What Should Project Managers Know about Social Media and Social Networking?

By Dennis D. McDonald

I’m a member of the online group SdB+PM Forum, a collective of 825 senior project managers who are also members of the Linkedin professional networking group. A couple of weeks ago I posted a link to another author’s slide presentation called Social Project Management. That touched off an interesting series of comments on the Forum about the contents of that presentation and how it represented (or misrepresented) project management methodologies in relation to the social media and social networking.

While I didn’t agree with all the points made in that presentation, it did touch on some of the same themes I have been investigating in my own research related to corporate social networking adoption and the use of blogs as project management tools. In particular, I am becoming increasingly interested in how the use of social media and social networking tools by project managers are related to the adopting organization’s existing management structure and, in particular, to the organization’s existing formal and informal communication patterns. I believe that these tools generate challenges that project managers need to address.

Here is a message that I submitted to the SdB+PM Forum that expresses some of my thinking about these topics:

Stepping back for a moment from the marketing hype that infuses the slide presentation and also setting aside temporarily the “evangelism” that sometimes accompanies discussions of “agile” versus “waterfall” approaches to project management, there is a point about social networking related to project management that I think it would be unwise to ignore.

Tools and expectations regarding the manner in which people in organizations communicate and collaborate are changing. I have to some extent addressed these issues in my “project management and blogging” research and consulting. The implications are broader than just blogging. While different groups and industries are accepting social media and social networking at very different rates, many organizations are also beginning to address how to adopt and manage social media and social networking. Such organizations are not limited to traditional tech-oriented and early adopter type firms.

What I see happening is that the organizational environment in which projects are managed is changing, especially projects where a mix of groups — not just IT — is involved and whose activities need to be directed and coordinated. Just as social media and social networking tools and techniques have muddied distinctions between formal and informal communications outside the enterprise, they also have the potential for impacting formal and informal communications and authority patterns within the enterprise.

That’s one of the reasons why some types of organizations and management structures have restricted employee use of social networking tools such as Facebook during working hours. Some managers are reluctant to relinquish certain types of management control and oversight over employee communications, especially when such a flexible and loosely knit system such as a Facebook-type social network is involved.

Consider the different groups that need to be coordinated in a large or complex corporate project that spans multiple departments and physical locations. People may be temporarily assigned to the project, perhaps on a part time basis. Some people are better than others at managing direct and “dotted line” reporting structures.

Those of us who have managed large projects know how important it is to carefully manage all project stakeholders, not just those directly assigned to the project full time. This is where social networking and collaboration tools can play a role, but the manner in which they impact both formal and informal communications needs to be considered. For example, there are certain top-down communications that need to be addressed to all or subsets of project staff. At the same time project team members will need — and want — to communicate with each other and with non-project staff on both project- and non-project-related matters.

So far this situation is pretty standard. One thing that makes the new tools different (e.g., enterprise-secure blogging and wikis, collaboration tools with workflow and group collaboration features, group chat and messaging, document sharing, bookmark and link sharing tools, etc.) is that they are now so easy to set up, manage, and use. Project specific business processes, workspaces, and directories that previously required IT department involvement can now be established and maintained by less technically proficient staff. Many of these staff may already be familiar with the increasingly powerful networking and knowledge sharing tools that are available on the public web and may, as a result, express impatience with the tools the enterprise makes available “behind the firewall.”

Just as corporate management needs to come to terms with the policy, privacy, security, and confidentiality implications of social media and social networking on a corporate basis, the modern project manager needs to assess the role of such tools in the context of project management and communications. This includes determining how such tools relate to the “traditional” tools and metrics associated with project management.

One theme I intend to investigate further is how to manage projects in situations where more traditional hierarchical management and communications structures need to be integrated with the increasingly blurred distinctions between formal and informal communications. I would therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss this topic further either here or on my own blog.

As noted, I’ll be addressing these issues in future posts here on this blog. If you would like to join in on the discussion, especially as it relates to what project managers need to know about social media and social networking, please comment below or contact me at Thanks for reading!


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Reader Comments (10)

Interesting post. Wondering how Google Reader's new sharing situation will affect the collaboration process and thus, your thoughts.

Companies are going to have to be very careful how they share when it comes to web based applications.
December 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Trenn

Thank you for the comment!

