The future of social communications on projects

Social communications form a large part of life outside the office, and the connected project manager needs to incorporate those ways of out-of-the-office communications into working practices today. Many stakeholders already use publicly available, consumer-led social communication tools to manage their personal networks. In our drive to be easy to do business with, it is essential that project managers adopt relevant tools to ensure that the gap between home and office ways of working is not extreme to the point where stakeholders choose not to work with us.

The connected project manager can incorporate social communications in project reporting, for example by making the report available in multiple formats and accessible through multiple channels. Reports can also include multi-media elements, such as video, audio and photographs. This can be particularly useful if your project is constructing something tangible, such as a building.

Social communication tools also enable you to personalize the users’ experience through content filters and dashboards, so once a product is in place on the project, embedded and operational, you can look to adapt it further to ensure each stakeholder receives the relevant information in a format that suits them best. Content filters, such as behavioural-based advertising, are already in use on consumer-led websites, and while there is some discussion that marks these as intrusive it is likely that we will see more movement towards personalization in both consumer and corporate social communication tools.

There has also recently been a rise in the number of training companies incorporating digital learning into their offerings. Project managers and PMO teams are likely to see more and more of this: training courses being offered with digital material instead of print textbooks and incorporating online discussion forums and podcasts (online radio shows) to continue the learning after a classroom event.

These types of learning can spill over into the project environment. The connected project manager can incorporate social communication channels and digital media as part of a structured change management approach for projects. This could include, for example, using podcasts and video to train staff on the deliverables of the project, such as new software.

Planning for accessibility

Disability discrimination laws, regulations and guidelines are different in every country. However, it is clear that as workforces are becoming more diverse, it is important to ensure that the tools you use for project management are suitable for everyone to use. This is even more essential if your project is delivering services to the general public and you have chosen to build in social communications as part of your wider community communications plan.

Consider the needs of all your users when adopting social communication tools, and if for any reason you have chosen to build these products in-house with the help of your IT team, get some advice about how to make them accessible for everyone. As this area develops, we will see the user interfaces and mobility options for tools increase. This is good for all members of the workforce and community – good, accessible design benefits everyone.

Planning for interoperability

Interoperability between social communication tools is in its infancy. Many of the more established products that are aimed at a consumer audience have the ability to link to other products, but normally to provide add-on services, such as being able to post photographs from one social media network to another. There is a growing interest in dashboard products that allow you to manage multiple accounts from a single platform: these are particularly useful for business users, but again are mostly aimed at consumer end users, not a corporate market.

For the social project manager, then, there are a number of tools to choose from to enhance communication and collaboration in the enterprise, but a limited number of ways to join these up and present a single view to the project team and stakeholders. This situation is likely to get better with time, but at present, the end result is that project managers and their teams are likely to have to use a number of tools, or to limit themselves to perhaps one that does not quite fulfil all their needs.

Planning for networks

hppm cover imageThe social project manager spends more time than ever before creating, building, planning and managing networks. There is no doubt an overhead that comes with adopting social communication tools, because the stakeholder communities are as yet not prepared to move away from the traditional communication and collaboration channels, and perhaps never will. As a result, there is an ongoing responsibility to link online and offline communities to ensure that each network has the same amount of project information and the same opportunity to collaborate. Balancing the complex, in-person links of a face-to-face network with that of an online, virtual, community is a skill that the social project manager has to excel at.

It is hard to predict future trends in a world that is constantly changing. There are new social communication tools released regularly, aimed at both consumers and business users. However, one thing is certain, social communications are here to stay. Regardless of the tools, platforms, data input methods or storage locales, we will be using social communications in the workplace and in our personal lives for years to come.

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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