Recent Social Media related articles have made me slightly nauseous. I’m a fairly sceptic sort of guy and I have great difficulties swallowing unsubstantiated fibs. Having said that, if evidence was to emerge, substantiating claims I previously rejected, I will be happy and willing to re-examine my position and adjust it accordingly. So, to summarize, although I am fairly sceptic, I’m also very much open minded.

I have made an elaborate effort, in past posts, to clarify the situation regarding the perceived rate of projects’ failure. This issue, alongside sporadic incarnations of the PM 2.0 claim, seem to have died out for now, a sign that the hype around them has somewhat dissipated. 

The hype around ‘Social Media’ however seems to have only gained further momentum:

A recent article in HarvardBusiness.Org titled “Social Media’s Leadership Challenge” seems to suggest that a) Social Media contains a commercial promise; and b) For this promised to be realized, strong leadership with social media skills are required. 

I’m not going to elaborate on how trivial the above statements are, as I hope that’s plain obvious. So I’ll move on to another component of that article where it states that “one of the most interesting findings in our research is that adoption of social media doesn’t always add to the companies’ competitive advantage”. 

I suggest you pause for a minute and let the above statement permeate in your brain, as what it suggests is that the hype cannot actually be substantiated and that, despite the books, articles and blogs hysterically promoting the Social Media concept, the real world is yet to be convinced

Lo and behold, another article published in Social Media Strategy titled “But I Don’t Wanna Change” has the following to say: 

Whether we like it or not, social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with other people. For some that change has been exciting for others it has been exhausting, but for anyone engaged in social media, they have already accomplished one thing – they have changed their behavior.” 

Please kick me if I got this thing wrong but who are we to determine that a change of behavior is a good thing? In fact if you told me that someone you know changed his/her behavior,the only thing I would be able to assume is that their current behavior is different to what it was before. No other value judgement could be applied as nothing in that piece of information was indicative of the nature of the change.  Taking this one step forward, celebrating the fact that people have started engaging in Social Media is a premature celebration as it should be obvious to any thinking person (aka Homo sapiens) that Social Media could be used both in a positive and a negative way.

I’ve seen Social Media used in a ridiculously wasteful way, riding on the hype wagon, providing people with tools that distract them from their real jobs and reducing them to multi-tasking chatter machines.

Social Media (just like the PM 2.0 promise) is a collective term for a set of tools and technologies that could be used, if appropriate to address certain business problems. Just because some consultants (having finished promoting other buzz terms) have taken it upon themselves to adopt car-sales techniques and advice you of how great these tools could be for your organization, does not mean that you need to rush in and take their words for it. The fact is that “adoption of social media doesn’t always add to the companies’ competitive advantage” so be careful and do your math before you commit your IT budget to this cause.

Think about it!

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27. April 2010 · 5 comments · Categories: Social Media · Tags:

A newsflash published by Slashdot mentions an article in the IBTimes where it is referring to the findings of a research done by researchers at the University of Maryland. The researchers “asked 200 students to give up all media for one full day (and) found that after 24 hours many showed signs of withdrawal, craving and anxiety along with an inability to function well without their media and social links”.

I have a clear and unambiguous opinion regarding the real penetration of serious social media in the workplace. Using Twitter and Facebook is by no mean a substitute for serious and main stream modes of communication. Having read the results of the above research I seriously wonder whether the results published by various Social-Media-Proponents reflect hype associated with a similar crowd associated with the above study.

In other words, the results obtained in previously published studies, are a mere reflection of the attitudes shown in the Maryland study, which suggests that they are a reflection of an addictive attitude towards the use of Social Media, rather than a serious consideration of the usefulness and appropriateness of using these tool-sets in the corporate environment!

Makes perfect sense to me!

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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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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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