IPMA International Project Management Association
18 March 2020 / 9:00

Connected, yet no contact: Dealing with ‘contact inertia’ when using social media for PM

Digi-socialization mania has redefined the notion of connectivity.  From one that used to be a matter of exclusivity, connectivity has become a commodity in today’s world characterized by an extensive use of social media for professional and personal life chores.

Connectivity occurs in many forms. One-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many are well-known types of connectivity. The use of social media is enabling yet another, a new type of connectivity i.e. unknowns-to-unknowns connectivity, where people are unknowingly connected to other people that they don’t even know through networks of their known contacts. All this means is that connectivity is multiplying at a lightning speed.

The ease with which connectivity can be established using social media and its multiplicity is resulting in a tendency where people end up having large-scale connectivity and a corresponding long list of contacts. Logically, then it becomes challenging, if not impossible, to remain in touch with each and every contact leading to development of a tendency termed as contact inertia.

We define contact inertia as a tendency of not contacting (or not being able to contact) people in one’s network(s) of contacts due to possibly having large number of contacts resulting in in-active two-way interactions with people in the network of contacts.

While contact inertia may be unavoidable in today’s hyper-connected world; the tendency could have a significant impact on the productive use of social media for professional/business work purposes. Particularly, as social media is being used across a wide array of professional disciplines, the impact of contact inertia could be wide and significant, potentially causing inefficiencies and below-par achievements.

Given that project management (PM) is a niche discipline, statistics on the current extent of use of social media in PM are not readily available. However, based on the data that we collected for a recent research project on the use of social media in PM added by clearly observable pervasiveness of social media in every walk of life and business activity, we believe that social media is used for project work quite significantly. The situation then potentially raises the question if social media is optimally used for project work? and ‘how to deal with the contact inertia when using social media in PM?’

To answer the latter question, below we propose some project-based and some individual-based strategies to deal with contact inertia when using social media for project work. While the proposed strategies are not conclusive or exhaustive, at least they provide a point of start which can be refined as needed based on the ground realities.

Possible strategies to overcome ‘contact inertia’

A. Project focused strategies

  1. Build a meaningful list of contacts for project staff use

People interaction is critical to bring knowledge to the table. When people interact; they share tacit and explicit knowledge which is really important to solve problems, overcome difficulties, generate new ideas and smoothly execute the known tasks, just to mention a few. Such an interaction is much more important in a project-based environment given the constraints of time and cost.

The use of social media in PM can really help spur interaction among the project staff which will ultimately help create value for the client. However, the benefit of using social media could be marginalized if people exhibit contact inertia tendencies. By building a meaningful list of social media-based contacts for project staff use, it is expected that project staff will take the opportunity to interact with the contacts on an ongoing basis for relevant matters.

For instance, project organizations can create meaningful social media contact lists, even giving them funky titles to generate attraction and possible interactions. These could be like:

(1) Help-is-here (a contact list of senior project staff for dealing with general project issues including change management issues);
(2) We-fix (a contact list of people who help troubleshoot planning, design and execution problems);
(3) One-stop contact (a list of human resource contacts who could provide motivational and other HR-related support).

The point that we would like to emphasize here is that generation of interaction among the available knowledge resources is key to creation of value and achieving leadership speed in the project. If project staff is able to have rightful information of contacts readily available, it is more likely that contact inertia will not happen, and social media-driven interaction will occur which will ultimately benefit the project work.

  1. Put people only in relevant SM groups

Adding people to relevant social media groups based on the task and project performance needs is expected to motivate people to contact each other. It is quite easy to create social media groups in applications such as Whatsapp, Wechat, and Linkedin, just to mention a few.

The relevance is key to overcome contact inertia and resultant improved use of social media for project work efficiencies.

  1. Encourage people to share thoughts or felicitations to stay in the loop

Another way to overcome contact inertia is to encourage people to share thoughts or felicitations. Simple things like showing likes, congratulating someone on something or commenting can result in staying in the loop. It helps overcome the barriers to remain in contact and can be productive when using social media for work purposes.  

  1. Try to involve those who wish to remain low key

While there are people who are active on social media, there are also people who like to keep a low profile. Since no one person has monopoly over knowledge, therefore, involving people who wish to remain low key could be very important for value creation and the productive use of social media for project activities. Specifically asking for suggestions, inputs and comments from those who generally keep a low profile could bring such people into the conversation and help overcome contact inertia.

  1. Emphasize the message: ‘SM for everybody’

It is also important to make people feel inclusive by emphasizing that ‘social media is for everybody.’  People with a tendency to not use social media, despite being on social media, due to multiple factors such as, seniority or a lack of technology-use proficiency should not be made to feel that they are excluded. Providing training or guidance on how to remain in productive contacts by using social media could help project work ultimately.

B. Individual focused strategies

  1. Categorize contacts in groups to keep track of potentially forgotten contacts

One of the key strategies to staying in loop is to organize the long list of contacts by dividing contacts in identifiable groups. For instance, by using the Tag function in Wechat, one can organize contacts in various groups. Such a categorization/grouping can help in identifying people with which no contact has been made over a period of time and initiating contact to stay in the loop.  The strategy to stay in loop can go a long way when working together with same contacts on projects and improve project efficiency, as people will know each other and would have developed a better rapport by the time they team-up for project work.

  1. ‘Sharing is caring’ still works

‘Sharing is caring’ is not just an old age saying but is an important trait or a strategy to stay in the loop with many many contacts at the same time. Sharing authentic and useful information with contacts could help overcome contact inertia and make it easy to productively work with people when using social media for actual project work.

  1. Forward useful info if it is from an authentic source(s) to project social media admin for dissemination

Forwarding authentic and useful information to project social media admin for further dissemination to relevant project groups can help overcome contact inertia.  People tend to recognize and trust people that could help provide useful info in today’s world inundated with all sorts of accurate and inaccurate information.

  1. Tag people in useful messages

Tagging people directly in useful messages could be vital to stay in the loop with people for productive relationships. People will appreciate the gesture and hence more likely to remain in contact which could help overcome contact inertia when social media is actually used for project work.

  1. Appreciate the value of SM as a medium to enhance f2f contacts for relationship building

Social media can also be used to enhance face-to-face (f2f) contacts. Using video or voice call functionality of social media or actually setting up f2f meetings after contacting through social media could go a long way in relationship building and ultimately help in overcoming contact inertia.

Concluding thoughts:
Connectivity sans contact is like the sun without shine.  Connectivity could improve productivity when people contact each other and stay in the loop. However, given the ease with which connectivity is getting multiplied, remaining in contact with contacts is not easy, often resulting in people falling in the trap of contact inertia. Therefore, it is desirable to deal with contact inertia at, both, individual and project organization levels. We have, thus, proposed some strategies to help overcome contact inertia and make productive use of social media for project work.

Particularly, faced with challenging times such as ongoing coronavirus pandemic, one cannot overemphasize the usefulness and importance of social media. Therefore, it is prudent to overcome contact inertia to make full use of social media for professional and personal life.

Authored by:
Professor Jiwat Ram
© 2020 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

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Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.