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Projects Online: the New Rules of Engagement

What’s all this social media stuff about?  You’ve probably seen a lot about social media for marketing and communicating with customers, but you can also use social media tools within your company.

Social media in a business context is communication and collaboration with purpose.  Let’s look at each of those elements:

 Communication

Social media tools can be really effective ways of providing new channels to communicate about your project.  You could use a blog as your project’s daily log or produce a podcast for the team to listen to at a time it suits them.  Some of your stakeholders may prefer to receive information in short updates direct to their mobile phone, for example.  Many stakeholders now prefer to have access to real time project status information – it’s no longer good enough to write a monthly steering group report and use that as the update when people ask you for the latest information.

Social media tools provide alternative channels to share the messages about your project, so people have a choice when it comes to how they wish to receive it.

 Collaboration

Social media tools enable you to engage your team in a variety of way.  While there are some that enable real time interaction, like instant messaging, one of the benefits of social media is that it facilitates asynchronous collaboration.  For example, one team member in India can update the project wiki with her latest information, and this will automatically alert her colleagues in Brazil.  When Rio de Janeiro wakes up for work, the team there can take part in the discussion without having to be online during Indian office hours.

Many project stakeholders will already be using social media tools to manage their other projects or their personal lives.  As project managers, it’s important that we make it easy for them to work with us, and that means working in the ways that they work.  Project team members often have to take on project responsibilities on top of their day job, and forcing them to use project management tools that they are not familiar with can be a barrier to completing or updating tasks.  If their project manager allows them to use the tools they are already using they will find it easier to collaborate on tasks and provide status updates.

 Purpose

Adopting social media tools on your projects is all well and good, but what are you doing it for?  If your team already has communication issues, giving them some software won’t necessarily make it better.  If your team all work in the same office and have lunch together each day they won’t get any benefit from being able to work together effectively online.

It is important to understand the reasons behind why you want to adopt social media tools on your project.  Will a blog help you reach a wider group of interested people inside the company?  Will a wiki help you organise your project information more effectively?  Will podcasts help you build a library of training material?

Social media won’t be suitable for every project, or every organisation.  However, it is important to keep up with developments technology – even if you choose not to implement them.  Knowing more about the technology and tools available will help you make better decisions about whether the investment in time, money and effort is the right thing for your team.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

9 comments

  1. Laura Gideon - Steelray Software

    Some questions – why would a project manager consider once monthly status reports as a general rule? Things change on a much faster basis. And I don’t know that most stakeholders use social media to manage their lives; I think they use it for fun. When I look at project software that works like social media it is confusing and disjointed.

  2. Laura, when I first did a ‘proper’ project management course about ten years ago, monthly steering group reports were considered the definitive view of a project at a given moment in time. I agree with you, projects change much more regularly, and our expectations of up-to-date status reporting has changed accordingly.
    Research I did earlier this year showed that 81% of respondents used Facebook for personal use, business use or both. Numbers using LinkedIn were even higher (89.8%). You can see the full research results here: http://www.pm4girls.elizabeth-harrin.com/social-media-survey-results/

  3. Thank you for these interesting thoughts, Elizabeth. I fully agree with the idea of using communication tools that stakeholders are familiar with. I’d be really interested to study an example of any professional project that uses Facebook or Linkedin as a prime, or even secondary, means of sharing project information or updating the status.

  4. Ben, one of the groups on LinkedIn that I am part of was set up as a discussion and news sharing group for authors of the book Project Pain Reliever. We use it for broadcast announcments and for updating each other on progress, as well as to arrange our first (and probably only) meet up in person at the PMI Congress in Washington. I’m not aware of any projects using Facebook as a primary or secondary method of sharing project information. While Facebook is good for networking, I don’t consider it a tool that would be appropriate for project communications, but I could see that for communicating with external stakeholders and customers it could potentially have some value. Does anyone else has any examples?

  5. Thanks for the reply, Elizabeth, and the interesting example. The modern tools have increased the number of ways of sharing information, so they’re worth knowing about, but they do not provide a common way of sharing information. Or am I missing something?

  6. We’ve never had a common way of sharing information, as we can use memos, email, telephone calls, meetings and so on. I agree that a proliferation of tools has increased the number of ways in which information can be made available. However, I don’t think this is a bad thing, as the way in which we as consumers of that information wish to receive it has also changed. It gives us more options to reach our stakeholders in the way that is most appropriate for them. Online tools can output information in an RSS feed, and you can consolidate all the information streams in an RSS reader. This does make collating information output from web-enabled technology much easier, and gives you a single place to read information from multiple sources.

  7. Hi Elizabeth. Our organisation has recently launched an internal social networking tool and within that we have set-up a Project Management group. This is a public group so that anyone can read the postings (as against a private group only fo rthe invited team) and we have a number of the global team signed up. Early days, but it does provide another channel for communciation which is more dynamic and varied than the more formal routes. Our primary intention was to allow our diverse global team to network more directly with each other so that you know you are not alone.

  8. Hi Mike, thanks for the example!

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