Mobile phone users are split between those who use text messaging (SMS) and those who find it too fiddly. Similarly, online, people are split between those who love email and those who prefer instant messaging services. Increasingly, younger people appear to prefer the speed of SMS and instant messaging over the apparent slowness of email. Indeed, according to some people the younger population has already given up email in favour of instant messaging.

Now, psychologists from Italy have provided new research which shows how important SMS – and presumably Internet instant messaging – has become. Their paper, published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, shows that text messaging has become a distinct social communications method. However, the paper reveals an interesting fact. One of the important elements of text messaging is “reciprocation”. It seems that people like SMS because they can instantly get gratification for their message by a return text message saying “thanx” or “gr8” or some such item. It is the speed of return of messages that makes SMS and online instant messaging so appealing, it seems.

For a long time it has been known that “reciprocity” is an important element in the way we all engage with each other. If I do something for you, then you feel more inclined to reciprocate and do something for me. This is the basis of the “free report” online – I give you a free report to help your business and you automatically feel inclined to do something for me, such as give me your email address.

Now, though, this research on SMS messaging shows that an important factor is the speed with which that reciprocation takes place. Text messaging and instant messaging can lead to almost instantaneous reciprocation. In turn that makes the original message sender feel good about themselves.

What this means for anyone running an online business is that your systems must produce instant results. No waiting for downloads that people have asked for, no delays in customer service, no great gaps before replying to emails. If your online business is not set up for our increasingly instant world, you will lose business.

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