IPMA International Project Management Association
18 July 2019 / 9:00

Fast-food content of social media: How to transform it from fashionable to functional?

Social media is driving new norms of living and language. The use of terms in social media conversations such as ‘IDK, ‘SMHID’, ‘DMOT’ ‘IMHO’ and ‘YOLO’ (just to mention a few) may make the conversation sound like a short messaging exchange from a scene in a blockbuster movie thriller, but it is not. These just define social media parlance – a language commonly used and understood by ordinary folks for every day conversation on social media platforms. Once deciphered from social media lingo to normal form, the above terms would mean:

IDK : I don’t know.
SMHID: Scratching my head in disbelief.
DMOT: Don’t quote me on this.
IMHO: In my humble opinion.
YOLO: You only live once.

The above example highlights the effects of social media (SM) on societies and emergence of new culture, language, trends and lifestyle. In particular, two distinct trends can be clearly observed. First, the users post their thoughts, emotions, complaints, concerns, approvals, and praises for trivial to extremely important matters on social media platforms often impulsively. Second, in an effort to quickly relay messages and keep their communication short and spicy, social media users use a host of abbreviations and acronyms resulting in development of new lingo of social media driven communication.

The impulsive nature of social media is, thus, resulting in creation of content that is meant for fast paced on-the-go communication by users. As such, social media content is often termed as ‘fast-food content’, since it is meant for fulfillment of desire of immediate communication; rather than a rich communication.

Notwithstanding its impulsive characteristics and the resultant content, social media is certainly creating a new form of communication which is infectious, versatile, likeable and more importantly considered fashionable. This situation leaves businesses and professions with no option but to consider how to leverage upon positive side of social media communication to make it functional for growth and profitability. Project management (PM) is no exception to such needs. In hindsight, the use of social media seems to be more suited to project based activities.

The question then is how to transform social media content from fashionable to functional for PM use? To answer the question, we suggest below some strategies and methods to enhance the use of social media content in PM and make it functional for PM use.

Possible strategies to transform SM content from fashionable to functional for PM use

  1. Involve people to help transform SM content from fashionable to functional for PM use

Involvement of people from every tier of organization is vital to the success of efforts to transform SM content from fashionable to functional for PM use. It is because, such an involvement will result in different people bringing in different perspectives, language, terms and vocabulary of social media in PM system within the organization. It will help organizations document some of the abbreviations and acronyms used in SM conversations which will facilitate flow of communication when SM is used in PM.

When people are involved, they will be able to share their experience of what works and what does not in SM communication parlance. Such knowledge will help in setting-up guidelines and norms of SM-based communication for PM use.

Further, SM is a very dynamic platform. It could be costly to extract knowledge and update organizational resources with new knowledge from SM on an ongoing basis. Therefore, with involvement of people from various tiers, the organizations will be able to keep their SM based communication repositories updated with new terms and vocabulary being used on SM at low cost, which will help in achieving communication efficiencies when SM is actually used for PM.

  1. Build SM leadership that appreciate and leverage the benefits of SM communication

Having top management people who appreciate the benefits of SM communication and are inclined to leverage SM use for PM efficiencies is critical to the success of establishing formal role of SM communication in PM. Organizations can build SM leadership by making SM communication as one of the items on the recruitment criteria of senior managers. Rewarding managers who successfully implement SM in PM will also help build SM leadership capacities. Providing trainings on the functional use-cases of SM in PM will also help managers in learning from successful cases and be able to use that learning for implementation of SM in projects.

  1. Don’t make quick decisions based on SM discussions

The impulsive nature of SM can often lead to creation of content that is based on emotions and urgency of communication rather than carefully considered thoughts.  Therefore, project organizations need to be careful in making quick decision based on SM content.

While some may argue that it will defeat the purpose of SM communication which enables doing things in real time on-the-go manner. But, given that the project-based activities are often well documented, so a quick decision based on SM communication may create chaos if planning and related documents are not updated. Also change management efforts could be affected severely if a decision is based on impromptu communication on SM platforms used for PM.

For important issues, a preferred way could be to write a one-page summary which describes the key points discussed in SM communication, the proposed decision based on that communication, and its impacts on key project variables. Such a summary can then be forwarded to the responsible people within the project hierarchy to finalize any decisions and synchronize the use of social media communication.

  1. Setup norms and guidelines to make project teams SM communication ready

It is vital to make project team members SM communication ready. It means a number of things such as,  educating people on the SM platform being used, how to download the relevant SM apps for project work purposes, possible topics that could be discussed, the do’s and dont’s and how to avoid mis-use of SM platforms for PM.

Organizations need to prepare norms and guidelines of SM use in PM and make such guidelines available to project team members at the start of each project. As is the common practice in group-based platforms, the SM communication guidelines should also be sent out once every month through SM platforms (being used for PM) to reinforce the use of guidelines and making team members aware of any changes to guidelines. Even if there are no changes to guidelines, sending out SM communication guidelines once every month is important and a good practice to remind people and make them SM communication ready.

Preparing and disseminating a list of Dos and Don’t’s for a variety of aspects including (but not limited to): possible topics of conversation, shortcuts that can be used during SM discussions, information that can be shared/not-shared etc. will serve as important guideline document(s) to use SM communication for PM.

  1. Guide (but don’t control) SM conversation(s) and steer them in purposeful direction as needed

Given the stakes, time, cost, quality and risks involved in projects, every activity needs to contribute towards achievement of project objectives. Therefore, SM communication needs to be aligned to achieving project objectives too.

As the SM platforms have the propensity to become a distraction and take away the focus, therefore, SM communication should preferably be guided for the mere purpose of steering it in purposeful direction as needed. The guiding/monitoring can be done in many ways. These include (bur not limited to) designating SM group officers for each individual group, having one senior person to be part of all SM groups to centrally perform guiding role, or having some artificial intelligence (AI) device to steer the SM discussion. Having AI device could only be realistically possible for large capital-intensive projects.

In all circumstances, the guidance/monitoring should not limit project team members’ willingness and intention to positively contribute towards discussion and provide innovative ideas in relation to matters under discussion on SM. Therefore, a fine balance needs to be achieved if guiding/monitoring system is established for SM communication in PM.

  1. Assign SM group stewards to keep everyone on track

Assigning SM group stewards could help in keeping people on track of appropriate communication needs. SM group stewards should be the people with good knowledge of project work and also having an understanding of SM communication and channels.

SM group stewards can be assigned for each group separately or one person can centrally play such a role by becoming part of all the SM groups. The stewards can also feed information from one group into another group, thus increasing the efficiency of project work. The linking and coordinating role played by SM group stewards if tactfully used can build significant project capacities to resolve issues, plan effectively and ensure quality of project work.

For large projects, SM group stewards can be assigned on department basis or project-phase basis such as for planning, design, execution phase etc.

Concluding thoughts:

Social media is giving birth to a unique culture where people from different races, nationalities, genders, social, professional and education status are able to converse in more or less a common language. This provides a huge advantage to businesses to use SM for communication purposes. Particularly, in PM where teams are typically adhoc and team members come from many different backgrounds, using SM for communication could work wonders in infusing efficiencies into the project work. Therefore, future seems to be bright for the use of SM in PM.

However, the inherently impulsive nature of SM requires that its use in PM must be carefully choreographed so that it does not prove to be counterproductive. With that in mind, above we have proposed various strategies to streamline use of SM in PM and transform SM content from fashionable to functional. Needless to say, the strategies and the proposed methods are neither exhaustive nor conclusive by any standards and are only meant to build an early knowledge on the subject.

Authored by:

Professor Jiwat Ram

© 2019 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.