Reading a post by Glen Alleman introduced me to an article published in the PMI PM Magazine. The article in the PM Magazine deals with the issue of whether or not Social Media helps Project Managers get the job done. Amongst the other facts, figures and interpretations brought up in the article, it mentions a study conducted by  McKinsey & Company, according to which “69 percent of the 1,700 executives surveyed reported having ‘gained measurable business benefits’ from social media tools”.

That’s, however, not quite what the McKinsey site is actually saying (see in http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/How_companies_are_benefiting_from_Web_20_McKinsey_Global_Survey_Results_2432). There it says that “69 percent of respondents report that their companies have gained measurable business benefits”, but the context of that statement is in explaining why Web 2.0 remains of high interest to executives. The discussion is around the use of Web 2.0 technologies and not, as implied from the PM Magazine, around the use of Social Media tools. BIG DIFFERENCE!

I can’t but be reminded of the old adage that If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. The perception regarding the role that social media is playing in organizations is overly, as well as inaccurately, stated by individuals and organizations whose reputation and livelihood is dependent on enough people believing that this is in fact the truth. I’ve elaborated on this issue in a number of earlier posts (most recently in “Project Communication and Social Networking“) but it is worth mentioning one more example of how prevalent this sort of PR has become.

In “Social media in a project environment – the results“, Elizabeth Harrin concludes that “Over 70% of survey respondents believe that social media and enterprise collaboration tools are a key issue for project managers this year. The range of tools in use across organizations show that both large and small corporations are adopting social media and enterprise collaboration tools.” To be fair to Elizabeth, I haven’t seen the full survey, as this was not published in the article. My assessment of the results, though, is that the correct interpretation of the survey results should have been that 70% of the respondents believe (as I do) that the use of enterprise collaboration tools is a key issue for project managers. Read this sentence again and you will see that the real issue is the integration of collaboration tools in the tool-set at the disposal of the project manager. This, however, has got absolutely nothing to do with Social Medial

As to my earlier comments regarding the inaccuracy introduced by the PM Magazine, my challenge for them is simple. The authors of the PM Magazine article should either retract their comments or explain why, in their mind Social Media = Web 2.0, as even with the most lenient interpretation, Social Media would be considered to be a mere subset of the greater Web 2.0 application space. I would also be interested to know based on what specific questions and what specific responses did Elizabeth make the above conclusion.

One last comment. I am not particularly concerned about the introduction and/or use of Social Media tools in the workplace. If it makes sens and value can be derived from it then it is OK. My issue then is not with the technology, its introduction or its use. My specific problem is with the spread of misinformation claiming results, value and advantages that have not yet been observed, objectively, in real life situations. So when McKinsey and Co. publish a survey (provided they followed established scientific approach for conducting their survey) I don’t have a problem with their results. When they say that a large number of executives see Collaboration as a major organizational enabler, I’m happy. When, however, this survey is being manipulated to suggest that executives see social media as a major organizational enabler, I’ve got a problem. Blog authors, consultants and project managers have an ethical responsibility to present the facts (especially the numerical ones) and let the numbers speak for themselves.

What do you think?

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7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Shim Marom

  2. Pingback: Shim Marom

  3. Pingback: Shim Marom

  4. Pingback: Samad Aidane PMP

  5. Shim,

    Great job debunking claims about how social media is a major organizational enabler.

    After reading your post, I had to read both the McKinsey and the PM Network article.

    You are right that the McKinsey is looking at these Web 2.0 applications in the context of collaboration between a company’s internal staff and between a company and its customers and external partners/suppliers.

    I wonder how much of the confusion between the terms Web 2.0 and Social Media is attributed the use of terminology that has not been clearly defined. Often these two terms are used interchangeably. Your post makes it clear that there is a difference between Social Media and Web 2.0. Reading the McKinsey, they seem to agree with you. While they never mentioned the term “Social Media”, they do list Social Networking as one of twelve technologies of Web 2.0. But they never define which Social networking tools they have asked about in their Survey so that we can differentiate them from the other web 2.0 applications.

