What's the Big Deal with Instant Messaging?

What's the Big Deal with Instant Messaging?

Here's an example of why Instant Messaging is such a powerful tool. One of my agents wanted me to meet a client at a project, but I was on the phone, so he IM'd me.

Without getting off my phone call, I was able to confirm the appointment with him, allowing him to set it up.

For those who say that IM is a time-waster because all their friends distract the person while at work, the solution is easy:  Get a second IM account for work contacts only.  It's analogous to having two phone lines, one for home and one for work.  But you wouldn't throw the phone out altogether, would you?!  So don't dismiss IM either just because you haven't set a work-only account up.

It's so funny for me to see the cultural divide between people who understand what instant messaging is and how it affects business, and those who don't.

This divide often falls along age lines but it isn't necessarily so.  I've found a better predictor is how willing someone is to try something new (be it technology or a food they've never tried).  For example, my mother uses IM extensively, but my father does not.  And what my father has failed to realize (depsite repeated attempts on my part to explain this to him) is that my mother gets to interact with her kids at least 30% more because she's on IM.

But although instant messaging is fun with friends, it's literally a "killer app" in the business world.  And I don't use the term lightly. Instant messaging is more important & valuable than any productivity gains system or methodology any company might roll out. It's on par with the importance of email, and possibly even eclipses it.  Yes, that's right, I'm saying that instant messaging in the business world may be more important than that Outlook inbox you hold so dear.  And if you're not "in on it" then you're very much out of it.  Let me give you just a handful of examples of why IMing is so important:

1) I can reach the majority of my employees at any time, and ask them a quick question, with minimal intrusion, no matter where I am.  If I have a quick question for my admin, I don't call her.  I IM her.  And she can respond quickly without being interrupted.

2) IMing allows me to be more responsive to MY clients.  As a business owner, I have two types of clients, internal and external. Internal clients are the other real estate agents that work at the firm.  And they love the ability to IM me with questions.  It allows them to get a fast answer, especially while they're on the phone with a client, and have it in writing to minimize or eliminate the "telephone game" synrome of things changing.  And I love the ability to have everything logged in writing.  In fact, having everything in writing, with a log, is great if you ever have a dispute about what was said with anyone.  It also allows me to be more responsive to my external clients.  I'd say that I IM wth about 10% of my external clients, which isn't a lot, but those 10% use it extensively and have even told me they picked me over another agent because I knew how to communicate over IM.

3) Instant messaging & phone calls make a great "tag team".   Being able to IM a business colleague while you're on a conference call with a 3rd party is almost an unfair advantage.  It allows you to quietly plot strategy and tag-team responses in ways that the 3rd party doesn't even know are happening.  Needless to say, it's invaluable when you want to get a point across on a conference call and you want to have a colleague help you make the point.

These are just but a few examples.  You also have to understand how the culture behind instant messaging is different from other forms of communication.  It truly is its own form of communication, with its own rules.  I treat an instant message conversation as the equivalent of a 5 minute phone or in-person conversation that happens over the course of a day.  That is to say, if you were to call someone, maybe you could communicate everything in a day-long IM conversation over the phone in 5 minutes.  But the beauty of IM is that it gives you the option to do it over the course of a day.  That means that when you IM somoene, you can't get mad at them for not responding immediately.  They might have 20 other IM conversations going on.  If you do need a response right away, you can say that in your IM message.  Everyone has a different style of response, but the IM culture dictates that it's OK to draw a conversation out over the day.  But the beatuy of this is that it's allowing you to respond to the person on YOUR time.  So think of it like a quick call that isn't intrusive and you can respond to in-between the things you have to get done.

Another myth is that instant messaging makes people less productive.  This is a major reason why big corporations have banned instant messaging.  I find this entire train of thought to be hilarious.  Yes, of course it could make someone less productive, just like the phone could if they were on the phone all day.  But it can also make the person at least 30% to 40% MORE productive.  The easiest way is to have your employees make an IM name up which is just for office use.  Let them have their personal IM address to use on their own time.

The absolute best tool for instant messaging is called Trillian - www.Trillian.cc .  It's free, or you can get the professional version for around $30. The tool will let you log into all the IM platforms (AOL's Google's, Yahoo's, MSN's, etc) from one interface, AND it will log your conversations.  It's definitely worth the $30 or so.

Good luck, happy IMing, and welcome to the club!