17. April 2010 · 3 comments · Categories: Social Media · Tags:

imageOver 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.image

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.

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  8. Shim,

    ‘Social media’ is a misunderstood and overused term – and I expect I’m as guilty of that as the next person. What I wanted to make clear in my study is that it looked at ways of collaboration using technology, which is why I specifically included enterprise collaboration tools. The McKinsey study talks about Web 2.0 and I would argue that social media tools are a sub-set of Web 2.0. Many enterprise collaboration tools include ‘social media’-like features including Twitter-style comments and wikis. I’m particularly interested in the business benefit that all sorts of computer-mediated collaboration offers to project management, so I’m tool agnostic. I’m sorry if the title of my paper was misleading: “Social Media and Enterprise Collaboration Tools in a Project Environment” seemed a bit long.

    You say that “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 question I asked was about ‘social media and enterprise collaboration tools’ so I think you’re suggesting that I asked the wrong question and should have split out social media and enterprise collaboration, not that I drew the wrong conclusion. 35% of respondents reported using a wiki for business purposes, and 24% use blogs, so I would argue that at least some of those 70% have an opinion on social media tools.

    I hope in the .pdf of the study results I have been as transparent as possible about the questions asked and the conclusions drawn. I have included breakdowns of the answers given so that people can draw their own conclusions, as you have done.


    • Hi Elizabeth, thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

      We can argue about the numbers and their interpretation. The key issue I have with your study is that it inadvertently prolongs the continuous confusion between Social Media tool and Collaboration / web 2.0 tools. I wholeheartedly agree with your assertion that social media tools are a subset of web 2.0 but the analogy implied from that assertion cannot be stretched to the point where the two get discussed as almost being synonymous to each other.

      The Web 2.0 paradigm contains a number of overlapping sets, two of which will be Collaboration Tools and Social Media Tools. Some tools will belong to only one of these circles, while others will belong into both. The distinction between which set a particular tool should belong is (admittedly) arbitrary, but care should be given to ensuring that analysis of responses takes into account the obvious delineation that exists between the various tools.

      Just as an example, SharePoint is clearly NOT a Social Media tool. Your study suggests that 48% of respondents use Microsoft SharePoint. This finding in itself says nothing about the level of acceptance of Social Media tools in the workforce.

      A similar point can be raised regarding the findings related to the use of LinkedIn. LinkedIn, by definition, is a networking tool, where the distinction between business and personal use is fairly blurred. I use LinkedIn fairly regularly and by the virtue of the tool being a professional networking tool, making a distinction between the ‘business use’ and the ‘personal use’ is almost irrelevant and fairly ambiguous. So, again, suggesting that the level of LinkedIn usage for business purposes can be interpreted as an adoption of Social Media tools in the business world is incorrect.

      Finally, I certainly agree with you assessment that the question regarding the ‘social media and enterprise collaboration tools’ should have been asked differently. Joining the two together is exactly the sort of problem I was trying to allude to in the first place. By joining these concepts together we create an expectation that the two reflect a similar and even identical paradigm, while, clearly it is not.


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  11. Hi Shim
    I think we have a different view of what constitutes social media. I agree that SharePoint is not a social media tool, but it does have wiki functionality, and wikis are a social media construct (in my opinion), hence I felt justified in including it in the study. LinkedIn is a social networking tool and I think many people agree with my interpretation that it is social media. I agree that the distinction between personal use and business use for that site is vague – that distinction was in there mainly for other tools; it was more relevant for things like Facebook and Twitter. However, I fundamentally disagree that the level of LinkedIn usage for business purposes cannot be interpreted as an adoption of social media in the business world.

    The fact that business people are using social networking tools to link to people when previously swapping business cards fulfilled the same function I believe proves that there has been an adoption of social media for business use.


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