Over the years I’ve read articles and analysis reports dealing with the role that the media plays in the process of creating news. The issue is about the role the media plays in creating pubic hype around a particular subject. This can be done to promote a particular idea, call for a certain action or activity, or, generally, fashion public opinion towards a desired outcome.
The reason I’m mentioning this known phenomena is because over the past few months, as I’ve become more involved in discussions taking place in a number of Project Management blogs, I’ve come across what seems to me to be a (well run yet uncoordinated) campaign aimed at promoting certain ideas, for which (at least to my mind) there is no real or credible corroborating evidence.
If you haven’t guessed by now – the focus of my (yet to be detailed) whinging is “SOCIAL MEDIA” or more specifically what I perceive as being misinformation and to some degree also disinformation regarding the role that Social Media plays in the business context generally and in Project Management specifically.
As points of reference I would like to mention two recent articles posted in two separate blogs, one being a post by Todd Williams, titled “The ITSuccess TweetJam“; the other being a study published by Elizabeth Harrin, titled “Social Media in a Project Environment“.
The TweetJam Noise factor
Imagine the following scenario:
- You are in the board room with a VERY large executive table,
- fifty seven people (yes 57!) sit around the table
- the meeting starts and all 57 people start talking to each other and, oh, by the way, each exchange is limited to 140 characters
- after seventy (70) minutes the meeting comes to an end
- you tally the number of messages transmitted around the table and you realize that all together there were 420 exchanges
- quick calculation (option #1) – 70 minutes and 420 exchanges = one exchange every nine (9) seconds.
When I imagine anything like the above, the first word that comes to my mind is NOISE. This is an inefficient and ineffective use of people’s time with the likelihood of being able to adequately and methodically ANY topic is practically zero. In fact, I’m fairly confident that any person with a fairly average level of intelligence would immediately agree that the above scenario cannot be seen as being conducive to resulting in a valuable outcome.
Right? WRONG, as here comes Twitter and, as Twitter is a Social Media tool, and by extension it is a positively-contributing-collaboration-tool, a scenario not much different from that which was described above, can be reinterpreted as being a successfully coordinated interaction with smashing success. Let’s see how this was done:
- You are in front of your PC and you are taking part in a TweetJam
- fifty seven other people (yes 57!) take part in the TweetJam
- the TweetJam starts and all 57 people start tweeting to each other and, naturally, each exchange is limited to 140 characters
- after seventy (70) minutes the TweetJam comes to an end
- you tally the number of Tweets sent during the TweetJam and come up with 420 Tweets
- quick calculation (option #1) – 70 minutes and 420 Tweets= one Tweet every nine (9) seconds.
I’ve raised my concerns regarding the effectiveness of such a method in achieving any successful outcome in comments I made to the original post (see link above). I was surprise that of all the comments made mine was the only one concerned about the noise levels of such uncoordinated and synchronized discussion. But that’s not the important point here. The thing that really got me worried was the realization that for the multitude of people (all 57 of them) who took part in this uncontrolled concert, this seemed like the right thing to do, as they were using a tool which is now mandated by recent “Social Media Specialists” as being the ‘in’ thing to use.
I will deal with the Social Media Specialists in a minute as they deserve an honorary mention here. But back to the TweetJam. If you read Todd’s article and the comments added later on you will see that this social experiment was attended by a fairly intelligent or, at least, well educated crowd. To think that none of the 57 attendees managed to step back from the hype and realize that there are much better ways in which information can be exchanged, besides using Twitter is, well, a concern.
It seems to me that the reason 57 highly educated individuals exhibit a crowd behavior similar to that described in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is because they are genuinely convinced, based on information and analysis distributed by Social Media Specialists that “using social media is not only good for you but it is what everybody else is doing – so you may as well do it as well if you don’t want to be left behind“.
Social Media Disinformation
So, let’s examine the facts:
The PM Magazine published an article where, amongst the other facts, figures and interpretations brought up, 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”. As I’ve shown in an earlier post, this assertion is completely wrong as it is inaccurately represents the real study’s results.
So what does the McKinsey study actually say. Quite correctly, the McKinsey study understands that there is a vast conceptual difference between Social Media and any serious aspects of Collaboration. As such the study was set to investigate how companies are benefiting from Web 2.0. The answer, not surprising, was that companies that made use of Web 2.0 technologies were able to generate substantial and measurable business benefits.
Correlating the McKinsey study with the PM Magazine article demonstrates how the Social Media campaign is skewing results in order to promote their agenda.
Another study, published by Elizabeth Harrin, reaches similar conclusions to the ones published in the PM Magazine. In her study, Elizabeth identified 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.” Contrary to what Elizabeth says, I suspect that 70% of the respondents believe (as I do) that the use of enterprise collaboration tools is a key issue for project managers.
The Social Media Fab
Elizabeth’s survey suffers from the same methodological problems exhibited by the PM Magazine article. Creating a vagueness around the use of terms allows mixing up vastly different concepts where any interpretations, irrespective of how ludicrous and illogical they are, are allowed, while presenting them under the pretext of a semi scientifically accepted research.
This is where the analogy I make in this post’s title to the impact of the Placebo Effect becomes apparent. Some people mistakenly get confused between what they WANT and what they KNOW. They want, for whatever reason, Social Media to be a prominent feature in businesses and project management to the point where they become absolutely certain that this is in fact the truth. And as we know from other aspects of life, If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.