Email vs. IM vs. SMS: Choosing the Right One

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Bottom Line:

Instant messaging enables people to communicate and collaborate in real-time. While there are instant messaging phishing scams and malware concerns, they are not nearly as pervasive or crippling as with email. Instant messaging is particularly suited for working together within an organization.

SMS (Text Messaging)

Text messaging lets you communicate in real-time from virtually anywhere.
It is not as “professional” as email or instant messaging in a business sense. But, SMS text messaging has some distinct advantages in certain scenarios.


  • It is immediate. Like instant messaging, SMS text messages get from Point A to Point B in real-time. It is a particularly effective means of sharing photos or video clips from a mobile phone with others for immediate feedback.
  • It is universal. Like email, text messaging is not constrained by proprietary platforms. As long as someone has a mobile phone capable of receiving text messages, you can send a message from any other capable device.
  • It is available. People typically have their mobile phones on them 24/7. It is in their pocket, or purse, or sitting on a desk or side table. They may not see an email or instant message for hours, but odds are good that a text message will always be within arm’s reach.


  • It is intrusive. When someone is away from their desk, they probably have a good reason. A blaring text message alert tone while you’re standing in line for lunch, or enjoying a movie on the weekend (even though the phone should be off, or at least silenced) can be very annoying.
  • There is a cost involved. Many wireless service providers offer unlimited texting, or at least have unlimited text message plans available. But, many people still have text messaging plans with a limit on how many messages they can send or receive.
  • No written record. Most mobile phones retain a history of recent text messages, but compared with email there is no useful history of text message exchanges recorded for future reference.

Bottom Line:

Because the mobile phone is almost always nearby, SMS text messaging is a very effective method of reaching someone immediately. It is a preferred method for reaching someone when you know they aren’t sitting at a computer, or when the situation is urgent and you need to reach them now.

There are some tools that blur the lines. For example, you can use instant messaging to chat in real-time with a group of people rather than just one on one. It is also possible to configure some tools to cover more bases – like alerting you with a text message when a new email arrives.

Your mileage may vary, but email, instant messaging, and text messaging all have their strengths. There is no clear “best”, just a “best for the situation right now”. You can communicate more efficiently if you understand the pros and cons of each, and choose the right tool for the job at hand.

Of course, if something is truly urgent you should actually call the person…on a phone…with your voice.

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