2009-10-08

Instant Messaging: dating or working?

Instant Messaging (IM) is becoming more common in enterprises, although the latest statistics I have seen suggest not as much yet as some people expect.

Personally I use IM in a work context almost every day. I hadn't given much thought on how I use it, other than realizing:

  1. I am a lousy typist who needs an autocorrect feature in my IM client, and
  2. Often IM is a preamble to a telephone call as I mostly work in a home office. My IM posts often go as follows: "hi > are you free? > can I call?"

So when I saw the results of a survey on the right and the wrong way of using IM in dating, it made me reconsider how I use IM at work.

The OKCupid.com survey results were published in my local newspaper, The Globe and Mail – in case you were thinking I've been using that dating service!

The worst greetings are "hi", "hey" or "hello" – I mostly say "hi"...

Far better are questions such as "how's it going?", "what's up?", or even "hola"!

In a dating context I can see how a question would more likely lead to a follow-up. But in a business context, would it be better to say, "How's it going?", "Are you busy?" or "Can you spare a minute?" than opening with a "hi?" Maybe "hi" is fine if you've established a working relationship already, i.e. got past first contact.

Interestingly in dating use of netspeak (e.g. lol, bfn, imo, etc.) is not a good idea on first contact. The recommendation is to, "ditch the slang" for the proper language and to make sure you proofread, since it suggests that you consider the interaction important.

I think that same care very much speaks to being 'professional' at work as well, although with close colleagues with whom you chat a lot netspeak almost becomes a way to indicate that you are an expert IM user, not just a work-only user.

Mini-IM essays are a turn-off in dating, and I think likewise in work chats.

Your personal picture is critical in dating IM of course. I think it's even true for work IM. I see a larger proportion of people using real pictures of themselves in work IM settings rather than the cartoons, avatars or seemingly random graphics typically used in consumer IM and social networks. At work it's very important for people to recognize you so they can link their online perceptions of you with what they find when you meet face-to-face.

In my experience when you first interact with a colleague through telephone and conference calls with no pictures, you build a mental image of them that often conflicts dramatically with the reality you find when you first meet them in person.

There are a lot of parallels to being an effective IM user in the workplace and when dating, but of course you do have to be careful not to be seen as flirting when you compose a work instant message!! The content of the messages is what makes the difference, but both work and dating are more serious than some other social situations, so share some common rules.

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