization. Additionally, users should maintain a consistent status update throughout the day to ensure that contacts are aware of their availability for messages.

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