Can social media drive project success?

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives in South Africa. Recent studies have revealed that South African consumers have a very high motivation (70 percent versus, for example, 40 percent in the UK) to follow brands on social networks. We use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking services to converse with friends and colleagues and to share photos, videos, and important moments in our lives. Social media

Worldwide, Facebook enjoys 880 million unique visitors per month, YouTube 800 million and Twitter 160 million, according to DoubleClick Ad Planner. In South Africa, users spend on average seven hours a week on social networking sites, with MXit and Facebook being the most popular sites. Against the backdrop of these statistics, project managers need to seriously consider the integration of social media with their project management tools. Let’s look at ways to achieve this and to evaluate if the use of social media tools can drive project success. Some aspects of security and confidentiality will also be covered.

10 ways to use social media for projects According to Elizabeth Harrin, author of “Social Media for Project Managers”, there are a number of different social media tools available to project managers that can be used for project delivery. We will look at 10 tools with a short description of each, as well as the advantages and disadvantages.

# Social Media Description Pros Cons
1 Blogs Equivalent to a shared project log. Blogs are made up of posts that appear in reverse chronological order on the blog. Project teams can share information if not co-located. Only people involved will be interested. Not available to external stakeholders.
2 Collaboration tools Software solutions to store all project information, contacts, documents, and discussion in one place, to pull in feeds from elsewhere. Team members go for updates on tasks and to work with other people. Convenience of having project info in single location. More secure if hosted locally. Not intuitive, require training and corporate investment.
3 Instant messaging Ability to send short text messages to colleagues through the computer. It is similar to e-mail, but faster and with shorter messages, because you know the person at the other end is available to reply, due to “presence” showing their status. Instant answers to questions, direct and fast. Project team is familiar with it from personal use. Colleagues need to update their statuses, users must be prepared to use appropriately.
4 Microblogs Blogging on a very small scale. It allows you to send short messages to the internet for public consumption. Most popular is Twitter, which limits the update to 140 characters, the length of a text message on a mobile device. Can have direct shared stream of real-time project data. Send status updates direct into PM software, if compatible. Stream of real-time project data can be overwhelming. Even protected Tweets may not be secure enough for corporate projects. Distractive, little data showing success for delivery.
5 Webinars A seminar hosted on the web. It is also used to describe other types of meetings where the participants go to a website to see the presentation material. Cost-saving, can record and store, distribute webinar to people who couldn’t attend. Some software requires download to PC, not possible if permissions are locked down. Training should be an hour or less.
6 Podcasts Audio files that are listened to either through your computer‘s speakers or through a download to an MP3 player. Recording software online for free. Portable, listen any time. Use for training. Audio requires planning. Editing takes time and degree of skill. Will podcasts be used outside of work hours?
7 Vodcasts Audio files that are listened to either through your computer‘s speakers or through a download to an MP3 player. Don’t need expensive equipment, communicate with team, or for training. Videos take much data storage space. Playback is dependent on Internet connection.
8 RSS Stands for Really Simple Syndication. Every time a new news article is posted, the RSS feed is updated and you get an update as a subscriber. Software tools (called RSS readers/ aggregators) can organise all your feeds in one place. RSS feeds save time, easy, subscribe to PM sites you’re interested in. Always up-to-date content. Content overload. Need RSS reader to see updates, only see extracts, not the whole article.
9 Social networks Online groups that are designed to bring people with common interests together. LinkedIN and Facebook are two of the most popular. Keep up to date with colleagues. Useful for career prospects or new opportunities. Only useful if you connect and build relationships. Profile to be kept up to date.
10 Wikis “Wiki” is Hawaiian for “quick” or acronym for “What I Know Is”. A collection of web pages, written by a group of people, normally on a particular topic or project. Acts as a knowledge repository. Useful for long projects with high staff turnover. Customisable, with search facilities. Good for handover and summary of project’s knowledge. Takes time to construct and build. Knowledge integrity is key. Easy to use, but members need to think in web-related way for intelligent links.

Social media adoption Many social media tools like collaboration tools, instant messaging, podcasts, webinars and social networks are already used widely for project delivery. Podcasts and webinars are especially used for further training of professional project managers (PMPs) who gain professional development units (PDUs) for attending. Project management training companies, like Roeder Consulting, host webinars on a monthly basis, presenting project management topics, as well as inviting host speakers, with the audience being able to claim a PDU per session. Attendees are also invited to become members of the company’s LinkedIN group.

This has grown Roeder Consulting a large following and keeps it in front of mind for training needs. Social media tools that may be considered more during project delivery include the blog (project information distribution to virtual teams), Wikis and RSS, to subscribe to feeds relevant to your project or to information that will help develop project managers reporting into a project support office (PMO).

Social media as a customer service platform Vodacom, the largest mobile communications provider in South Africa, has deployed Genesys Social Engagement to automate and integrate social media interactions with customers throughout its contact centre and customer service operations. Vodacom has the largest social media following among South African companies and is using social media as part of a cross-channel customer service strategy built around driving customer conversations.

Security and confidentiality By nature, social media implies collaboration, mutual trust, and a strong sense of common purpose. With social media, your company and project need a policy the same way as you need a policy for the use of e-mail or the Internet. Ensure that employees and team members know about the policy and follow an education programme to ensure compliance with regulatory and legal guidelines. Security concerns around the open flow of communication using social media tools can be addressed by using access controls to manage the flow of data. Give usernames and passwords to only those people who need to log in.

Access control administration can be delegated to a PMO or a project support officer. Have a process for requesting access to the tool. For third party requests, access may be limited by assigning permissions to certain “views” only. Some social media tools have an audit trail facility with which you can track changes. Include social media tools in the company backup processes and business continuity plans. Another consideration around authorised software is to allow only social media tools that are supported by your IT department in order to make you invulnerable to viruses and other security threats.

With proper consideration, project managers and their teams could adopt appropriate social media tools and by following the proper channels to put approved social media tools in place, will enhance successful project delivery.

Linky van der Merwe is a certified project management professional with 13 years of project management experience and a track record of more than 30 successful projects. She has been a senior project manager at Microsoft Consulting Services South Africa for the past four years. As the founder of Virtual Project Consulting, she likes to blog about project management and integrated online communication marketing. Her mission is to provide project management best practices and to recommend resources to aspiring and existing project managers. For more information, please visit

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