An IM messFor the better part of a year, I was an instant messaging junkie. In my former life in sports, my publicity colleagues and I would chat all day on a variety of topics. We even conducted a group chat one day to discuss an upcoming tournament – a legitimate business application using instant messaging. While I was participating in social media, I didn’t actually think what I was doing was innovative or groundbreaking. We were just using technology to make our jobs easier.

Now, admittedly, most of the time we were just jerking around, wasting valuable time chatting, but we inched out some useful business objectives every now and then.

In order to exercise some thought toward all the different social media tools available for a client recently, I pondered how a brand might use instant messaging to connect and communicate with consumers. Certainly, this would have to be permission-based. Random corporations or brands popping up on my IM asking me what I’m up to or even offering me coupons would piss me off. I would never recommend that.

Certainly, some brands offer live chat portals and perhaps even an IM handle for customer service functionality, but they’re mostly uniquely dedicated functions for that purpose.

As I drove to work Wednesday, I wondered out loud via Utterz (imbedded in this post) if people would actually befriend a brand in their instant messaging clients. One way I posed that question was, would you feel comfortable “friending” a nameless, faceless brand rather than a person? I then postulated that doing so would mean they might be able to message you deals, coupons or other brand messaging, but you could also know that if you IM’d them, someone would respond.

Doug Haslem, who is infinitely smarter than I am in the first place, responded with his own Utterz in which he correctly pointed out, “That immediately K-O’s the idea that it’s faceless and human. That’s a good thing.”

A new found fellow blogger friend, or as others have started calling social networking friends we find on-line, digital colleague, Paisano, also chimed in with an Utterz response. “I think there is a business need for instant messaging. It does have to be monitored or controlled because, you’re right. It is addictive,” he said.

Chris responded with a text saying, “Personally I would not use a brand with my IM client. If I had a music player on my blog I might allow someone, a brand, that I use regularly to sponsor that widget.”

The way I see this issue, the only people who would feel comfortable allowing a brand to connect with them via instant messenger are those who are most passionate about the brand. I don’t mind getting information from Southwest Airlines about flight deals because I love Southwest Airlines. I don’t mind getting information on new Sony products because I dig Sony. But (no offense) I’d rather not hear from Advance Auto Parts, especially considering I don’t know the difference between a gear casing and Richard Gere.

Sure, the customer service element of IM offers consumers the fastest and often most efficient way to communicate with a company or brand, but I think consumers would best use this knowing that only they can initiate the conversation.

But am I right?

  • Would you befriend a brand on IM knowing that gave them permission to initiate chats with you?
  • Would you reach out to a brand for something other than a complaint, customer service issue if you could?
  • Is offering your brand up as an instant messaging friend not a brilliant move provided you have the manpower to respond?
  • Are brands opening up a can of proverbial worms by opening that fast, easy line of communications?

Debate, discuss and decide in the comments. Perhaps we can work together to establish some guidelines.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Current Stats And Commentary On The Instant Messenger Market
  2. Instant Messaging Spreads The Word – And Trouble
  3. Instant Messaging Roundup
  4. 17 Tips To Be Productive With Instant Messaging

[tags]instant messaging, IM, instant messenger, chatting, IM business application, brand, consumers[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.passagecommunications.blogspot.com SoniaC

    Nice post Jason, I think that IM could make a lot of sense in the context of a loyalty program. Take the fitness category as an example. Imagine being part of a fitness club and paying a slight premium for having access to a personal trainer or nutritionist to ask random questions. I can think of a lot of other scenarios for this type of added value. I believe as long as there’s no spam, it’s a viable vehicle.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Excellent example, Sonia. I think there would be an audience for that usage. Thanks for the thought!

  • http://www.perfectporridge.com Greg Swan

    On a parallel track to this conversation are IM skins. Both AIM and Yahoo! offer IM skins that brands can purchase — AIM’s are called “Expressions” and Yahoo!’s are called “IMVironments.” Users opts-in by choosing if they want to chat with friends using the skin. Because they opt-in, my hope is that users are getting some kind of value for leasing the brand part of their chat window. Some skins have games, video, links, etc. — all adding to the users experience. I’ve had incredible success utilizing Yahoo! IM skins for clients.

  • http://www.thebigfish.co.za Jansie Blom

    why not leave it up to the customer? much like RSS does, as opposed to emailing.

  • Gary Stokes

    I think you would be surprised how much IM is used for legitimate business purposes in itself. In the financial industry that I am in it is a necessity. Gone are the days in my sector where you have a huge phone bank and two maybe three phones to your ears and the volume of the trading floor is deafening with everyone screaming and phones chirping. It’s all handled over IM. You can handle greater volume and exchange more information then with a phone. We will not do business with a counterparty ( I am talking international banks, hedge funds etc) that do not use IM as its primary means of communication. To that end it has to be regulated just like the phones are. All conversations are recorded and suveilled. My shop uses Trillian but the industry uses the most diverse array of IM clients you can imagine. For many of us IM is second nature and the preferred means of communication. Just like working in a call center and being on a phone during off hours, when the day is done the last thing we want to do is use IM. To be able to contact a brand during the day would be great! I always use that ‘chat live ‘feature some websites offer for their customer service ( Linksys, Dell) However, having that brand be able to contact me unsolicited would be a nightmare !

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Greg — Nice contribution. I was aware that existed but have never tried it. Does signing up for a skin, though, give the brand access to that consumer through IM or is it just a branding decoration for their portal?

    Jansie — IM I think will always be opt-in. The user controls that experience and will always be able to block spammers, etc. You’re right. The user rules.

    Gary — Thanks for this perspective. The financial industry is one I haven’t had a great deal of exposure to yet. Nice to know there’s a dependency upon IMing there for some. I agree that a brand contacting us unsolicited would be awful. No one wants spam or telemarketer-approach contact. But like I said, I can think of some brands I would opt in for. Thanks for chiming in and stopping by.

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