Without question, social media and social networking have been a dominant force in the last decade. What started with simple online tools to manage personal relationships, has exploded into massive virtual communities and networks designed to exchange data, information and ideas. They have become an entirely new form of communication, available to anyone with a connection to the internet. In fact, according to research done by Nielsen, internet users spend more time on social media sites than any other type of site and that the percentage of total time spent on social media increases exponentially every year.[i]
Key to the social media wave has been the creation and sharing of user-generated content. This new concept has transferred the power of information distribution away from traditional sources such as news outlets and publishing conglomerations, and into the hands and minds of individual people. Its reach and influence have increased drastically beyond simple social status sharing apps and have become sources of real-time news, e-commerce business platforms and often times require the use of social media management tools that help integrate multiple social media accounts under one master umbrella.
From a project management perspective, the use of these new collaboration and communication tools have the potential to boost productivity, improve learning opportunities, shrink gaps between remote user/sites and potentially even reduce cost. With these possible gains, however, also come inherent risks in the form of data security and privacy issues, a lack of productive work focus and a decline in physical interpersonal relationships. These risks need to be actively considered by project management practitioners as participation on certain social media platforms may violate organizational security policies and/or unintentionally expose confidential or protected company information to the public domain.
So how can the use of social media be leveraged to improve project management collaboration and communication? Here are some examples:
Facebook is an online social networking platform where users create a user profile, add other users as “friends”, exchange messages, post status updates and photos, share videos and receive notifications when others update their profiles. Facebook is the largest social network in the world with 1.3 billion active users as of June 2014.
While Facebook is the dominant player in social media, its usage in project management practice is rather limited. There are, however, a number of specific uses that project managers may find to be beneficial in using Facebook:
- Connections with other project management professionals for knowledge sharing and networking
- Educational and professional development activity with leading providers, associations and thought leaders
- Creation of special project “pages” for posting task completion status, project document artifacts and other project-related information that has been approved for public consumption.
Twitter is an online social networking service with an estimated 284 million active users worldwide that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets”. Twitter has often been referred to as a “river of information,” with a constant flow of tweets that never stops. Using this same analogy, users of Twitter are said to periodically wade into this fictional “river,” consuming information as it flows past.
Because this flow of information can be overwhelming, there are a few tools available that focus the consumption of the rapidly changing stream: Hashtags, Lists and Advanced Searches. A “hashtag,” noted by the symbol #, is simply a keyword that identifies the subject matter of the tweet. For project managers, common hashtags include: #pmot (for project management on twitter), #projectmanager, #pmp, #project and #visualpm. Because the creation and use of hashtags are open to users, some project management teams have created project-specific hashtags to communicate among themselves such as: #AcmeProjectZeus. Note that tweets and hashtags are public and caution should be used when posting project-related information.
Project teams can also create public or private lists of Twitter users. Many project managers maintain accounts on Twitter and post valuable information related to the profession. Creating a list of these users and following their tweets can be a valuable source of professional development. Lists can be public or private. While most tweets are public, the aggregation of tweets among members of private lists is only available to the members of that list. Project teams that wish to communicate on Twitter can form a private list limited only to project team members, stakeholders, etc. Only one-to-one tweets, known as Direct Messages, are considered private on Twitter.
Finally, using the ‘Advanced Search’ feature of Twitter, users can search content using more advanced conditions such as words, people, places, dates and emotion-based search criteria. The reader is encouraged to consult the help function on Twitter.com for more information on how to effectively and efficiently use the Twitter social media platform.
Project teams, especially geographically diverse teams, can establish an online community using any number of available technical platforms. These communities allow project teams to share announcements, create team-based calendars of meetings, vacations or key milestones, create team or topic-specific web pages, establish a document repository and participate in forum-like conversations. Virtual community sites allow project teams to feel more like a cohesive team, with the additional benefit of having a “one-stop shop” for all project-related information and documentation.
