Instant MessengersAlan Kay, a computer scientist, remarked that “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” As new technological advances are rapidly founded, are the affected business models and acumen progressing at the same ravenous pace? Assuredly not. While the technology may be available, how people understand and use it requires a certain acceptance proliferated over time. When promising new tools are introduced, a certain cycle must be witnessed repeatedly:

1) There is an emergence of new technology which must gather attention.

2) Debates about the practicality, use, and need for the new technology take place.

3) If found as a valid technological source, it then mostly gains acceptance both in private industry and with the public.

4) With this acceptance, implementation of the technology can be instated. Certain codes of conduct and descriptive language develop around the technology.

5) Advances in the technology have been made, and the cycle begins again.

In the realm of business, employers, their employees, and resulting clients must all be willing to use the technology and view it as an acceptable means of standard business practice. But why is new tech so deliberated? Logistically speaking, the use of such advances is an investment; it requires both time and money: two inevitably crucial components to any company. However, technological use also necessitates a mental and cultural shift. In the 1995 movie, Powder, a quote (incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein) reads as follows:

Donald Ripley: "It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity."

Jeremy Reed: "Albert Einstein."

Donald Ripley: "I look at you, and I, I think that someday our humanity might actually surpass our technology."

Everybody Hates Filing PapersThe debate between technology and humanity is certainly intriguing. While an entire moral debate could be held on this topic, for now, I merely mean to suggest that technology use and our humanity are tightly wound. For example, robots are often built as humanoid. Emojis and Emoticons proliferate our cell phones—the anticipation to see what new squiggly designs will be released is palpable. Many people often converse via Memes (still photos or drawings that depict a funny, outrageous, or commonly held sentiment) and GIFs (short video clips) to express themselves and their opinions. The point is that communicative technologies, to be effective, entertaining, or expressive, still require heavy human emotivism. We often view communication as both a verbal and non-verbal act, including (but not limited to, and not used by all): gestural cues (facial expression and body language); visual cues (visible, often tangible aids which help to express meaning and/or intention); and auditory cues (tone and volume of voice). Therefore, what happens when we remove a large chunk of communicative processes simply by engaging in technological interaction? Many believe that the desire for human-based influencers, such as emojis and memes, are a way to supplement gestural, visual, and auditory cues which are often lost during text only communication.

So as a person in a professional workplace setting, what kind of technological language is best to speak? Specifically, instant messaging systems, including text messages, is still a somewhat gray area. While such systems have, for more than a decade, been used in personal settings, businesses have been much more reluctant to take up these types of platforms. However, the concept of text messages is nothing new. Morse code and telegraphs were developed in the mid 19th century. The concept of wirelessly delivering short, efficient messages has long since been accepted. So why then, has text messaging often been deemed inappropriate for work use? Largely this had to do with the lack of consistently owned technology and costs. A decade ago, when SMS messaging services were available on only some cell phones, the number of messages one could send was limited, and they also cost money to send and receive, it was assumed many people would not be able to communicate this way. However, as cell phone texting services developed into the standard programs we use today, there are many less restrictions. Also, the number of people who own cell phones with standard texting services is higher. The likelihood of a potential client receiving a text message is greater than ever before.

texting at the OfficeOften, texting is used merely as a generated service to remind or confirm appointments, such as a party’s now ready table at a restaurant, or an upcoming doctor’s appointment. This type of messaging is being used at greater rates than ever before. We now not only receive reminders, but can schedule and confirm appointments. We can also send text messages to enter giveaways and contests. Text messages can provide alerts and other notifications for anything from a hot new sale, to an emergency weather broadcast. However, what occurs in these instances is not conversational. These texts simply exist to deliver standard information. So to what extent can texting and other similar instant messaging platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, internal company messaging boards, Google chats, Twitter, etc.) be used for true communication in the business setting? The use of instant messaging systems in a workplace is dependent on numerous factors, and so proper etiquette can easily vary. It is always suggested to follow workplace protocol, but presented below are some common etiquette tips for instant messaging. Generally, an important consideration is that while these messages are generally less formal than a phone call or email, you are still engaging in a business based communication. You are still generating a written document that once sent, will be permanently available for record.

  • As mentioned, text messages are typically reserved for less informal and crucial matters. While it can be a highly effective means of sending standard or short messages, texting generally does not suffice for long-term communication. If your conversation is going to last more than a few minutes, it is probably best to send an email or make a phone call. Texting is a means to initiate conversation and confirm details. Sentiments such as “Thank you for the reminder,” “I’ve sent you the email,” or “When is a good time to talk on the phone?” are some useful examples. In almost all cases, it is inappropriate to send news about job termination, company relocation, or other major events via text message. Such important conversations should be given appropriate space and respect.

