Is social media relevant for programme management?
- White Paper
- Programme management
- Digital transformation
August 20, 2020 |
25 min read
- White Paper
- Programme management
- Digital transformation
One of the key components of successful programme management is communication. Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) provides a range of advice in this area, particularly around leadership, stakeholder engagement and the communications plan.
Communicating using a wide variety of social media tools has become the norm in the modern world. These include Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. However, many MSP practitioners struggle to leverage the benefits of social media within their programmes. Faced with technical security constraints and legislation around data protection and personal privacy, they resign themselves to using drier and less engaging channels such as email or text-based internet sites.
This guidance paper will explore the benefits of using social media for programme management. It will show that such tools create far greater engagement between stakeholders and those directing and managing the programme. It will show how communicating using rich media such as video, sound and images can be far more effective than using purely text-based tools such as documents and emails.
The reader will be guided through the many different types of social media and collaboration tools currently available and explain which types are best used for which purposes. We will explore how to navigate the data protection and privacy legislation so that social media can be used in a compliant and safe way by the programme management team. It will also explore how to mitigate security risks when using social media. Engaging stakeholders on the journey through a programme is a key criterion for successful initiatives.
Why use social media in programme management?
The term social media is heavily connected with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To some extent, these products are used in a workplace setting, particularly when an organization needs to interact with, or market products to, a large consumer base. But for most of us, platforms like Facebook and Instagram are used to share photographs of our holidays and pets with families and friends rather than used as a serious business tool. So, is social media relevant for programme management?
I would argue yes. Firstly, the features that services such as Facebook provide would be useful in a programme setting. Functions which allow connecting and conversing with a wide group of geographically dispersed people would be ideal for engaging with programme stakeholders. Secondly, although maybe Facebook and Instagram are not generally suitable for programme management there are many business versions of these platforms which could be very useful, for example LinkedIn, Microsoft’s Yammer and Teams, Zoom, Google’s Currents and Facebook’s Workplace. I am going to avoid using the term ‘social media’ and, instead, use the more appropriate term ‘business collaboration platforms’.
Before looking at the features and benefits of particular business collaboration platforms, I will explore some of the overall benefits that such platforms provide for programme management.
2.1 Better engagement
One of the common messages throughout the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) guidance is the importance of stakeholder engagement. Business collaboration platforms tend to use rich forms of communication which are ideal for engagement. Rich channels enable communication through multiple cues. For example, if I read an email I can only interpret the message using the text, whereas if I see someone talking through that text they are also communicating via cues such as tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. According to Daft and Langel in their book, ‘Information richness, A New Approach to Managerial Behaviour and Organizational Design’, rich communication also allows for quick feedback, the use of natural language and a personal focus. Whereas lean communication (documents and emails) is useful for agreeing specific situations, rich communication excels in helping us to build relationships with others and engage and influence people in our ideas. PRINCE2 Agile’s rich communication focus area has an excellent discussion weighing up the benefits of rich versus lean communication and when one is more appropriate than another.
When programme teams engage with each other they are building up (what Jeffrey D Sachs called in his World Happiness Report) social capital. Social capital measures the quality of interpersonal relationships within a group. Groups of people with high social capital trust each other more, are more open and likely to support each other. High social capital is often difficult to achieve when programme teams and stakeholders are spread out across multiple locations. Business collaboration platforms can help increase social capital amongst diverse groups of people by making them more productive, collaborative, more likely to share knowledge, and to become more engaged and supportive of the programme.
Programmes bring about change, and one of the key challenges for any programme team is overcoming people’s natural resistance to change. The high social capital and the high levels of engagement provided by business collaboration platforms will help to lower resistance to changes and so help to embed new ways of working more quickly and effectively.
2.2 Easier to communicate vision
One of the most important things to communicate in any programme is the vision. A good vision inspires stakeholders to buy-in to the programme’s aims and helps to align all the programme’s activities toward a common direction. With their range of rich data formats, business collaboration platforms are an ideal way to communicate vision. Visions can be communicated using vision statements, imagery, sound, and video. For example, the Port of London Authority in their Thames 2035 programme, created aerial fly-by videos of the river to help communicate one of the core ideas of the programme: multiple stakeholders working together for an economic, prosperous and environmentally friendly water way.
There is always a danger that visions become too abstract and disconnected from the challenges people face at a more practical day-to-day level. Once again business collaboration platforms can help, as early adopters use the platforms to share experiences and anecdotes showing how they have applied the ideas of the programme. Hopefully, this will help others to see the practical benefits the strategic vision could have for their area of operation.