Examples of virtual community platforms include:
- Google+™ (plus.google.com)
- Yammer™ (yammer.com)
- Microsoft SharePoint™ (products.office.com/sharepoint/)
Blogging and Wiki Pages
Perhaps one of the original social media categories to be utilized by the project management community, web logs, better known simply as “blogs,” are in wide use both publicly on the internet and privately on thousands of corporate intranets around the world. Blogs can be used to share information, post status reports or other announcements, facilitate discussions via comments, capture and store knowledge, log change requests and tag blog entries for easy information categorization.
Wiki pages are similar to blogs but add the feature of interactivity and on-the-fly editing capability. Once a wiki page is created, anyone with permissions to do so can add to or edit the page. Some project management teams use this functionality like a team diary, where entries on status, progress and key information are stored and then appended to daily, providing a living history of the conversation. Other teams use wiki pages to document project scope and requirements documentation, as any changes are automatically logged, capturing the editor and the date/time stamp when the change occurred. Still other teams simply use wiki pages to post and exchange information and facilitate conversations.
Examples of blog and wiki page creation include:
- Blogger™ (blogger.com)
- WordPress® (wordpress.org and wordpress.com)
- SquareSpace® (squarespace.com)
- WikiSpaces® (wikispaces.com)
- TWiki® (twiki.org)
These technologies are especially useful for geographically dispersed teams. Podcasting is the recording of a voice communication and sharing it online. Podcasts can either be broadcast to the public or made private behind a subscription-based authentication system. Numerous project management teams have taken to dictating project status reports, recording project team meetings for later playback or distribution to non-attendees, as well as delivering project training via podcast. As long as the project team members have appropriate podcast play-back tools, the podcasts can be made available to anyone.
Vidcasting is essentially the same as podcasting, except the media is video-based. This becomes an even more valuable tool if the project team has adopted a visual project management approach. Vidcasting technology ranges from traditional video recording, to screen sharing overlaid with the video, and beyond to multi-paned/multi-media displays shared with the video presentation. While YouTube is the most popular upload repository and search site for video productions on the internet, vidcasts, or other video-based media, can be stored anywhere and similar sites exist elsewhere on the internet. Similar to podcasting, consumers of the video media simply need to have appropriate software to view the productions and both public and private options exist.
Additional Social Media Options for Project Managers:
- Pinterest® (pinterest.com)
- A relatively new option for project management teams, Pinterest is a social media platform that offers visual collection, sharing and search tools. Users create and share collections of visual bookmarks, known as boards. Boards are created when a user selects a page, website, etc. and pins it to a categorized board. While mostly used to share recipes and interior decorating photos, savvy project managers use Pinterest to share visual project media like dashboards, infographics and other data visualizations.
- Document Sharing Sites
- While usage of document sharing sites has been traditionally limited by organizational information security policies, a number of sites have tightened up their security measures and offer corporate versions of their services. Document sharing sites like Dropbox™ (dropbox.com), Prezi™ (prezi.com), SlideShare™ (slideshare.net) and others can serve as a centralized, cloud-based location for project documentation and presentations, project management training modules and other project document archives.
- Professional Networking Sites
- Sites such as LinkedIn® (linkedin.com) or even project management specific sites like pmi.org, projectmanagement.com, projectconnections.com and others provide professional development, networking and self-promotion opportunities. While not typically used on a project-level basis, these sites prove especially valuable when searching for potential project team candidates, consultants or other needed project resources.
- Bookmarking Sites
- Using social bookmarking sites like Evernote™ (evernote.com) and Reddit™ (reddit.com) allow project team members to tag pages, tweets, posts, blogs and other web-based locations for future reference.
** As always, the reader is strongly encouraged to consult first with their organizational or independent IT and/or information security professionals before making social media usage decisions, to ensure that confidential and proprietary project or organizational information is properly protected
[i] “State of the media: The social media report 2012″. Featured Insights, Global, Media + Entertainment. Nielsen. Retrieved 9 December 2012. and “The U.S. Digital Consumer Report”. 2014-10-02. Retrieved 2014-11-25. www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2014/the-us-digital-consumer-report.html