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Email vs chat apps – who wins?

Chat based apps and programmes are starting to take the lead over email when it comes to communicating in business. Big companies who rely on efficient and streamlined communication systems have started to use them – and smaller businesses are following suit…

There’s nothing worse than reading an email chain that you’re inexplicably CCed into, on the off chance there’s something you should know buried five emails deep. Especially if it’s an internal one that could have been avoided with a ten-minute meeting. But it’s not old news that email can hinder rather than help communication, with several studies suggesting it distracts employees, wastes valuable time, and prevents business decisions being made.

Larger companies are embracing alternative forms of communicating with both their staff and the public. The fast development of messaging apps has brought with it new possibilities for sharing information to those who have the scope to use it – for example, the BBC now use Viber and WhatsApp to produce documentaries – and the global BuzzFeed and eBay workforces use Slack. From customer service to news updates, there are lots of ways to integrate them into your small business.

The combined user base of the top four chat apps is larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks. Whether it’s Yik Yak, Line, Avaamo, Facebook Messenger or another of the hundreds available, chat apps could help you and your business thrive. We spoke to several of them about why they are embracing communication that extends beyond an email…

Saving resource

Founder of Sup app Rich Pleeth was an early adopter and has been using WhatsApp for years: “I grew up abroad and am very fortunate to have friends all over the world, texting them was expensive and WhatsApp provided a simple, multi-platform and ultimately free solution,” he says.

He finds that there are a lot of advantages to using it, which range from a more informal relationship with the team, to saving money: “Keeping in touch with our team 24 hours a day, we share links, what is going on, where we are, brainwaves and lots of in-jokes and embarrassing photos when we are all out. Also, it’s free which is obviously super important for a startup, especially when speaking to investors and team members in the US, for example.”

Founder of her eponymous PR and events consultancy company Chloe Nelkin agrees, and has been using WhatsApp with her team since 2012. The minimum investment (both in time and finance) stands out for her: “It started by accident, sending a photo to the whole team and then it quickly became a method we adopted on a more permanent basis.”

Better communication

In terms of avoiding time wastage, chat apps are crucial for Chloe’s team of seven: “WhatsApp is useful for quickly sending graphics to everyone if we’re on the move”, she says. “It means the whole team can be involved in speedy discussions without having the necessity of a more formal and lengthy email chain where multiple replies can end up overlapping and lose clarity.”

It’s also become a more informal way of communicating with the team: “When we’re travelling on work trips, particularly abroad, WhatsApp calls have been a great way to stay in touch too. They find it particularly beneficial when they are travelling on trains as they are able to message and make calls using the Wi-Fi networks, on both the underground and overground systems,” she says. Again, this is a way of saving money.

Again, when it comes to easing communication, apps win out against email, as they can provide a way of texting, calling and checking voicemail over Wi-Fi, even when you have no signal. TU Go, for example, allows you to use your number as a way to communicate on any device, which is very handy if you run out of battery. And much easier than trying to explain everything via email. Using apps such as O2 Just Call Me, reducing email use can even lead to better conference calls.

Task management

Using various sub groups and tagging, these apps can also help with project management. Slack for example, is a messaging service with a visual, user-friendly interface and management features. Co-founder of Martin Headley used the channel feature of the tool when his team expanded: “We have 15 channels covering topics such as social media, funding and website development. This ability to segment conversations our team has to specific topics makes it far easier to find related information. We know that the previous thread in that channel relates to the same topic”, he says.

All three companies agree that by using these apps they’ve cut down on their email usage to some degree, with Martin switching all internal communication to Slack. With messaging services like these, small businesses can make significant improvements to the way that they operate with little risk. A worthwhile investment to think about.

For free, impartial business tech help and advice, why not book a session with an O2 Guru? They’re available online, in store and over the phone.

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