There was a time when all you needed was a phone number and maybe a street address to get in touch with someone? Slowly, new fields were added to our contacts' lists: fax numbers, cellphone numbers, email addresses, instant messaging IDs, URLs. And on top of all that we've added LinkedIn and Facebook accounts and connections through Twitter, Tumblr and more.
Communication and the tools to do it are forever evolving, and at an alarming rate. While it may feel overwhelming at times, all these ways to connect represent a tremendous opportunity for building communities to help us find and share information faster and more easily.
In fact, tapping into social media to manage projects is a very efficient and forward-thinking way to keep everyone in the loop and come up with the best ideas for reaching goals. I favour five smart social media practices for project managers They are:
• Be an information seeker and sharer. One of the things I have loved about blogging, and Twitter in particular, is how much great information gets shared quickly. Sure, some people tweet what they are eating or drinking, but thousands of others tweet insights and URLs for great articles and white papers that have saved me time and pointed me down a new road. And I find that when I have an "a-ha" moment because of something cool and useful that I've received, I tend to follow suit and post useful articles and information myself. And then an interesting thing happens: More people start following me. For me, blogging and tweeting are like playing in a giant global sandbox where we're all learning to share the tools we need.
• Provide a sense of community. What are your passions and interests as a person and a project manager? By searching communities like LinkedIn and Facebook, you can become connected to other project managers who share your interests. Even better, you can ask questions about things that have you stumped or help other people out who may be facing a challenge that you have already mastered.
• Be clear about what's allowed. The idea that social media and networking can actually help advance project goals can still seem philosophical if you haven't experienced the instant gratification of getting an "update" or a "tweet," especially if you need to separate "church and state," or the corporate and personal spheres.
Personally, I believe that anything that helps people connect, build relationships and communicate information in a quick and accurate manner is fair game. The question becomes, "How does your employer regulate using social media for formal, business purposes versus informal, recreational fun?" Before you explore, you'll need to check and see whether your employer has rules or standards concerning social media.
• Leverage social media's potential for cooperation and collaboration, while using common sense. Maybe you are already a member of a "live community" in your neighborhood or your industry. Taking it online and creating a group page on one of the social media sites gives your community a central place to share photos, articles and updates, and yes, have fun too – as long as you use common sense. A good rule of thumb: Don't post anything that you wouldn't want your grandmother or a prospective employer to read.
• Be expertise hunters. Invite your team to hunt for hot spots of expertise everywhere on the web, from blogs to groups within social networks. Then compare notes and share what you've found. As a team, you can become your own social network for filtering information and staying on top of key trends in your industry.
Evaluate the risks and rewards
Social media are a huge opportunity. In my blog, EveryDayPM.com, I explore topics about everything from project management to the global economic crisis. The key word is "explore." Social media are new terrain, so there are bumps in the road, and people will make mistakes. The good news is that as a project manager, you know how to assess risk, so as you dig into the world of Web 2.0, you can look at both the risks and rewards and move forward confidently.
Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is the founder and CEO of Cheetah Learning and author of Cheetah Negotiations and Cheetah Project Management