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Instant Messaging: Channel of Choice?

by Randall Craig on December 31, 2015

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media

Tagged as: , , , , , ,

When you reach out to your members, clients, suppliers, regulators, or other stakeholders, how do you do it?

In the olden days it was the telex.  Today, we choose between courier, the postal service, FAX, and email.  But what about using Social Media: how does this fit in? Or does it?

Aside from advertising, there are three main ways that people communicate over Social Media:

1) Public posts:  Examples include Facebook wall posts, LinkedIn updates, and Tweets.  Anything posted this way can be seen by almost anyone: it isn’t private, but is an efficient way to broadcast a message.

2) Direct Messages:  These are in-system messages that are sent from one person to another, “privately”.  LinkedIn emails and Twitter Direct Messages are examples. While the general public doesn’t see the contents of the message (since it is addressed into the recipient’s “private” in-system email box), there is no guarantee that the Social Media channel won’t use your data for their own purposes.  And if the Social Media channel changes its data retention policies, discontinues the in-system email functionality, or unceremoniously shuts down, past direct messages will be lost forever.

3) Instant Messaging: These services all provide point-to-point (or group) conversation functionality, often via a mobile device. This is the fastest growing – and and least mature – communications method; they are all duking it out for supremacy (and market share):  WhatsApp, Windows Messenger, ICQ, iMessage, Snapchat, Facebook messenger, Skype, SMS/Texting, and many, many more.

Public posts and direct messages are easy to understand; outreach to your audiences using them is relatively straightforward. Instant messaging, on the other hand, is something altogether different.

Most organizations collect email addresses – but not instant messages addresses. And since most people use several services (think how many you are on), consider the effort required to first keep your contact lists up-to-date, and then send the same messages across multiple systems.

While it may be tempting to go down the path of treating instant messaging the same as email, the channel is fundamentally different, and needs to be handled differently.  Some examples of how it is best used:

  • Quick conversations when a voice call is not available or convenient
  • Project team discussions
  • Mastermind group discussions
  • Status updates

What is missing from this list are eblasts and newsletters – the typical one-to-many broadcasts that are the staple of many organizations.  The other difference is that very often, instant messages are delivered to a mobile device.

This week’s action plan:  Amongst those in your network, is there a developing critical mass that favors one platform over others?  If you’re not sure, this week, ask. And if you aren’t using this channel of communication, give it a try.  This week, ask your immediate team to join a group “chat” on an instant message platform – if they have already done so already.

Marketing Insight:  As important as this channel may be, remember that it is both more intimate, and more immediate.  If you do send messages, respect the social contract you have with your contact, and don’t pester or annoy.  And also respect the relevant anti-spam laws (eg CAN-SPAM and CASL.)

Marketing Insight #2:  Given the huge number of platforms, it isn’t likely that all will survive: over the next several years, expect a significant consolidation.  This means that your contacts will likely change how they wish to engage on these platforms – and which ones they use.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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