2.3 Broader reach
If programme management teams choose the right business collaboration platforms, they can substantially increase their communication reach. Reach is a measure of how many stakeholders and how many different types of stakeholders are receiving programme communication. Business collaboration platforms can cut through the silos and hierarchy of an organization and join up different country units.
To increase reach, programme management teams should try to use platforms which already have an established audience. It is no use adopting a brand new platform only to find everyone is using another incumbent tool. Also, in order to increase engagement between upper and lower parts of an organization, programme teams need to encourage senior stakeholders to regularly use the platforms. This latter point can be difficult to achieve. Senior stakeholders need to be persuaded that the more they communicate using the chosen platforms, the more these platforms will be used by the wider organization. The programme management office could help in this regard, by regularly placing senior management communiques from more traditional channels (such as email) and putting them on the chosen business collaboration platforms.
2.4 Creates two-Way communication
Throughout the MSP guidance there is continued stress on the importance of two-way communication and stakeholder engagement.
Business collaboration platforms are excellent two-way communication channels. This is not only true amongst small groups of people, where two-way interaction is fairly easy, but also true when talking with large groups. Business collaboration platforms allow programme teams to have a conversation with the entire organization, which is not possible either in person or via more traditional tools (such as email).
How do business collaboration platforms encourage two-way conversations?
Well, consider a situation in the non-digital world where senior management are making an announcement to employees in a large company meeting. In this forum, no matter how much senior management might ask for them, people often feel intimidated to ask questions or give feedback. Put this situation into a digital context, where people can ask questions (via their microphone or via a text chat feature), and people are far more forthcoming. As well as these large digital ‘town hall’ type meetings, some business collaboration platforms provide a newsfeed feature. Programme teams can post regular news items onto the feed where users can then comment and discuss them. Finally, many business collaboration tools allow programme management teams to poll and survey organizational opinions and test the effectiveness of their communication efforts.
However, opening a programme up to more two-way communication can be a challenge. MSP points out that ‘feedback may sometimes be negative, impractical or harshly critical’. Programme teams will need to consider how to respond, whilst at the same time communicating a positive message about the programme.
Programme teams need to be aware that in the digital world people expect very quick responses. There are multiple horror stories of organizations trying to communicate with the general public using platforms such as Twitter. For example, a train company used Twitter to tweet announcements about their service. However, one evening, a train broke down causing multiple delays and people went onto Twitter demanding to know what was happening. Unfortunately, the train company was not monitoring social media and they did not get round to responding until several days later. In these situations, using these platforms correctly often involves resourcing a near 24-hour monitoring team trained to instantly reply to the (often emotive) questions raised.
Another benefit of the two-way communication created on business collaboration platforms is it helps programme management teams get a deeper understanding of stakeholders. The programme team will then be able to create better profiles and categorizations of stakeholders, thus helping them tailor communication and engagement to different groups of people.
2.5 Helps to create social knowledge bases
There are various reasons that programme teams may need to build up repositories of information and knowledge connected to the programmes. For example, programmes might require training materials for new products or services, induction materials for people joining the programme teams or knowledge on lessons learned. Through features such as wikis and forums, business collaboration platforms allow users to work together to build up this knowledge and then allow a user-friendly way to access and search the repository later.
What are business collaboration platforms?
Previously, I looked at the overall benefits that business collaboration platforms provide. In this section, I will describe in more detail the features of such platforms and what benefits each one brings to a programme situation.
3.1 Core features of business collaboration platforms
Each business collaboration platform on the market provides a wide range of features. The following are the most common and useful ones along with some example products:
- Social networking: connect with multiple people and share information (LinkedIn, Microsoft Yammer, Facebook Workplace and Google Currents).
- Groups: share information with common interest groups (Microsoft Teams, Slack and Google Hangouts).
- Newsfeed: a rolling feed of information that everyone within a group or social network can both see and contribute to (Microsoft Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Workplace and Google Currents).
- Conversation: groups have an ongoing mainly text based conversation around topics of interest. (Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Slack).
- Broadcast: Broadcast live or recorded streams of content to an audience (Adobe Connect, Stream, Yahoo Live!, Qik, Justin.tv and upstream.tv).
- Meeting rooms: create a virtual meeting room where attendees communicate over live video streams and can share files, presentation slides, their computer desktops and collaborate around virtual whiteboards (Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Slack and Webex).
