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Virtual and Project Management Expert: Writer, Speaker, Educator. Author of Managing Without Walls and Fundamentals of Technology Management. President of Garton Consulting Group.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Use of Social Media in Project Management

 The following article is an excerpt from my newly released book, Fundamentals of Technology Project Management, 2nd Edition. The book is available from and other online bookstores.

Technology has been advancing at a rapid pace for many years. What makes the last few years distinctive is the cultural change that has emerged as a result of social media. These cultural changes have affected our personal and our professional lives. As with any major change in the way we live, work, and communicate, these changes have created some excitement and some angst. Some people have embraced social media, and others feel nervous or threatened by yet another new technology and terminology to learn. You may have some team members pushing to adopt social media into the workplace and others expressing concern about its use.

How do you feel? Do you feel that social media can help your projects or that it introduces new distractions and problems that you’d rather not have to deal with? No matter what your opinion, social media is a reality, and its growth is destined to continue. The integration and adoption of social media into our personal and business lives is increasing, and there is no indication that it is going to stop anytime soon. If you are not currently involved with social media, either personally or professionally, and you have no plans to do so, you may find that you quickly get left behind.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to social media. Those pros and cons will be different for each person. What some see as a positive others may see as a negative. From a project management perspective, I believe there are more pros than cons. If you can leverage the positives and minimize the negatives, your projects and teams could benefit greatly from integrating some elements of social media into your daily work lives.

Privacy and Security
Privacy and security are valid concerns and must be taken into account when adopting social media into the workplace. You need processes and guidelines in place to ensure that social media is used responsibly and that care is taken when sharing information inside and outside of your team.

We hear a lot about the dangers of social media, but it is important to remember that risk is a normal part of life. There are dangers involved in many of our daily activities, including driving, walking, running, bicycling, and even eating! We take precautions to protect ourselves during these activities. For example, when bike riding, we can wear bike helmets and brightly colored clothes, install bicycle lights and mirrors, avoid busy roads, use bike lanes, and ride in well-lighted areas. We do the same thing when we perform other activities. We generally conduct them in a safe manner. We follow standard rules, processes, and guidelines that help to minimize risk. We become so familiar with the way we do things that we consider it to be common sense that we do so in a way that does not endanger us. They are just the things we do, consciously or unconsciously, to minimize personal risk on a daily basis. The same common sense should be applied to online activities to reduce the risk of problems.

To Share or Not to Share?
That is the question! Even if you do not currently incorporate social media into your daily project work, your team members may be sharing information through personal social networking that could harm them, or your organization, later. It is important for everyone on your team to understand who can see information they share via social networking and why they need to think before they post. If you don’t understand how to adjust the security and privacy settings on the social networking sites you use, you may be inadvertently sharing too much information, too. It will never be possible to keep everything you post private. If you are having a private conversation with a friend while sitting together in a restaurant, your conversation is not completely private either. If you want to keep what you say private, you need to make sure you share it with just one person where nobody else can see or hear you. The same is true for social networking websites.

Everyone on your team should understand that information shared via social networking may not be limited to personal contacts and may be visible to people outside their direct networks. Even if you set your privacy options to limit who can see information that you post, your contacts can “share” with their networks what you shared with them. This means that anything you post could be shared and re-shared until thousands of people have seen it. Social networking is not designed to keep what you write private. It is designed to share your thoughts with the world. It is very difficult to restrict visibility of your postings to a limited group of people. Even when you think you have done so, the service you use to share your postings may make changes to its privacy settings at any time, making your semi-private messages available to a much wider audience.

It is highly recommended that you set up different social media accounts for professional and personal use. This makes it much easier to keep personal and business communications separate just as you do in the normal course of your life. When you spend time with your family and friends, you are not discussing the same things or choosing your words as carefully as you would if you were out to dinner with your boss and a few of your major clients. When you are enjoying time with your personal friends, your business associates are not listening and watching everything you say and do. You can relax, be yourself, and not be overly concerned with what you say or how you say it. A lot of the things that you talk about and share with your personal friends may not be appropriate to discuss in a professional environment. When using social networking sites, it’s very easy to forget how public it is and to make comments or jokes that may be viewed as inappropriate in a professional environment.

When you are communicating via social networks, if you do not separate your personal and professional lives, it is like your business associates are watching and listening to everything you say and do. You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to never say or share the wrong thing. You also have to make sure that none of your personal friends say the wrong thing because your business contacts will also be able to see everything that your friends communicate to you.

You may be aware that sharing too much information on sites like Facebook can be dangerous. Don’t assume that your team members are also aware of those dangers. Make sure your team members understand that they should view the security and privacy settings for their accounts, and make sure they understand who can see what they post. Even if they use separate personal and business accounts, there are some things that should never be discussed on social networking sites. For example:
  • Confidential information or complaints about:       
    • Employers 
    • Co-workers 
    • Business associates 
    • Clients 
    • Vendors
  • Confidential information about assigned projects or tasks
Not only could posting such information be grounds for dismissal, in some cases it might be grounds for a criminal prosecution. If you have angry thoughts and you need to vent, speak privately to a friend rather than posting on a social networking site!

Social media has changed the world and our perceptions of the world in a way not seen since the introduction of the World Wide Web back in the mid-1990s. It has changed the way we communicate both personally and professionally. It has changed the way we do business and the way we interact with our friends, co-workers, employees, employers, and customers. Social media is not a technology; it is culture, a culture created, supported and enabled by various technologies and applications that are constantly growing and changing. The true innovation is the cultural change that social media has bought about. People think, act, and communicate in a completely different way. Social media is the way of the future. It will keep maturing, growing, and changing, but it is here to stay. Get onboard or be left behind!
This is an excerpt from, Fundamentals of Technology Project Management, 2nd Edition. More thorough and detailed information about the use of social media in the workplace is included in chapter 15 of the book. 

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  1. I agree with you that social media is the way to the future. As technology continues to dominate the society, changes are happening more often than not. That’s why we should always adapt to changes and not resist them. That being said, rather than thinking about the cons of social media, it is best that we use its influence to the success of our project.

  2. In this connected world, there really is no excuse for poor stakeholder engagement. Social media can really add value here. Consistent and transparent communications is the key.

    I wrote an article a recently Using Twitter For Project Management that your readers might find useful.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I agree with your thought.
    Business has become more just because of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many more. Social media provide valuable boost to both traffic and brand reputation..
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  5. I like the article on the topic due to this reason it is seen that other readers are showing their interest by commenting on it.
    social media management

  6. Quite informative article. Any new technology comes with pros and cons. Social networks are going to stay and project managers will have to consider social networking as cultural change and adapt to this change to add value to the project communications through direct, informal and quick communications happening with team members. Real challenge would be to ensure that the information reaches the target audience and is secured( protected from others)