Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

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

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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