- Knowledge bases: groups of people collaborate to build knowledge bases using online forums, wiki’s and blogs (LinkedIn Groups, Microsoft Sharepoint and Wordpress).
- File sharing: allows multiple users to access and work with a shared repository of digital files. (Microsoft Sharepoint, One Drive, Google Drive and DropBox).
- Online surveys: create polls and online questionnaires to assess a community’s opinions. (LinkedIn, Microsoft Yammer and Survey Monkey).
- Calendars: share calendars and coordinate meetings and tasks (Microsoft Outlook and Google calendar).
- Project and group task tracking: collaborate to create plans of work. (Trello, Microsoft Planner and JIRA).
Choosing a platform
The last section helps the programme management team understand the range of features that business collaboration tools can provide for programme communication. However, many of the platforms available in the marketplace today, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, have a collection of very similar features. This can make it very difficult for a programme management team to decide which platform to use and when to use it. A simple way to answer this question is to categorize programme management work into three groups and identify the types of tools suiting each category.
Are you working mainly on your own?
In this situation, a member of the programme management team might be creating reports, maintaining programme documents or preparing for key programme meetings. They need tools which will help them to organize their thoughts in notes and documents, track their diaries and task lists. Business collaboration platforms (such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox) help store their files securely. Even though they are working on their own, there will come a point when they need to collaborate with others, so all these platforms allow them to share files. Also, they will need to communicate via email platforms (Microsoft Outlook or Google Mail) and schedule meetings through platforms such as Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar.
Are you working in a small-to-medium sized team?
In this category, groups of around two to twenty-five people work together. This could be teams such as the programme’s sponsoring group, the programme board, a project team or a business change manager and change agents working within an organizational domain. They will want to hold virtual meeting using platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Zoom. They will want to talk using the conversation features in platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack. They will want to share files together using platforms such as Microsoft Sharepoint and Google Team Drive. They will want to collaborate on projects using platforms such as Trello, Microsoft Planner and JIRA to allocate and track tasks.
Are you working with large groups of people?
In this category the programme team could be engaging with people outside the organization who will be impacted by the initiative. This is a relevant category for large scale programmes which have a significant environmental or public impact such as health care programmes, new rail, road or airport infrastructure programmes or country wide programmes such as the Olympics games. Here the programme team have little or no influence on the choice of platform.
They must choose whichever platform is already in widespread usage amongst the sort of people they want to communicate with.
For example, LinkedIn is used widely in the business community, Facebook tends to be used more amongst people in their 30s to 60s whereas younger audiences tend to use platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat. This category would also cover the situation when the programme takes place in a large organization. Here tools such as Microsoft Yammer, Facebook Workplace and Google Currents help programme teams engage with the whole organization.
The challenges of using business collaboration platforms
Although business collaboration platforms bring many benefits to programme management, they also bring many challenges. In this section I will explore some of these key challenges and discuss how a savvy programme management team can mitigate the risks that these challenges may bring to an initiative.
4.1 Security and data privacy challenges
If programme management teams start to conduct large parts of programme communication via digital platforms, they must realize that this may expose their organizations to a range of security and data privacy risks. However, with sensible advice available in larger organizations (from IT and information security departments) plus an awareness of the threats, these risks can be mitigated to an acceptable level.
Below is a list of some of the common security and data privacy risks associated with business collaboration platforms. Programme teams can use this list as a starting point to develop their own risk register. This article, however, does not purport to give a full guide to security and data privacy. I would recommend seeking expert advice in this area, particularly for programmes involving highly sensitive information, or a large collection of stakeholders.
- Public-facing or uncontrolled platform risk: I have already discussed how programmes, particularly large ones, might utilize existing platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) to engage the public or wider business/industry community. Programme management teams need to be careful not to expose confidential material on such platforms. They also need to be aware that people expect quick response times to queries and if they do not receive them the profile of the programme can be negatively impacted.
- Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) risk: many business collaboration platforms can be accessed across multiple types of devices: PC’s laptops, tablets and smartphones. People may use their unsecure personal devices to access confidential data.
- Cloud storage risk: data stored in the cloud may be physically stored in a data centre in a country with poor security measures or data protection legislation. Programme management teams can mitigate against this threat by ensuring platforms follow strict cloud storage rules such as those set out by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA).