  • Tone can be very difficult to convey in a text message. If you require sending a message that could be misinterpreted, it is best to avoid texting. Even in emails tone can be confusing, so perhaps this is why emoticons have become so popular? Humans rely on both verbal and nonverbal body language to assess a situation, and it can be difficult or even intimidating to figure out how best to express yourself correctly within text only. Friendliness, humor, and even sarcasm, are all subjective communicative qualities. When your text may read too seriously, often a smiley face is sent to lighten the mood. But are emoticons appropriate for business use? The debate on this is rampant and split.

       o  The first concern is that not all emoji are coded the same way. What may appear as a smiley face on your end, could be delivered as a series of confusing symbols on the other. Instead of delivering a clear message, your audience now must ask for clarification.

       o  Older generations completely frowned upon using the colon and right parenthesis for a smile. :) A smiley face had no business in a professional email, and there are many cases in which people’s careers have been upset due to the presumed lack of maturity this face designates. While some people are now more accepting of faces to help convey intent, it’s typically a conversational filler still looked down upon.

    Emoji   o  Conversely, punctuated faces and emojis are now an integral part of the text messaging experience, and they can help convey certain feelings. If you are messaging a real estate agent about a house you are very excited to tour, sending an exclamation point with a happy face isn’t such a severe choice. If you work in a young, startup company, combining words and images may be more easily accepted, and even demonstrate your ability to effectively communicate with target audiences.

  • #Hashtags. Or what was once known as the pound sign. Hashtags are used on forums such as Twitter to link similar posts. It’s a hyperlink of sorts that connects ideas. A clever means to help people search and add to their interests, using hashtags on forums where the links are accessible is a fantastic way to help trend an idea. However, in text messages this feature is rather useless, and could actually denote a certain level of immaturity. This is because without the hyperlink capability, the hashtag phrase is typically read with sarcasm. If you want to convey professionalism, snarky-ness is certainly not the way to go.

  • Yes, grammar and punctuation still matter. While communication via technology is at an all-time high, and even for some, essential, that does not mean the language used with an employer should be the same as with your friends. Remember: although something like a text message may feel more informal, it’s still essentially a business transaction!

       o  Using semantic cues can help craft the formality of message. If the person texting uses a greeting, you may want to mimic this. The same goes for a concluding sentiment. However, text messages tend to be less formal than an email, and are considered a running conversation, so sentiments such as “regards and sincerely” are not often used. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to end on a “thank you,” especially when requesting help.

       o  BTW, assume that the person you are texting will not understand abbreviations. If the concept of the text message is to relay a quick, clear message, making the recipient search for meaning is completely averse to your goal. (Oh, and in case you responded with IDK [I Don’t Know] to BTW… it stands for By The Way. ;) )

  • Avoid sending unsolicited messages. If an employer or client has requested you text them, then feel free to engage in that communication from the beginning. However, this platform should be used only when both parties are comfortable enough to speak informally, or have agreed to speak under such conditions.

  • Use text messages to reinforce relatability. If we view texting as a less formal means to communicate, but still an important feature of business communication, sending a quick follow up text may actually help your relationship with a boss, coworker, or client. A “Nice meeting with you today” or “Thanks again for your help” can add a personal touch without having to make unnecessary small talk.

  • Text messages should be used to garner attention. Sending too many flashy texts about sales, deals, and products will be annoying. Think about receiving an unlisted call in the middle of a family dinner. Successful telemarketing strategies that inform and excite, but avoid annoying the customer, can be mirrored in text messaging promotions.

    These series of suggestions lead to one common factor: value. When people find value in the cause, product, or service they are notified about, they are more likely to be satisfied with their employee and customer relationships. Installing a chat message network for employees to request managerial assistance, without disrupting the customer, is a fantastic tool. Allowing people to be quickly notified of a luncheon will encourage workplace connectivity. Letting customers know of an upcoming sale, and the place to buy, gives them time to tell friends and plan their purchase. Your messages, whether delivered through an in-house chat platform, a mass text send out, or one-on-one remarks should be used to effectively deliver meaningful content. Texting and messaging systems provide a means to generate interest, build excitement, or inform the audience. They are also the precursor to larger, more significant interactions. With texting being a norm of communication in personal relationships, it’s inevitable they will become standard business practices.