Business is tough these days. Quite apart from Brexit, the implications of the Trump Presidency and the ever-growing threat of cyber terrorism, there are several more mundane things getting in the way of progress.
For a start, many companies are still way behind in terms of technology adoption or updates. At the same time, much of education is failing to provide the right foundation for children to cope in the modern workplace. On top of that, the ageing population and low birth rates in many nations is creating further employment pressures on firms.
However, there is a slowly creeping growth in technology which is going to lead to business communication paralysis: messaging apps.
The latest messaging app to hit the streets is Microsoft Teams. This is Microsoft’s “answer” to the popular app, Slack. Of course, if you want to chat with your team you could use WhatsApp or SnapChat., or WorkPlace. Or you could set up a secret group on Facebook, or on LinkedIn.
If you just want to send a message to anyone you could try email, or Facebook, or Twitter. Perhaps you might use Skype instant messaging, or Aloo or Allo. If none of these interest you, then why not use Viber, Telegram, Signal, or Wickr?
I could go on and on and on…..!
There is a seemingly never-ending array of methods of messaging people.
And that is a significant business problem.
Which method do you use?
When there are so many messaging apps to choose from you will fail to communicate effectively. Some people will like WhatsApp, whereas others will prefer Facebook Messenger. Some will use InMail within LinkedIn. Here’s the problem – you now have to remember which method of communication your business contacts prefer.
I have a contact who only uses Facebook Messenger to send messages to people. He does not use email, he is not on LinkedIn and he doesn’t use the phone very much either. Instead, if you want to communicate with him you have to use Facebook Messenger. That’s a problem because if I need to send out a mass email, that includes him, I have to remember to copy and paste the content into Facebook Messenger for him. If I forget, he doesn’t get the message.
Nowadays, it seems that you have to flag each contact with their preferred method of communication to ensure you can get in touch with them.
It was all so easy just a few years ago when all you had was email, phone, or letter. People knew that the phone was for urgent stuff, that email was for everyday material and that the post was for information that wasn’t time sensitive or couldn’t be transmitted over the phone or through email.
Now, though, you can send videos on Twitter messages, or documents on Slack, or books via WhatsApp. You can send almost any kind of material to almost anyone with almost every messaging app.
So choosing the method to use is near impossible as you have to send the same message out in a variety of ways according to the preferences of the user.
It’s a bit like having to send a printed letter on yellow paper for the people at No 32, on white paper for the family at No 33, and on blue paper for the folks at No 34, because that’s the way they want it.
Business Communication Paralysis
Before too long business communication is going to become paralysed by the vast array of choices in messaging. When human beings have too many things to choose from, they do not know what to do. The confusion means they do not make a decision – known as “choice paralysis”.
This is already happening within many businesses that I meet. They do not know whether to use Slack or WhatsApp or Microsoft Teams. They spend hours and hours on research and selection processes only to put off the decision because having almost made a choice they now need to consider something like Facebook’s Workplace. Every time a company nearly makes a choice, something else comes along to disrupt their decision making.
Already, though, we are seeing communications fall down the gaps. An email is sent out to a company’s list, but several people never see it because they now use SnapChat as their number one communications tool, for instance. You can see the problem for the future, as more and more diversity and choice enters the communication app market. Most people will fail to see communications as the messages will not be sent on their preferred platform.
The rise of email
As the years roll by since email was invented, people keep predicting its death. Yet, every year we see a further rise in effectiveness of email marketing – in spite of higher levels of spam and increasing sizes of inboxes.
Because email is simple. Even to use messaging apps you generally need to register with an email address. That’s a bit like buying a correspondence address when you already have an address…!
Everyone who uses Facebook Messenger has an email address. So too does everyone with the new Microsoft Teams. And guess what, when many people get a message on these systems, they alert them with an email…! People are getting emails to let them know that they have a message somewhere else. That’s like the postal worker knocking your door, handing you a letter which says you have letters which have been delivered to the house over the road.
Eventually, people will get fed up with all the variety of alerts, they will get fed up of trying to manage a plethora of messaging systems and will return to the one system that they already know works well.
Old methods still work
New research published recently shows that six out of ten business boards in the UK still rely on handwriting and printed documentation. Why? Because it works.
Want to make an appointment with someone? Increasingly, businesses that I deal with are discovering that it is quicker to do this on the phone, rather than try fancy appointment booking systems and then a to-ing and froing of emails back and forth.
And if you need to be visible from a marketing perspective? Guess what, people still notice printed documentation.
Businesses are being buried under an increasing weight of messaging apps. Confusion, choice paralysis and gaps in communication are bound to fuel a desire for change. Microsoft might just have invented “Teams” too late. Not because Slack is already there or because Facebook is competing with Workplace, but because business users will vote for a return to a simple life.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+