I’m not going to muck around with this one so I’ll say it up-front. My view (and I feel rather strongly about it) is that Social Networking is not positively contributing to proper Project communication. My conviction that this strong belief of mine is shared by most, if not all, fellow professionals has eroded somewhat in recent months after I’ve read a number of blog articles, each of which promoting some aspects of social media and social networking.
The straw that broke the camel’s back (metaphorically speaking) was a recent post by Derek Huether (from The Critical Path) where he elaborated on the following concept:
From our PMP Exam we know that the number of communication paths in a project is [N(N-1)]/2. Now, we all agree that communication is an important (if not crucial) aspect of project management. We also agree that knowledge accumulation is conducive to increased innovation and is paramount for correct decision making process. We can therefore conclude that by initiating and conducting large amounts of communication, provided that this is attentive communication (i.e. we actually listen and absorb the content of that communication) must result in positive results.
There is already a growing body of knowledge, supported by recent research papers, that not only ‘social networking attitude’ is on the rise but its true impact is yet to be realized.
- A December 2009 study by Helen Hodgetts of the University of Cardiff in the UK warns that “Email notifications and instant messages all cause a break in focus of the task in hand, even if they are attended to only very briefly”. “Hodgetts and co-author Dylan Jones found that even a five second interruption caused people to take longer than normal to complete the next step in a simple seven-step computer task.”
- A 2009 study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and which was set to explore the use of media by young people (age 8 to 18 – born between 1991 – 2001) has found out (amongst other things) that Young people were found to devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to daily media use (an increase of 20% from an earlier study conducted in 2004 – in which it was found that the time spent on media use was 6 hours and 21 minutes). The study further found that the level of multi-tasking (i.e. a combined use of varying modes of media simultaneously [for example, watching the TV, while at the same time browsing the net and sending a text message]) has increased from 26% in 2004 to 29% in 2009.
- A 2008 Accenture study made the observation that people who were born between 1977 and 1997 (corresponding roughly with Generation Y) expect their employers to respect their IT preferences, including their computers and applications and that employees in the above age group would show a preference to use instant messaging, text messaging, and RSS feeds to communicate with their clients and customers. The study further found that over a quarter of the employees surveyed use technology that is unsupported and unsanctioned by their employer. Amongst Gen Y employees, almost half reported that they use social networks, blogs, or Twitter without having their IT departments’ approval.
There are a number of basic and self explanatory risks associated with the growing proliferation of social media and social networking. These are:
- The development of bad time management attitudes, associated specifically with over reliance on multi-tasking.
- An apparent lack of adherence to corporate policies regarding the use of corporate mandated application and communication protocols.
- Inefficient use of management time on non-productive communication approach.
I’d like to finish off with explaining why I believe the approach outlined above, regarding the utilisation of a large number of communication path to increase effective project communication is flawed.
The reasoning is simple. If there are 200 people in your communication network this will equate, using the formula above, to 19,900 communication paths. So, using the Twitter example of having 200 contacts, if they each send one message to all other contacts, you will enjoy the wisdom spread over just under 20,000 messages.
Let’s think about this prospect for a minute. If reading each of these messages took you only one second, how much time will you need to invest in order to review all these messages?
19,900 messages / 60 seconds / 60 minutes = 5.5 hours!!!
Got that? With just one second per message, you will need to invest 5.5 hours to review all messages in your communication path. That’s not quite realistic though, is it? So let’s assume you spend, on an average 10 seconds per message. Got the point? With 200 contacts and 19,900 messages, with 10 seconds required to properly review, absorb and internalize each message, the amount of time required will be staggering 55 hours!!!
Tom Davenport of the Harvard Business Review has a wonderful post about the suggestion (inferred from a couple of recent studies) that the content of social media is trivial at best. In another excellent post he speculates about the contribution (or in fact, the lack) of Social Media to the decline of our civilization. The reality is, and arguing against it based on solid facts would be difficult to do, that it is hard (if not plain impossible) to gain much from the clutter of information (and mis-information) stored in the millions of Twitter messages floating in cyberspace. Anyone trying to convince you otherwise ought to provide hard, objective and measurable evidence to substantiate their claims.
Did I mention already that as far as I’m concerned Social Networking is not positively contributing to proper Project communication?
Have a great week.