From the May 2009 issue of Entrepreneur

The New Era of IM

Instant messaging has come a long way since the days of in-network AIM chatting. Check out these new features that make IM a fully featured business tool.

 

Read the writing on the wall
Handle these sticky social networking situations with a careful click of your mouse.

1.  The situation: A client asks you to write a LinkedIn recommendation, but you have nothing nice to say.
What to do: Hit the "Archive" button. Don't write a referral you can't stand by.

2.  The situation: Your intern adds you on Facebook.
What to do: Use your privacy settings--if you don't want him seeing all your activity, give him a limited view.

3. The situation: A colleague confronts you for dropping her as a "friend."
What to do: Pre-empt the situation by "un-friending" sparingly-you don't want to lose business over pruning your network.

4.  The situation: You get an uncouth comment.
What to do: Delete! If it's a minor offense, call the person out on it. If it's major, cut him out of your network.

5. The situation: An employee is annoying you with inane updates on Facebook.
What to do: No need to un-friend--just set your newsfeed options to see less about that employee.

6. The situation: An associate posts and tags a less-than-classy photo of you.
What to do: "Un-tag," if possible, then ask the associate to take the photo down.

IM-to-text
Skype isn't the only big player in computer-to-phone communications anymore--and it isn't always the cheapest, either. AIM, Google, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo have added SMS support, so you can text your colleagues for free.

Multimedia messaging
Plenty of IM apps now offer multimedia voice and video chat, like AIM, Google Chat and Yahoo Messenger. Many more offer instant file sharing, and some even let you do a screen share, like Apple's iChat and Skype 2.8, which is great for troubleshooting.

Embedded conversations
Instead of downloading a desktop app, a lot of IM clients let you chat right in the web page you're using. Google Chat works across many of your Google pages, from Gmail to iGoogle. And Facebook and MySpace's IM apps work anywhere within their respective sites.

IM aggregators
If you have multiple IM accounts, you can use an app that'll get your contacts in one place. Top players are web app Meebo, desktop apps Adium and Digsby, and mobile and multiplatform apps Palringo and eBuddy. The only problem is you may not get the full video, audio or texting functions available on your individual accounts.