I read that post and its associated comments. While my reaction is "What else did you expect from Google?" I have to say I would be amazed if they hadn't expected some negative publicity about this. You'd have to be pretty dumb not to expect some folks to get bent out of shape, and I seldom think of Google as "dumb."

That said, there are those who will say this Google Reader situation is a good reason for not employing external networks to support sensitive corporate collaboration related communications. Even if they can be shown to be "secure" you are potentially vulnerable to how they manage and modify feature sets (such as the "sharing" feature that is causing grief for Google Reader). For example, I would definitely prefer to use an internal system (say, something like ConnectBeam) instead of for sharing bookmarks among project participants.

And consider Google Docs. How can we be sure that there might be a change some day to the definition of sharing? (Just thinking about that reminds me that I need to delete some of the documents I have on Google Docs -- though I suspect that even if I delete them they won't really be deleted ... )

December 26, 2007 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald

I agree with you that collaboration tools are vital to complex projects, which often involve bringing specialists together from different organisations. When the team transcends multiple companies it can be difficult for any single company to host all the communications channels themselves, and social media platforms are a great way to pull folk together and get them interacting. As we become spoilt for choice, with easy to administer third-party services (free or otherwise), barriers such as who hosts it and who runs it are less relevant than they used to be.

In my experience, a management desire for relentless control is no greater obstacle than actually getting the grass-roots buy-in from individual participants. People might have a personal interest in learning a funky new means to get their point across, but this will wane rapidly when deadlines start looming and the pressure begins to mount. It can be quite hard to dig out the project members who truly embrace the power of collaborative communications. However, once you can engage them, and empower them with the tools to get their own messages across, you have to hope they can act as evangelists to drag their more reticent colleagues blinking into the light of why information only becomes valuable once its properly shared.

And then you'll be left with the simpler challenges, like finding the appropriate balance for recording any particular class of information - flowing or static, structured or verbose, targeted or merely released. Thankfully, good old trial and error will usually come to your rescue in working that one out.

Perhaps its the architect in me who thinks that managing the way that project members interact is half the battle in successful delivery?
Thanks for your insightful article - I look forward to hearing more
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterArthur M. Gallagher
I viewed the slide presentation on Social Project Management. I am new to IT PM, however I have experienced the way projects are done in my previous role. It was always a rush to get the project complete. Minimal documentation, previous planning, and no use of tracking tools. When projects start off this way there is a tendency for things to be missed or overlooked causing you to take the blame. However, it is not you who should be blamed but the system as a whole. The world is becoming faster and faster with technology and the way information is shared, here lies the problem. We have created this monster and there is no turning back. Projects are put on the table and expected to be implemented quickly. The end user does not get the proper training and fustration sets in, ultimately having the end user not use the new system to assist in work flow, or making repeated errors.
January 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRick
Something that project managers using our SaaS software seem to be doing a lot of is linking blog posts to their projects. The important thing about this is that it's not a separate blog, it's a post linked to the project a team is working on so it provides contextual information that enhances their team's understanding of what's going on in a project. Project managers also crave opportunities to interact and share information like best practices and 'what's worked before' and we're seeing increase in this type of interaction amongst our community members (

January 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTim Low
Tim -

When you say "linked to" do you mean the team member has an internal blog and linkss to a particular object in the Daptiv project space, or is it the other way around?

- Dennis
January 17, 2008 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald
Yes, it's blogging about your project to people in your Daptiv community, so there are some permissions and accessibility restrictions that are controllable. The freeform input of blogs is great, but having it associated with a trusted SaaS environment makes it more secure than just blogging on the internet. My view is that organizations want the "web 2.0" stuff, but they don't want to give up every stitch of control at the same time. We're trying to enable both.
January 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTim Low

I am also a member of SdB+PM Forum and have not been as active as I'd like. Wow - Have I been missing out! I saw the presentation you reference and am pleased to have found your post via twitter. You make some great points and I am interested to see where your thoughts take you. I too am interested in project management and social media. I look forward to your next posting!

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRaven Young
I have wanted this the day I opened facebook. What an incredible way to communicate on projects and keep a true real time based work flow. A real tool that combines all the aspects of a social networking environment with the details of project management will accelerate the development and execution of projects.
September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
It only makes sense to use social media with project management. After all project management is about collaboration within a group to achieve an objective.Other than the main stream sites for the typical communications, a good tool for project management is the use of social media conference to keep the face in front of the players. How you business can use social media can be found in this article,
January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDean

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