Does Social Media Work for Project Communication?

By Ty Kiisel



If your talking about incorporating something like Twitter, Jabber or Facebook into the project communication mix, the short answer is no. Let me explain.Of course this is only my opinion, but Twitter et al have the same challenges as email for project collaboration, it lacks context.


By that I mean, you have to follow the whole thread from beginning to end to understand what anyone is talking about. Have you ever been invited into an email string that has been going on for a while? It's difficult to wrap your head around the context of the conversation (I'll come back to this).


I'm a very big fan of the social media metaphor within the project and work management environment—I just don't think disparate conversation threads add to the conversation. I think they contribute extra noise.Social media does a couple of things very well. In fact, in collaborative work environments, we can learn a lot from social media:It encourages natural and regular conversations: Collecting feedback and status is an important part of a team members interaction with the project management process.


I doubt that there would be much argument with the fact that most project management solutions (whether they be spreadsheets, white boards or project management software) don't do a very good job of encouraging communication among the team. I can't count the amount of time I've spent in previous lives going from cube to cube asking, nay begging, for the team to update their project status so I could report on progress up the chain.


However many of those same people will go home, login to Facebook "updating status" with their network of friends and tweet or check-in from their smart phone—wherever they are.Social media isn't really very complicated: I think my introduction to Facebook took less than five minutes and Twitter was even less than that. It certainly didn't require two or three days of intensive training to learn how to collaborate with my personal network of family and friends.


Project management software could learn a thing or two in that regard. Most team members aren't project managers and shouldn't be required to become such to update their task status. I have colleagues who have spent countless hours interviewing project teams who tell me that the most common feeling among team members is, "Tell me what I need to do, make it easy to report on progress and then get out of the way and let me do my job." Does that sound familiar?Are you paying attention to me? Social media like Facebook feeds the need of many people to get a little recognition for what they do.


Let's face it, most people are proud of what they do and appreciate a little recognition for a job well done, for accomplishing a particularly difficult challenge and sometimes for just showing up. I read recently that the worst thing a manager can do to an employee is ignore them. It's worse than even chewing them out. People crave recognition (some more than others). Almost every time I post a personal status on Facebook, one of my friends will make a comment—sometimes their even sincere.Why does this matter?


Project leaders and other managers that work in collaborative environments need to facilitate conversations around tasks, issues and work. Leveraging the social media metaphor to channel social media-like conversations around work is a very powerful way to encourage teams to interact. This is particularly true of distributed teams. Creating an environment where the conversations can be focused on the task, or tasks, at hand can help people accomplish more and ultimately help organizations be more profitable.The benefits of keeping it simple should be pretty obvious.


The social media metaphor is easy to learn, easy to use and very intuitive, particularly for all the millennials in the workforce now. We should be working to make it easy for teams to participate in the project and work management process. At least, if we really want them to participate in the process.The real benefit of making it easy to collaborate and update status is that business leaders will have accurate and timely information to make decisions. They'll have context and color around status updates—giving them the real story. I know people who are always 75 percent complete regardless of what they really are. Those types of status updates don't really do anyone any good. We need real information, filled with context, to understand the real story.The social media metaphor is a great approach. We just need to make sure that we implement it correctly and invest in the right tools. 

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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and