Managing Social Communications

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

We’ve all seen business stakeholders on their smart phones in meetings or sponsors who whip out their iPads in project board meetings. But is this really productive? And do project managers need to be in on it too?

In a new book released in September, The Handbook of People in Project Management, I explore what social communications are and how project managers can tap into social communications to improve the collaboration on their projects. Here’s a brief introduction to social communications in a project environment.

Introducing social communications

Humans are sociable creatures, and we’ve been finding ways to interact with each other for thousands of years. In that respect, social communication is not new. However, the tools in use this century make a big difference to the way in which we can communicate and collaborate with others.

Social communications are exactly that – communicating and collaborating with purpose. In a work environment it’s not about sharing funny pictures of cats or telling the world what you had for lunch. It’s about using web-enabled technology to get things done more effectively, tapping into the way people are running their lives outside of your project team.

Ultimately, for project management professionals, it’s about doing things the way that other people are doing them and being easy to do business with. A project manager who insists on monthly status updates on a complicated slide template is not going to be popular with stakeholders who can get real-time information that displays clearly on their smart phone screens on any other topic except your project.

Strategy first

Social communications, then, is a generic term given to using modern technology and tools to connect, communicate and collaborate with others in your project environment. There are formal and informal channels that you can adopt on your project but the most important thing is to remember that it does not matter what software products you use. At the time of writing, micro-blogging site Twitter and social network Facebook are still going strong, and photo sharing site Pinterest is a new player. But things change so quickly on line that in years to come, these tools could easily have been replaced by other brand names. It is the strategy that sits behind the products that is important for your project.

For example, if your aim on the project is to capture all the relevant information in one logical place, a wiki would be a good choice. Simple to set up and easy to customize, wikis enable anyone to edit structured web pages and create links between pages. This means that you can navigate through the knowledge gained about your project, jumping from page to page following information strands that are relevant to you at that moment.

If your aim is to produce a continuous flow of project news to be read by other people in the company, or interested external stakeholders, a blog would be a suitable channel. Blogs are made up of articles that generally appear in chronological order, so they read like an online journal. They are a great way to tell the story of your project, and they allow you to embed photos, audio and videos as well.

To give one final example, a collaboration tool would meet the strategic need to get a virtual team working effectively together across distance and time zones. The functionality of collaboration tools tends to include ways for team members to share and annotate documents, hold online discussions synchronously or asynchronously, track progress against tasks, ask questions and many other features aimed at making it easier to work together.

There isn’t space here to go into every type of tool and how it can benefit the project manager, but the most important message is to be strategy-driven, not tool-driven. Don’t adopt a social communications product because it seems like the right thing to do: make sure that you really are addressing a project management need.

This is an edited excerpt, reprinted by permission of the publishers from ‘Managing Social Communications’ in The Gower Handbook of People in Project Management, edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott (Farnham, Gower, 2013).

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2 Comments to “Managing Social Communications”

  • I think blogs are the best to keep every one in the company updated on what’s what in the company. Perhaps promoting particular posts on the company’s Facebook page could be used to present a good picture of the company as well.

  • Blogs are a great way to communicate with the company’s employees, especially if they are internally facing. The Facebook site idea is OK if you are communicating with the general public as well, but you’d have to be careful what information you shared as a lot of project data is confidential until the product is launched.

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