Text messaging for business correspondence is bad business practice

Text messaging is an invaluable tool. We use it regularly for a wide variety of applications including notification of deliveries, appointments, quick messages to family and friends, queries about arrival times, alerts for banking, system problems, and so on. In business it has practical applications for alerts of system downtimes, equipment failures, power outages, intrusions, delivery confirmations, and, occasionally, a quick ping to someone to see if they’re on their way to a meeting. Beyond that, however, text messaging is just bad business practice.

How do you know when text messaging crosses the line?

Here are a few general guidelines to follow :

  • If your text message has paragraphs – stop and move to email
  • If your text message will need to be referred back to at any time – it should be an email
  • If the message contains sensitive information, especially in a regulated industry (such as healthcare, or finance) – stop texting and use an encrypted communication method.
  • If your text message is becoming a business conversation – call, or email
    • If you can’t finish the text message exchange in 4 brief texts back and forth, it’s time to stop
  • If you don’t know, with 100% certainty, that the recipient is available (there is no vacation notification for text messaging)

What are the alternatives to text messaging?

Phone and email are generally the defacto methods of business communication. Which one to use generally depends on the circumstance, but, if you don’t need to have a record of the details for later, just pick up the phone and call.

More sensitive information may need to be transferred via secured documents on a local server, or through encrypted methods such as Google Drive.

Email may or may not be encrypted. So, unless you’re absolutely certain that the email will be encrypted, when confidentiality is critical – don’t use email. That said, businesses in regulated industries typically have email archives as required for compliance purposes. This becomes important in any number of legal disputes, or compliance audits. If information leaked out, your best protection is to prove that you didn’t leak it by having a searchable copy.

Calling on the phone? Leave a message!

If you do call, and you reach voicemail instead of the person, leave a brief message, just enough to let them know the topic, timeline, and that you do need them to call you back. Unless the person you are calling specifically asks you to do otherwise, leave out the minute details as long voicemail messages usually just result in a callback anyway.

That said, leaving a message is critical, because it tells the recipient that your call is important enough to return. If you don’t leave a message, your call will likely go unanswered, because most businesses receive too many calls in a day, for the recipient to simply return every missed call. In addition, your call may have been accidental, or, by the time they do call you back, if may have been addressed via an email, in person, or by someone else.

As an extra incentive to leaving a message, many voicemail systems today will transcribe your message for you and send it to the recipient as a text or an email. Bear that in mind if you are leaving a message that relates to confidential matters, and leave only enough information to clue the recipient in as to the importance of calling you back.

What’s the takeaway?

Text messages are great for alert purposes, or asking your friends if they’re bringing the pizza. Beyond that, if you’re in a business, use the phone or email. Avoiding texting is both good etiquette and sound business practice.