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The use of instant messaging has skyrocketed in recent years. The four largest mobile messaging apps — WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and Viber — now have more than six billion users in total.
This probably comes as no surprise. More and more people are now working from home. As that has come about, digital communication platforms have seen huge increases in adoption and usage. For instance, WhatsApp reported a 40% increase in usage. Meanwhile, on the B2B side, collaboration platform Microsoft Teams and web conferencing service Zoom also saw significant spikes.
We are active messaging app users every day, in both our professional and personal lives. Instant messaging is quick and convenient. It’s often faster than sending an email and waiting for a reply. This makes it a great addition to workplace communications.
However, many organizations are using consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp, unaware that it is putting their businesses at risk.
Usage is on the rise, and working from home is becoming the new normal for millions of employees. Therefore, now is a good time to audit how your workforce uses messaging apps in your organization. Then develop a strategy and get the right tools in place for effective and safe workplace messaging.
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What’s Great About Messaging Apps for Business Use
There are many great reasons to introduce messaging apps as part of a communication strategy:
- Employees and customers are familiar and comfortable with using messaging apps
- Messaging APIs such as Messenger Chatbots and WhatsApp for Business provide efficient customer service
- Messaging apps offer a faster way of communicating internally
- Use them to connect a remote workforce with teams based in different locations
- Enjoy increased productivity
- Make previously invisible contact and collaboration visible and shared in the organization
- Benefit from increased employee engagement
- Save money, as messaging apps are usually cheap to deploy and save on international travel and phone calls
- Have the ability to see when colleagues are available or unavailable, or presence awareness
With all of these benefits in mind, it’s easy for businesses to overlook the risks of messaging apps.
What’s Not so Great About Messaging Apps for Business Use
Organizations are either knowingly or unwittingly taking huge risks when employees are using consumer messaging apps for professional communications.
Being in breach of regulations, which results in noncompliance, is just one of these risks.
Many features of consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram do not comply with privacy regulation like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Similarly, they are not in compliance with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Nor do they comply with other legal duties such as proper record-keeping for employees, customers, suppliers, and stakeholders.
A Quick Example
One example of this comes from investment bank JPMorgan. Executives suspended a senior trader after they discovered he had been communicating with colleagues in a WhatsApp group. While the messages were classed as “market chatter,” the bank had to review whether or not he violated a number of policies.
Messages on WhatsApp and other consumer messaging apps are encrypted from start to finish. This might sound like a good thing on the surface. However, it means compliance departments cannot easily monitor those messages. This is a problem for highly regulated firms that need to ensure employees aren’t engaging in illegal activity such as fraud or insider trading.
Organizations of all sizes—not only major banks—are vulnerable, too. Every company needs to know about work-related discussions employees are having outside of official communications channels.
The messages themselves use end-to-end encryption. However, there is nothing to prevent users from backing up chats or downloading them. One of the dangers is that a disgruntled employee could create an export of the messages of a WhatsApp group conversation that discusses sensitive information. Then they could publish or share that information as they please.
Unmonitored use of consumer messaging apps in the workplace can also create headaches for HR departments. Companies usually have little or zero visibility of what is going on in more informal company group chats. Therefore, employees may be subject to bullying or harassment that goes unchecked and unnoticed for long periods.
Furthermore, using WhatsApp for professional or business purposes violates the WhatsApp terms of service.
Messaging in the Workplace Is Still Evolving
Despite its unstoppable growth, messaging apps are still a relatively new workplace communications channel.
As face-to-face business meetings occur less and less often, companies add more and more digital tools to manage both internal and external communications. For example, there are now tools and apps to aid with project management, workflow communications, messaging, and video conferencing.
Nonetheless, few organizations have a strategy for the kind of messaging that best meets their needs. Nor have they sorted out what kind of messaging channel is best suited to their particular purposes.
For instance, perhaps your business is considering offering customer support in consumer messaging apps. Or maybe you want to implement a workflow collaboration that enables better remote working.
On the other hand, you might be looking to utilize professional messaging platforms to improve communications. Regardless of your objectives, it’s crucial that your business fully realizes the opportunities messaging presents while navigating the risks.
About the Author
Ashley Friedlein is the CEO and founder of Guild, a private professional messaging app. The Guild app is as easy to use as a consumer messaging app. However, it offers the privacy, control, sophistication, and service you’d expect for business.
Download the free “Mastering Messaging in the Workplace” report here: https://guild.co/blog/messaging-in-the-workplace-report/