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Want relevancy? Learn from AOL Instant Messenger’s fate

After 20 years, AOL Instant Messenger is officially logging offline for good this year.

Like a lot of people from my generation, few things anchor me to my late teenage years more than the ‘ding’ alerting you someone just logged on, or that ‘Welcome’ greeting followed by some emotional away message. For a generation just waking up to the full capabilities of the internet revolution, AIM was our first taste of what was to come.

For those who weren’t part of the AIM revolution, it was really the first instant chat client that allowed friends to connect with one another via easy-to-use messaging. You kept a friends list and could see at all times whether they were online, away or offline. You could curate a profile that told everyone about you and type in away messages typically fueled by teenage angst.

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So why is AIM on the way out despite being on the cutting edge once upon a time? In truth, it’s been dying a slow death for at least a decade. Today, it’s been supplanted by youth-friendly chatting apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Slack and GroupMe. Even texting itself is an evolutionary form of what AIM was doing in the late 90’s.

The reason AIM won’t be around for our kids to use is because after all these years, it lost its relevancy.

From our earliest days as a company, one of FPG’s core benefits for our clients is that we provide relevance that constantly refreshes itself over time. We live in a fast-moving world, and all too often training companies don’t evolve along with it. I recently sat in on a training seminar that featured outdated slides and teaching practices more than two decades old. In those years, psychology caught up and passed that way of thinking, and the training didn’t reflect it.

Our custom in-house video studio and digital team allows us to be agile in responding to the rapid-fire changes we need. When Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast, we were able to quickly pivot and provide fresh videos and encouragement for our clients who were affected. Our programs are constantly being updated and refreshed as we learn new things about our clients and about how the programs interact with each one. In fact, right now we’re filming a new program informed by new learnings to help our clients start strong with their prospective buyers.

This isn’t a question for us. Popular historian Howard Zinn once wrote that you can’t be neutral on a moving train, and the locomotive of time and progress is constantly motoring us forward. You can’t sit still and hope to move along with it; otherwise you’ll be thrown off the tracks as relevance passes you by.

In the FPG offices, we often talk about our reticular activating system, or RAS, as a means of getting each other to think about things we think are important. This is the brain’s first line of defense for information, prioritizing information and planting things in our consciousness for use later on. We’ll often ask our teammates to “put this in your RAS” if we want them to prioritize something we’re thinking about.

In a recent study done in science journal Mind, Brain, and Education by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Matthias Faeth, they discovered that the types of information that most often plants in our RAS for our brain to digest have two distinct qualities: emotional attachment and, surprise surprise, relevance.

In other words, scientific research proves that we’re more likely to internalize and ultimately learn new information if it’s relevant to our industry, what we do and the specific times. This is why we’re constantly updating our training. We know that the more relevant we are to what our clients do, the more effective we’ll be at teaching them new things; and having those things stick.

This was AIM’s downfall in the end. When it was presented with competitors in its messaging space, it didn’t innovate quickly enough to stay relevant to a new generation of young people. And the result was an end to what was once the most powerful internet messenger of its day.

At FPG, our pledge is to stay relevant no matter the circumstances. Because at the end of the day, our circumstances don’t hold us back; only our identity can do that. And the more we tell ourselves we’re enough, the more we’ll stay relevant, fresh and new.

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