My top 10 reasons for HR to read on for instant answers about instant messaging start first-up with the avoidance of a silo mentality, where we compartmentalise. As HR or Finance professionals, silo our understanding of tech to ‘HR systems’ alone and my regret is our professions will get left behind.

Silo our systems and we will silo ourselves. 
People technology these days does not limit itself to the HR database. Increasingly a ‘digital society’ drives people strategy into tools and tech of all definitions.

10 reasons HR should understand IM:

  1. Increasingly there are calls for removing the silos between HR and other departments – IT, in particular. IM is a ready way to use the same tech and to stay quickly in touch
  2. Collaboration tools, like Teams, Slack or Yammer are now an essential part of the kit for effective people management – which HR still aim to teach
  3. Driving innovation and engagement relies upon meeting the employee demand for instant ways to collaborate peer-to-peer too
  4. In many environments, IM communications may be just the way in which to provide your HR transactional service support
  5. The security questions around IM are an increasing concern for HR as ethical guardians of business and it is a particularly dangerous area of personal data security
  6. Applications that directly support HR strategy include IM – pulse tools, ATS apps and learning platforms, for example
  7. Why not carry out recruitment or performance interviews using (e.g.) Skype? There is no reason why for HR to go digital needs for technology styled as an HR product
  8. Your HCM solution (HR system) is likely developing and offering you LiveChat or Chatbot capability and you’ll wish to know what you are dealing with and when
  9. Use it yourself. It provides a compromise between the interpersonal benefits of face-to-face as opposed to the impersonal of email or even the phone, but avoids travel to ‘meet’
  10. In touch with our people is what we are not if IM is out of touch to us. By all means prefer a paperback or a moleskin notebook but do know what this is about!

Convinced of the case to learn a little more? I could message you right now with your first questions if you were connected up. In the meantime, ready answers on how to become so are not readily found and so here are yours from me:
What is IM?
Instant Messaging (IM) is the private communication between two or more users – users who know of each other – in near real-time, whilst they are online.

How does IM differ from text messaging, email, chat rooms?

Text messaging uses the phone services; IM sends messaging via the web. Email is not real-time and so users don’t need to be online, nor using the same application. Plus, email tends to be used for longer styles of communication (because it’s not real time). Chat rooms allow many and overlapping conversations; IM is based on conversation sessions with a start and end.

What about Chatbots and LiveChat?

Chatbots are rather different. Although as with IM, text is conveyed in near real-time, with a chatbot a human is interacting with a computer. There’s no other human user on the other end. The bot replies using rules it knows. ‘Intelligent’ bots are learning to improve their understanding of your language and of the business more and more and so we start to see bots who can do more than obey their pre-programmed code.
We are all now familiar with LiveChat as a form of online help. On the other end could be a human, where it’s a way to experience IM or a bot.

I’m confused about the relationship between IM applications and social media?

Social media companies include IM services in their platforms and product suites. For example, Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts. Remember that Facebook own WhatsApp and Instagram and Google own YouTube. In this incestuous world of instant tech, these two companies, together with Apple gadgetry and Microsoft, pretty much cover social. Twitter DM’s (direct messages) aren’t really IM, as nothing pings up for the recipient unless you are checking, although a few apps have been built to perform IM on top of DM’s.
So, social media is one place in which IM is widely in use but there are also significant business benefits to this type of communication.

How is IM used in business?

We started to see instant messaging at work as employees brought consumer applications into the office to talk to each other (e.g. WhatsApp). More recently the prevalence of this behaviour led to demand for business-grade tools.
Now most organisations are using IM to have day-to-day text-based chat, as well as share files, images and links and for web-conferencing and video calls. You can typically escalate a session into a group chat or voice call and share desktops.

What are the most popular tools?

This answer will date almost the moment I write it! And bear in mind that published stats about users may well be inflated by providers. But unless you’re in China (where it’s WeChat) then WhatsApp (more particularly in Europe) and Facebook (the US) dominate social media and messaging in general. For IM specifically, it’s Facebook Messenger, Apple Messages and Skype.
The question of ranking order depends on for what and when, all hideously vulnerable to the time of writing, but here are some popular ones:

Do you need to use different applications for business and home (consumer) messaging?

It depends what you want to do. Purely to send text between two users, then no reason why not to use the same account and IM client (that’s the word for the messaging service provision) at home and at work. But many business IM tools are connected into office networked tools, with the most obvious being Skype and Teams (rivalling Slack for team collaboration specialism) within the Office 365 suite.
Recognising the need for a difference, we have recently seen the launch of Workplace by Facebook.
[And see below on security]

What are the key pros and cons?

The explosion of IM in practice is testimony to its evident user-friendliness. It’s immediate and it feels private between the talkers. Because IM uses the net not the phone services, it can be handy for those working remotely. Plus, the concept of ‘presence’ means that in logging in you can see which of your contact list are currently online to talk.
However, there have been significant concerns around security and this is a key reason why applications designed specifically for business use are in rapid development. The IM provider holds records of conversations. Whilst encrypted to a degree, this is not to a standard suitable for the most confidential of communication in business. And real-time communication is no use if your intended recipient is off-line!

With so much available, how on earth would I choose?!

One easy way to choose is likely to look at what everyone else in your organisation is using! For sure you don’t want to end up with too many different applications you require your teams to get to grips with.
Consider the relative use you’ll get from different features: for example, Skype is popular for video-conferencing. If your employees are out-and-about then one of the more traditionally mobile apps such as WhatsApp might be better. GoToMeeting and WebEx combine IM conversation with business functions that are more formal – meeting-hosting and recording for example.
Each app tends to have a slight differentiator (e.g. Snapchat, where the conversations ‘disappear’).
Consider too which tools your external contacts use (your talent pipeline?) If your organisation feels ‘social’ then go for one of the social media apps. Do note that you’re unlikely to get away with a one-size-fits-all for IM. Bear in mind that it may not matter much. Many tools are free and certainly it is easy to change from using one application to another, unlike, for example, implementing your core HR systems.

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