When to use IM
I personally love IM and when I am at my desk I use it probably 10 times more than I use Email and I shudder to think how many emails I would need to send in order to iterate to the information I want by passing emails back and forth between multiple people. However I don’t think people generally understand the power of IM, even if they have it available to them. This article by Jonathan Spira provides some great advise on the main benefits that IM has over the phone:
The uninitiated might ask, “why couldn’t you just pick up the phone instead of using IM?”. In actuality, the phone may be more disruptive in many cases. There are a number of reasons:
1.) It rings (loudly sometimes) and others may be made aware of the call. With instant messaging, one can discreetly answer someone’s enquiry (and avoid a third party overhearing).
2.) One can carry on several IM conversations simultaneously. This is not possible on the phone, movies showing Hollywood moguls with three phones in hand notwithstanding.
3.) IM is discreet. If the user is actually on a phone conversation, that person can query someone else via IM without putting the call on hold.
4.) IM is synchronous, but “less” synchronous than a telephone conversation. Pauses of more than a moment on the phone are considered rude; this is generally not the case in IM, as only much longer pauses are noticeable.
5.) Using IM, several people can “talk” (type) at the same time without being disruptive
I would add a couple of extras myself:
- You can send text information and images much more efficiently and used in this way IM can be a great complement to using the phone
- It is much easier in IM to involve additional people in the conversation, or get information from one person and then use that in another conversation
- Phone calls can drag on a bit sometimes and are not easy to pause and resume, its easier to do both of these with IM
Jonathan then goes on to position IM against other options:
IM is better than telephone when….
- There are many people participating and all need to talk/be active
- At least one participant is in an environment where people could listen in, and privacy or confidentiality is an issue
- There are a number of many-to-many conversations taking place
Telephone is better than IM when….
- There are many people participating passively and one person is speaking (such as when the CEO announces a merger or acquisition)
- A more personal touch is required and the nuances of voice matter (e.g., breaking bad news)
E-mail is better than IM when….
- The text needs to be memorialized (archived for future reference, although more and more companies are archiving IM sessions)
- It contains an announcement to be sent to many people
IM is better than e-mail when….
- An issue demands an immediate response, i.e. it is both urgent and important
- The issue is relatively trivial, such as lunch plans