IPMA International Project Management Association
6 October 2017 / 7:13

Help vs. Harm potential: Using social media for Project Management (Part B)

Social Media is undoubtedly a disruptive innovation driving new means of wealth creation, creativity in business and ease of organizing an individual’s social life. However, all is not hunky dory.

One could be tempted to think that bringing together social media and project management would be like a match made in heaven – except that a marriage hasn’t happened yet.

As explained in the earlier article ‘USING SOCIAL MEDIA FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT: NOW OR NEVER? (PART A)’, social media can help project management achieve efficiencies in many areas. Examples are:

  • fuller support for communications between project team members and stakeholders;
  • management of issues that arise as a project proceeds;
  • widening project knowledge to include more tacit knowledge;
  • efficient dissemination of updates made to the project plan;
  • effective dissemination of lessons learned when things don’t happen as predicted.

But it appears that, despite the unprecedented project management activities across different business sector and economies, any formal use of social media for project management is still quite limited – and, in many environments, non-existent.

What might be the reasons for such a situation? In the present article, we attempt to look into possible causes of such a scenario and highlight some of the potential drawbacks of using social media for project management.  Essentially, these drawbacks can be divided into five broad categories.

  1. Information overload

The ease of access and ease of sharing functionalities of social media apps could lead to a mindset of sending out a lot more information to project workers and stakeholders. Some of this information could be useful – but other parts may be just superfluous.

This situation could result in information overload – which could cause individuals to get diverted from the real project work. It might also encourage a tendency for project staff to become unable to differentiate between urgent or important, and non-urgent or unimportant information. This could in turn diminish the utility of information. People involved in a project may start to unsystematically ignore information arriving through social media – or at best show lack of attention because there is just too much information flying around.

  1. Potential lack of control on rightful access, receipt, and sharing of information

Social media tends to allow everyone to be an owner and a creator of information. This could have unintended consequences for project work if it continues unchecked. Social media based communication could potentially result in a lack of control over rightful access, receipt and sharing of information. It might result in panic, triggering of new issues, or transformation of identified risks into serious issues. This could result in disruption to work and an unhealthy environment.

If not managed properly, the use of social media channels could lead to difficulties in enforcing level of information access according to entitlement and ’need to know’. In traditional project management, the norm is to stipulate who should send what information, in what format – and who should receive it. It would be difficult for this to co-exist with an ‘everyone can send, everyone can receive’ mode as might apply with the use of social media.

  1. Deliberate communication of contaminated information

Given the open nature of social media, it is potentially prone to purposeful contamination of genuine information. Spreading of biased, inaccurate or misleading information could be highly detrimental to a time-bound project environment.

Sending messages with such misinformation (e.g. changes to schedule, specifications of deliverables, procurement status etc) could cause uncertainties – or even panic – about deliverables. It could result in issues with quality assurance and could increase project risks as project staff may take inappropriate action thinking that the information sent to them is accurate and from reliable sources.

Unless there are measures and apparatus in place for ensuring the credentials of information being sent, social media use could degenerate into mayhem and undercut any benefits.

  1. Confidential project information crossing project organization boundaries

One of the potential drawbacks of using social media for project management is concerns that the project related information may cross project boundaries and reach those who may or may not have any justifiable concern with the project. This could lead to misunderstandings about the project – and, in the end, possible project failure.

It is not easy to filter every piece of information exchange that happens over social media channels used by project management staff. This means that project information potentially crossing the boundaries of a project is a real issue. Managerial oversight and technological advancements would be needed to deal with such potential harmful consequences.

  1. Formal information being sent in an informal manner

Much project information is typically quite formal. It needs to present a definitive and clear view of the state of plans, designs, schedules, costs, changes and the completion and verification of deliverables. Information that needs to be formal that is sent over social media channels might be dismissed as ‘casual chat’. If not treated as important, that information could potentially lead to errors in understanding and implementation of tasks.

Further, as social media based information is typically communicated via hand-held mobile portable devices, deducing an unequivocal meaning from the messages could be a challenge. Otherwise, misunderstandings and errors will be inevitable. There is a need for technologies to evolve to help distill intended meanings from unstructured text, and to highlight potential misunderstandings.

Until such bridging software is available, project staff using social media as their main interface to project management need to be trained to create project information in a way that is easy to read, understand and feed into a more formal project management system.

Help vs. Harm potential matrix of using Social Media for project work:

While social media offers benefits (as explained in an earlier article), one cannot overlook the potential hazard and drawbacks that come with its use. We have discussed some of these drawbacks above, but these are just a few of the many that can prevent adoption and use in project management. In some situations, social media and project management may have a good fit and in others the opposite may be the case. To better understand these situations, we offer a ‘Helpful vs Harmful’ matrix below.

The matrix could serve as decision-making tool. The matrix has four quadrants; for each of these we have highlighted the circumstances which could help senior project managers identify which type of fit they have in regard to adopting – or not adopting – social media for project work within their organization. The coding in the four sectors is explained below.

LL – Low on Help potential vs. Low on Harmful potential: describes a Marginal fit (circumstances in the organization are not conducive to the use of social media; but the organization’s procedures are strong enough to withstand the risks described in 1) to 5) above)

HL – High on Help potential vs. Low on Harmful potential: describes a Strategic fit (circumstances are conducive to the use of social media, and the organization has both the capabilities and interest to use social media safely)

LH – Low on Help potential vs. High on Harmful potential: describes a Strategic misfit (the organization has neither the interest nor capability to make use of social media, nor does it have strong procedures for preventing possible harmful effects)

HH – High on Help potential vs. High on Harmful potential: describes an Optional fit (presence of circumstances where use of social media is simultaneously both helpful and harmful. The organization is not ready yet; it may be in the process of building capabilities, but has several weaknesses that could derail the process if social media is used.)

Figure: Help vs Harm potential Matrix

Concluding thoughts:

The matrix presented above lists circumstances that highlight the capabilities that an organization needs to have to be able to decide whether it should use Social media for project management or not. We may summarise them into four ‘Talk capabilities’. These broadly encapsulate the essence of what it takes to Talk about using social media for project management.

T : Technology availability (whether organization have the right social media technology platform available to  use social media for project management).

A : Awareness (Whether there exists an awareness of the benefits and drawbacks of using social media for project management within organization).

L : Leadership competence (Whether organizational leadership has the competence and commitment to use social media to the fullest to optimize work efficiencies and deal with any potential problems that may emerge from use of social media for project management).

K : Knowledge (Whether organization seeks knowledge and interacts with world outside its boundaries to gain and integrate new knowledge within organization system and constantly try to enhance its knowledge bandwidth).


Special thanks to post-write-up inputs by Roger Tagg.


  • Spring says:

    I’m interested in republishing this article in our PMR magazine. Would you please inform me how to contact the author? Thank you . Rapid reply will be highly appriciated.

  • Spring Yu says:

    I’m interested in republishing this article in our PMR magazine. Would you please inform me how to contact the author? Thank you . Rapid reply will be highly appriciated.

  • I have read through your article and i was satisfied of the good information that you have contributed in your article! Thanks a lot for that beneficial article!

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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 such as Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and Australia, among others. Over his career, he has provided leadership in establishing, designing, and delivering Executive education / Master’s, Training, and Research programs.

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

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community by speaking at various events and writing on emerging issues. 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, one in the International Journal of Production Economics and the other in Journal of Engineering and Technology Management. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.