Advantages & Disadvantages of Instant Messaging in Business

By Milton Kazmeyer

Instant messaging programs provide the ability to communicate quickly and easily with clients, employees and vendors without picking up the phone or leaving your computer. These programs offer a number of benefits over other forms of communication, but they also have their disadvantages. Understanding your communication needs can help you decide whether an instant messaging program is the right choice for your business.

Real-Time Communication

Unlike email, instant messaging provides real-time communication between users. If another user appears online in your contact list, that typically means they are at their PC and active, so you may be able to get an answer to a query much quicker than via email, which could go unnoticed for some time. A system where customers or clients can receive a quick response to questions can be extremely useful, and instant messaging can speed up internal communications as well.


The real-time aspect of instant messaging also comes with a price, however. Having a messaging client open on your desktop can be a major distraction from your work duties, since people expect quick responses to these types of communications. The perceived need to drop everything to respond to a query can interrupt your normal workflow, especially if you end up conversing with multiple users at once. Instant messaging is also a constant temptation to "chat" with other users, which can distract from work and decrease productivity.


Since most instant messaging systems rely on third-party programs, they can represent a threat to the security of your business. Occasionally, these programs have developed vulnerabilities that malicious users have exploited to gain access to computers and steal data or subvert the machines for their own use. In addition, the ability to transfer files via instant messaging opens up yet another way in which malware can gain access to your business network.


There are a number of different instant messaging programs on the market, each offering different advantages and disadvantages over the competition. Unfortunately, each communicates on its own network, which can make compatibility a problem. Communicating with a diverse group of users may require installing multiple messaging clients, or using programs like Trillian, Adium or Pidgin, which can access many different networks simultaneously.


One advantage of communicating through email is that it provides an easily searchable record of any conversations. While some instant messaging programs also provide record keeping capabilities, often you must manually activate any recording features, and the resulting logs may not be as easy to search as an email inbox. If you plan to use instant messaging for important tasks such as communicating with clients, you should familiarize yourself with the program's archiving features in advance.