IM Working

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Ask 14 year-olds what IM is and they'll tell you it's the way they talk to their friends. The days of teenagers clogging up the family phone line with gossip have passed. Today, most high schoolers, and college students for that matter, use instant messaging to communicate with their friends. In fact, 90 percent of 13- to 21-year-olds report that they instant message. This comes from a survey of over 4,500 Internet users by America Online. The survey focused on general instant messaging habits, rather than just focusing on AIM, AOL's instant messenger service. What is obvious is that while young people are spending huge amounts of time messaging back and forth with their friends, the trend is moving beyond just teenagers.

Instant messaging is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace, for example. "We found for people who were employed, 43 percent said they use instant messaging on the desktop every day in the workplace," explains Brian Curry, senior director for AIM Network Services, part of AOL. "People are starting to turn to instant messaging first inside the workplace. These people ask themselves, 'is someone online and can I quickly dispatch with this task?'" Curry specifically discusses the use of instant messaging in financial services as a remedy for what they call 'the two-ear problem.' "I can only be on two phones at once, maximum. But IM allows them to tile 10 instant messages on a screen."

While 10 conversations at once is certainly the extreme, AOL reports that 1.7 is the average. Not surprisingly, 13- to 21-year-olds have the highest average at 2.3 conversations while 55 and older have a mere 1.3. "Because of its real-time nature and its ability to carry on multiple conversations, we're finding it's fitting some of the social realities of those younger age groups where information isn't information until it's bounced around their peer group a few times," Curry says. It's easy to believe that as these young instant messengers grow up and move into the workplace they will take their digital communication habits with them. Today 27 percent of all instant messengers do so at their workplace. That is a 71 percent increase from last year.

As these numbers continue to increase, marketers are taking notice. More films and music releases are including ways for consumers to customize their instant messaging windows with images associated with the product in their marketing mix. "I think it's not surprising to us to see people wanting to bring their brand and marketing efforts into this medium and exploit this medium that's growing so fast," explains Curry. With 59 percent of the market messaging already and such a large portion of young people talking to each other this way, IM may represent the future of communication. Especially with new tools allowing messages to cell phones, and vice-versa, in the future we may all just let our fingers do the talking.

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