Social media is much more than status updates and tweets. Steve Nicholls explains how perfecting these modern media methods can deliver partnership and project perfection.
The participatory characteristic of social media can revolutionise project management by offering communication and collaboration opportunities for partnerships that can no longer be ignored today.
Communication between project managers and their teams, and between a project’s different stakeholders, is simply crucial for efficient progression in any project.
Successful communication means, first, that communication exists and second, that it is taking place efficiently rather than counterproductively, i.e. wasting time, giving useless information or reaching the wrong people. Social media provides practitioners with excellent tools for both internal communication between those collaborating on a project, as well as external communication between the wider team and stakeholders through:
Meeting and conferencing tools
Skype or GoToWebinar allow meetings to take place in a virtual environment, which means that you can attend a meeting or conference with others whether or not you are all in the same location. This evidently does not mean that face-to-face communication is not useful, but what it does imply is that business can take place regardless of geographical barriers.
Social media makes it possible and easy to share different kinds of content like documents, videos, audios, pictures and presentation slides through various tools like YouTube or Flickr. Social media thus adds to face-to-face conversation by diversifying communication.
These are tools that make it possible to broadcast live events on the internet such as Make.tv or Ustream.tv. They are very useful for projects dealing with particularly time-sensitive issues, or with those who want to communicate with business partners and other important parties live.
Using a social networking tool like a blog or a Facebook fan page to communicate about a project and its progression is very useful to overcome remoteness and allow all stakeholders to follow the project’s development from anywhere.
These communicative tools provide the opportunity to enhance communication with additional features such as images and videos, and heavily increase the amount of people messages are communicated to when the need arises – anytime of the day, anywhere in the world. Time zones shouldn’t get in the way of your project’s progress.
It is all about sharing knowledge and best practice. Accenture offer a fantastic case study of a company that has utilised social media for efficient communication between project teams. The company developed the Accenture Media Exchange, a video-sharing application with a video-conferencing feature and webcams giving 360-degree views of conference rooms in several crucial Accenture locations around the world. Accenture Media Exchange has thus allowed Accenture people to share knowledge, provide training and work together on projects from virtually anywhere across the globe.
Another very good example is Cisco, which uses blogs to communicate to various parties about, among other aspects, industry solutions, partners and technology. It also has 12 Facebook fan pages covering different areas such as the Cisco Training Academy and products and solutions. Cisco has made use of other social media tools as well such as Flickr and YouTube to develop more efficient communication channels with a wider remit of stakeholders.
A second important social media opportunity that practitioners should grasp to help increase the efficiency of partnerships is collaborative tools. As teamwork is essential for project development, having a good system in place to allow efficient collaboration is vital, especially if a project is made up of different stakeholders geographically scattered. Social media answers this need in different ways:
Do-it-yourself wiki platforms
These are wikis of user-generated content that can be internal to projects, just like an internally accessible encyclopaedia, making it much easier to share information and manage projects between team members.
Do-it-yourself social networks
Internal social networks can help collaborators interact, share knowledge and perhaps even develop an internal online community that can provide a good arena for better collaboration. Another useful social network tool is Yammer, an enterprise social network with a range of collaborative tools that project managers can use to create, store, edit and share documents with project members, as well as manage both a private project-specific internal network and an external one of important business contacts. This platform can be tested for free.
These include Elance or oDesk and have facilitated collaboration greatly as project managers can use external resources whenever there is a lack of skills or resources at peak times or during one-off projects. Through these platforms, business can carry on as usual and both internal and external contractors can all work as part of the same project team.
Project and team
Although practitioners will have their own proprietary project management platforms, social media offers project and team tools such as Zoho and Wrike that can be very useful for smaller projects. They provide online platforms for information management, web conferencing and project management tools such as scheduling and invoicing, which means that partners involved in small projects can all work in synergy from afar. For bigger projects, a social media expert will need to design a custom-made tool fitted for the specific project in question.
The key point to note is that these social media tools can significantly help collaborators work together more efficiently, regardless of resource shortages or geographical boundaries, as well as from unfixed locations through mobile technology.
An example of a company that uses social media to facilitate collaboration is Red Ant, a web design and development company based in Sydney. Red Ant has its own internal Wiki that acts as the major collaboration tool among colleagues as well as between employees and clients. Employees can update the internal Wiki with a new design, which would then be made accessible to colleagues to edit and improve, before making it available for the client to view and make changes on as well, if the need arises. This internal Wiki is an integral part of Red Ant’s workflow.
Cisco is again on hand to provide another fantastic example. The company presents a very good and well-documented case study to show the extent to which it made use of social media both through communication and collaboration opportunities to answer its business goals. In terms of collaborative tools, Cisco uses SlideShare.com to share key presentations between Cisco members and has a mobile-optimised version of its main website as well to facilitate navigation when working on the go.
These numerous communicative and collaborative social media tools, and others, make it easier to work together, share information and dissolve any geographical limit that may exist between collaborators, thus developing more efficient partnerships.
Devices such as smartphones and tablets make it possible to transform collaboration into a flexible experience by allowing it to happen on the move, an avenue which promises to revolutionise project management even more.
Get it right
By facilitating partnership, social media contributes to creating high-performance teams, which then translates into increased productivity for projects. Incorporating social media within your project is however not an easy task and one must be cautious not to go enthusiastically in the wrong direction.
A step-by-step strategy to integrate social media within the realm of your project is the best formula to bring it in, one that will need to be designed upfront and for which you may need help from an expert. As with all opportunities, social media also presents risks. These include:
These can arise when there is an overlap between one’s professional and personal lives within social media. The safest way of combating this is to have separate social media profiles for work and for your personal life. Your client doesn’t really want to know how long you have been queuing for a train ticket.
Author of Social Media in Business Steve Nicholls began his career as a project manager in skyscraper construction. He has implemented advanced internet applications for leading organisations including BT, Detathree, Inmarsat, John Laing and NSPCC.
After his MBA at Henley Business School in 1992, he applied his project management expertise to help grow businesses and new ventures in the communications and technology industries.
For more information see socialmediainbusiness.com
This is a big concern for project managers, who fear that practicing social media will generate negative publicity for them or perhaps even create legal issues.
Other risks include security issues, especially the risk of project information being shared online. However, the benefits that social media offers far outweigh risks, which is why disregarding social media is not the way to move forward, but instead incorporating it in a step-by-step strategy using a solid policy is the ideal step to take for your project.
An effective social media policy for the project will clarify to all project members what can and cannot be done with the social media adopted for the project, thus managing potential risks and making sure that necessary training is provided. Having an adaptable, step-by-step and ongoing formula that will work to optimise benefits while mitigating risks, if and when they arise, will be a winning strategy to bring social media into your project successfully.
Social media is a very broad field but every project and project team needs to adopt its own blend of it according to the nature and size of the project, the different members involved and the project environment in which members are operating. A successful social media solution will be one that is designed upfront into the project to answer your specific project needs.
As a strategic resource, social media has plenty of potential to enhance partnerships and deliver successful projects. This should be valued as a new dimension in project management.
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