IM is a Great Tool

Posted by Kristin Arnold on December 5, 2009

First popularized by America Online, IM is a communications technology that basically does two things: 1) it tells you who else is connected to the network at that particular moment and 2) lets you exchange data – typically short-hand messages – instantly.

Over the last few years, more and more teams are using IM as a way to connect – especially “virtual teams” of geographically dispersed team members.  Like the telephone, IM is a “synchronous” method of communication, which means you get instant responses to the information you share and questions you ask.  Email, on the other hand, is “asynchronous.”  There is a time delay from the moment you press “send” to when the message actually lands in the receiver’s inbox, especially if the receiver is using a dial-up connection.  Some IM programs also allow you to share documents, graphics, video clips or voice clips, just like email.

If used correctly, IM can increase the fluidity of discussion, encouraging collaboration among team members who are not within arms length of each other.

To get the most out of using IM:

Be Picky.  Just like your cell phone number, don’t hand out your screen name to everyone.  You may want to limit those who can access you in real time to your assistant, your spouse, your boss, your project team or your departmental team.  Unlike email, if you carefully control who has access to your IM screen name, you won’t be constantly copied (cc’d) on messages you don’t care about.

Tailor Your Options.  IM has the potential of being really distracting with useless pop-up boxes chiming in.  Most instant messaging software allows you set your options to allow messages to come through (or not) and to alert you (or not).

Master Multi-Tasking.  These days, everybody multi-tasks and IM just makes it easier.  For example, IM is useful when you are talking with a customer on the phone and need to get some information internally.  Check to see if your teammate is online, then “ping” an instant message their way.  Even if that person is also on the phone, they can read your IM and get back to you.  And you can have an immediate answer for the customer.


IM Acronyms.  In instant-messaging, spelling and grammar are not as important as swapping information quickly.  A eubonic shorthand has emerged to include standard business shorthand (FYI, ASAP, OK), traditional email acronyms (BTW, LOL, F2F) and IM code:

BFN or B4N: Bye for Now

BRB: Be right back

Convo: Conversation

CU: See you

GFC: Going for coffee

HAND: Have a nice day

IC: I see

JK or j/k: Just kidding

JW or j/w: Just wondering

NP or n/p: No problem

OTL: Out to lunch

OTP: On the phone

Ping: To send an IM

SB: Stand by or wait

SN: Screen name

TTYL: Talk to you later

You can find a comprehensive list of IM abbreviations at

Question:  Do you find IM more useful than email?

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