Think of how the internet used to be - flat, static pages, like corporate brochures online. That's changed now. Company websites aren't just 'brochureware' any more. They include areas for customers to comment and ask questions, videos and audio content, maybe a blog from the CEO, contests where customers upload photos and lots more. The internet is a much more interactive place now. This is how social media tools and the advent of what we call Web 2.0 have changed how we use computers to communicate with other people. The internet used to be a research tool - now it's a community.
Social media for use behind the firewall in organisations is about tapping into this and bringing it into the company on a smaller scale. I define social media in a business context as “communication and collaboration with purpose”. Social media tools are finding their way from the branding and marketing teams (where they are used for customer outreach and publicity) to the hub of companies and project teams that are making new things happen. Old working methods are being challenged by the fact that those people working on projects are using social media tools to communicate and collaborate, and the ways in which we work with colleagues and virtual teams have changed.
Project managers are primarily focused on creating participation in projects, and that means it’s important to know how to engage people. Communication is one of the most difficult things to get right on a project, and it is always the people involved that make or break a project’s success. Harnessing the power of social media technologies is one way to improve the communication and collaboration on your project.
We know that people take in information in different ways. Social media tools allow you to cater for different learning styles. Podcasts – on-demand audio files – and vodcasts – on-demand video files – are ways you can communicate information to project stakeholders or customers. Now you don’t just have to provide a written training manual; you can provide a rich alternative for those people who don’t learn best through reading.
These new channels of communication, along with tools like micro-blogs, provide effective ways to improve understanding about your project.
Wikis and project blogs are easy to get started with and provide new ways to engaging your team. Wikis are a good way of facilitating asynchronous collaboration, which is especially useful in international teams or those working across time zones. Wikis can be used for capturing lessons learned or project knowledge for hand over to the operational team when the project closes. Anyone can update the wiki, and you’ll receive an alert when something has changed, allowing you to review the edits or additions that the team has made.
The value of social media at work
Social media tools are becoming more prevalent in the workplace, and the project management community is no exception.
During 2011 I surveyed over 180 people from 32 countries to find out how they were using social media tools for collaborating with their colleagues. Here are some of findings:
- The use of blogs for business purposes has grown 20% since I first carried out the survey in 2010.
- Over 90% of respondents reported using social media tools to stay in touch with colleagues.
- Over 40% of people said that they are not officially sanctioned to use social media tools at work, but they do so anyway, an increase of 4% from 2010. I believe that IT managers need to wake up to the idea that employees are finding ways to use social media tools at work whether they have been officially sanctioned or not – software installed outside of the official channels could be a security risk.
Elizabeth writes the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management which you can find online at www.GirlsGuidetoPM.com. She’s Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy.
Elizabeth’s blog: www.GirlsGuideToPM.com and the research results cited here are available here: rebelsguidetopm.com/welcome-to-the-resource-library/
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