by Thomas Morris | 26th Nov 2018
Research in the way that children and young people are contacting one of ProMo-Cymru’s helpline services shows the increase in popularity of contacting through Integrated Instant Messaging. This is overtaking the traditional phone call and SMS messages.
Meic Cymru is one of the services run by us here at ProMo-Cymru. It is an information and advocacy helpline service for young people aged 0-25 in Wales. During 2017, instant messaging (IM) communications through the Meic website overtook phone calls, and it doesn’t look like this will be changing any time soon. This year, IM have consistently made up at least 50% of all Meic contacts.
Preferring to chat
Is it any surprise that today’s young people feel more at home speaking to an advisor through a chat interface? SMS has been commercially available since 1994, (the birth year of those who are currently just under the age limit of the Meic service) but it has always come at a price in the UK. Online Instant Messaging, from MSN, Yahoo and IRC chat-rooms through to live support chats and of course the WhatsApps, Telegrams and Discords of the world today, has always been free of charge and today’s young people have grown up with it dominating their social lives.
Some might say we would be better off developing a chat interface through, for example, Facebook Messenger. ProMo-Cymru is well known for utilizing social media to engage people of all ages. Ultimately though, by using our own platform developed on the open web, we can guarantee the confidentiality of our users. We can ensure that everyone has access to our platform and, with full control of the system, know that it will remain operational for years to come.
Keeping it confidential
Through our secure, confidential IM service, children and young people can tell an advisor everything that is troubling them and get the help they really need. A phone call can be harrowing for a child or young person. It is not always the best place to spill the beans. They might feel more at home contacting through a text interface.
So why is texting less popular? SMS operates on a ‘best effort’ delivery basis. This means that as many as 5% of text messages are not delivered. It is not surprising therefore that today’s young people prefer to web chat.
We must also consider what is lost when communicating over text. When we learned to use phones we had to place more emphasis on tone of voice. Body language was absent. When people message each other they develop an online culture with new ways of contextualizing their words. They use things such as emojis and abbreviations. The Meic staff constantly discusses with each other how to improve their practices and ensure that they are up-to-date with text lingo.
Understanding communication choices
As someone who is still under 25 years of age, I may be able to offer some insight into the preferred communication method of young people. Messaging is so ingrained in our culture that the use of different platforms actually defines who you get to know. This is probably more so than whom you are in physical proximity with. For example, if you’re an Android user you’re unlikely to get to know iMessage users on iPhones. If you have an account with Discord because you were invited to join a chat server, you’re likely to join more Discord servers with the same account. If you don’t have an account maybe you won’t bother. Millennial-dominated workplaces run on Slack, not email. The list is endless and the reasons many.
Perhaps it is this simple. Being on the phone to a professional requires a certain level of professionalism in your physical space. A journalist I met once recommended always standing up when on the phone. They suggested that your increased posture and presence would be felt on the other end.
When you are in the depths of despair it is easier to send a message from a place of safety and comfort. Maybe tucked up in bed, quietly messaging. You don’t want to raise your voice on the phone and risk someone else in the house hearing your problems. Maybe you’re out in public, and it’s even more embarrassing. Add to that the fact that mobile data is usually cheaper than text nowadays, and you’ve cracked the case.
Being there for those that need it most
So to conclude, if our helpline service for children and young people was not being delivered through instant messaging, it would not be giving access to all of those who need it most. You may as well say, that for some children and young people it would not be delivering this essential service at all.
If you are interested in any of our services or would like to learn more about our work here at ProMo-Cymru please contact Arielle Tye on 029 2046 2222 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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