Social media is everywhere.

Of the 7.3 billion people on the planet, 31% or 2.3 billion people actively use social media to communicate, to share and to build a sense of community. In a parallel universe, some of the key drivers of Project Management are to communicate, to inform and to develop high performing teams. Given how popular and powerful social media has become, what will this mean for the way we manage projects?

Communication is considered to be the lifeblood of Project Management. The better the communication within a project, the better the outcome will be. Any tool that will help internal communication has to be seriously considered; particularly in today’s workplace where virtual project teams, spread all over the globe, are very common.

Some organisations already have begun to use enterprise-grade social media, although these business-focussed tools tend to be a little different to the tools that flourish in the wild. For example, Yammer is deployed as a business-focussed alternative to Facebook; various Instant Messaging tools such as Skype for Business take the place of WhatsApp and enterprise tools such as SocialCast are found in organisations as a replacement for microblogging tools such as Twitter.

The value of these social-media inspired tools is well known and this article does not intend to review those benefits in detail. Instead, I will reflect briefly on some key traits that will drive adoption of such tools within businesses and within project teams and I will highlight the important lessons we need to learn if we are to leverage the power of these tools to the potential.

Up until the 1980’s, staff sent and received their internal communications via paper using internal post – the Mail Room was the nerve centre of an organization. Then Email came in, and quickly became the dominant business communication channel. People of my generation started to use web-based email clients such as Hotmail back in the 90’s before they ever started work. Once those people entered the workforce, they were very comfortable with email, knew how to use it and indeed they expected it to be the primary communication choice in large organisations (apart from actual face to face communication – but that is a story for a different day!). The etiquette and rules of engagement when using email were understood by new employees before they even entered the workforce.

Fast forward to today’s new entrants into the workforce. These Millenials consider email to be from a bygone age. They are much more comfortable using more social media related tools. These are the people who will be managing large projects in five years time – and these people will expect to use the equivalent of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram to communicate their thoughts and messages to the project team. Moreover, the project managers of tomorrow and will be using tools such ooVoo (Group video chat), Vine (6 second video loops) and anonymous confessional apps such as Whisper, and SnapChat – the self-destructing message intended for short-lived communications.

The important lesson for us incumbents in the world of Project Management is not to learn the latest hot tools that new entrants are using in their personal lives, but to understand that when these people start working in project teams, they will not only be comfortable with social media tools – they will expect and demand that those tools are used. They will view emails to be as old fashioned and cumbersome as we now think of ink and quills and blotting paper. They will treat cumbersome corporate collaboration tools as being a pale imitations of the tools they normally use.

Organisations must understand this change is coming and must design and integrate better enterprise-level social media tools which mimic the ease-of-use and the user experience of the tools used every day by the new generation. Some key traits that have been proven to influence enterprise social media tools are ease of adoption, performance expectancy, social influence and team trust. These elements must be designed into the new set of enterprise social media tools if they are to gain traction. Additionally, effort must be spent to ensure that business social media tools reflect the reality of how social media is used out in the real world.

It may not be long now before Vine-like video loops are used in getting project updates from virtual teams; we may see use of confessional anonymous platforms to reports project issues and how long before we see self-destructing messages are utilised to deliver sensitive news – a great solution to the “don’t shoot the messenger” problem in organizations. It cannot be long until you are live micro-blogging a big deployment in your organisation because that is the way team members expect to receive updates on events in general. If adopting these new social media technologies helps people to be more comfortable in communicating openly within project teams, this will be a huge plus for an organization and it will lead to more successful projects.

For more information on the integration of social media into project management practise please refer to the recently published Strategic Integration of Social Media into Project Management Practice or drop me a line at jerry.giltenane@Aspira.ie

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