    Most importantly, as I read future studies about the impact of social media on organizations, I will ask are we talking about impact of collaboration tools or impact of Social Media tools.

    Reply

    • Hi Samad, thanks for your comment.

      I take your point regarding the possible lack of coherence in terms of where the boundaries lie between Web 2.0 and Social Media. You are quite right. I’ve been troubled by this issue for quite some time now as I’ve seen references to Social Media where it didn’t really belong there.

      My social observation (based on fair amount of published research – some of each summarized in some of my earlier posts) is that the delineation lies in generational differences. Similar to the PM 2.0 debate (that you will be quite familiar with by now :)) the proponents of the Social Media agenda will tend to be young professionals (‘young’ being a product of the early 1980’s) of whom the research suggests the social scene is a prime driver. If my interpretation is correct then this generation (I call them the twit-age) will equate Web 2.0 (being Collaboration) with Social Media. For them these terms are probably synonymous, hence the constant reference of Social Media where other terms might be more appropriate.

      Irrespective of the above discussion, we live in an exciting period with access to terrific technologies and capabilities. Let’s make sure we use them in the most valuable way.

      Cheers, Shim.

      Reply

  6. Great points Shim and Samad. I agree and summarize at least 2 conflations:

    collaboration tools social media
    social media marketing project/business management

    The McKinsey study is talking about social media for marketing and customer relations purposes, period. Why it’s being used in the PM Network article is confusing to me, and seems to be pure misrepresentation.

    The public vs private distinction seems to be a key issue to me as well. As soon as something is internal to an organization (like Yammer) it no longer seems to qualify as “social media” to my mind. At that point, it’s a communication tool.

    It’s why I had some cognitive dissonance going on when I presented with the PMI NMC last year in a collaborative presentation labeled with “social media” in the title. The part Bas, Cornelius and I did had nothing really to do with social media. It was about using tools over the internet to collaborate on projects together. (Back then however, I hadn’t really made much distinction between the terms “social media” and web-enabled collaboration tools.)

    Reply

    • Hi Josh, thanks for your comment. I like your observation regarding the distinction between public and private use of similar technologies. Absolutely makes sense. Social Networking is what you do at home (or during lunch time at the office :)) when you network with the world for personal purposes. When you use the same technology in a professional, business capacity, doing it as part of your job to advance your communication channels, it’s no longer Social Media, at which case it becomes another communication tool. Spot on!

      I recall the PMI NMC presentation (watched the clips over the internet) and agree with you (as I felt at the time) that your talks were really about collaboration, nothing to do with ‘Social Media’. It is unfortunate when hype takes over.

      Reply

  7. Something destroyed the symbols I used in that last comment, so let me restate:

    collaboration tools [does not equal] social media
    social media marketing [does not equal] project/business management

    Reply

  8. Pingback: Shim Marom

  9. Shim,

    “twit-age”. Hahaha!!! Love it!!!

    Let’s call this group “generation T”.

    Reply

  10. Shim,

    You can download a .pdf of my entire study here: http://www.pm4girls.elizabeth-harrin.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/SocialMediaSurveyResults.pdf

    The question I asked to get that answer was: “I think that social media and enterprise collaboration tools are a key issue for project managers in 2010.” 70 people strongly agreed, 90 agreed, 38 were neutral, 17 disagreed and 5 strongly disagreed.

    So I would argue that the assessment of the survey results was correct! What I think you are suggesting is that social media and enterprise collaboration tools should never have been bundled together. Enterprise collaboration tools do incorporate social media features and I think this is a trend that will continue. I was more interested in establishing how ‘new’ tools are being adopted in the workplace as distinct from the old toolset of email and MS Project, which is why I didn’t make the distinction.

    Reply

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