- Phishing risk: malign agents impersonate a trusted company or individual to gain access to sensitive information.
- Malware risk: malware installs itself onto a computer with all sorts of destructive effects.
- Hacking risk: programme teams need to ensure that business collaboration platforms follow the appropriate security standards. For example, Secure Real Time Protocol is a network protocol which uses encryption and authentication to help protect data.
- Weak authentication risk: strong authentication, like a strong locked door for a house, is essential to prevent unauthorized access onto a business collaboration platform. This can take many forms, such as a letter from a secret code word, a one-time passcode (OTP) that has been sent to a user’s phone, or some biometric data such as a fingerprint or retina scan.
- Data privacy fines: with the introduction of new legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), there are now large fines for organizations not complying to data privacy best practice.
Along with the mitigation ideas above, providing training for programme teams is another way of mitigating the security and data privacy risks of business collaboration platforms. Potential users need to be educated in areas such as:
- What is confidential information and which platforms are suitable for sharing confidential information?
- What are their data privacy rights and what constitutes personal information?
- What legislation (such as GDPR) and also industry or country specific legislation applies to using business collaboration platforms?
- What do malign activities look like and how to avoid being the target of attacks such as phishing, malware and spam?
4.2 The challenges of user generated content
Many business collaboration platforms (such as Microsoft Yammer and Google Currents) allow anyone with access to the system to generate their own content. As we have already seen, this has many benefits: it increases stakeholder engagement and creates a two-way communication channel. However, programme management teams are essentially giving up a large degree of control over what is said about their programme. Anyone with an axe to grind can put negative feedback on the platform.
This can be particularly challenging for organizations with a culture heavily swayed to top-down control. Indeed, in these organizations there may be considerable resistance to using business collaboration platforms. The idea of letting anyone from the organization criticize upper management initiatives may be initially rejected. The programme management team may need to slowly roll out collaboration platforms and help upper management strike the right balance between allowing more open, unmoderated discussions versus controlling and rejecting inappropriate communication.
One phenomenon often seen in the digital world is that people behave differently than their normal “real life” personas. For most people, typing harsh, negative comments on a device is much easier to do than saying those same things face-to-face. One way to control this is to create a set of guidelines regarding what is appropriate and inappropriate online conduct.
The challenges above shows the need for content moderation. Programme management teams need to decide what sort of content needs to be moderated. At the very least, content that breaks legislation or security policies should be moderated.
But what should teams do about misinformation or unfair criticism? The approach could range from being very controlling (take it down) to mildly controlling (challenge the content online). It is quite likely that the organization will already have a code of conduct that will need to be followed or adapted.
Keeping user-generated content focused on the aims of the programme can be another challenge and the communication process should ensure that expectations do not drift out of line with what will be delivered. This is another focus for both those with moderation roles and leaders within the programme. Managing daily communication rests within the programme manager’s remit but the senior responsible owner is accountable for its overall performance.
There is often a ‘chicken or egg’ causality dilemma for newly established platforms. No one visits the platform because no one is publishing any content on it. Programme management teams may need to get the ball rolling by starting to publish useful information and essential announcements on the platform. Encouraging senior management to use the platforms regularly may also encourage other people to use it. Some people may find the digital tools difficult to use, so user training could help with this challenge.
4.3 The challenge of ongoing monitoring and administration
With the last two sections, you start to realize that there is an ongoing need to monitor and administer business collaboration platforms. These platforms are not just a one-off cost, where you just pay to buy and install them; resources need to be put aside to maintain these platforms across the life of the programme. This ongoing role would cover a range of areas such as:
- Setting up permissions and rights for data access.
- Setting up authentication usernames and passwords.
- Ongoing moderation of user-generated content.
- Creating ongoing content.
- Responding to queries and questions about the programme posted on digital platforms.
There responsibilities may sit within the programme office and/or the organization’s information or IT departments.
Creating an MSP stakeholder engagement approach
Over the course of this guidance paper I have explored the benefits of using business collaboration platforms, the different types of available platforms, when each type should be used and how programme management teams can overcome the challenges that these platforms bring. All these topics should be considered by a programme management team and the output of that analysis should form the basis of approach showing how they will use business collaboration platforms to engage the programme’s stakeholders. The best place for this approach is within the wider stakeholder engagement approach provided within the MSP framework. For a full understanding of this approach, I would recommend reading the Managing Successful Programmes core guidance manual.
However, for the purpose of this paper, it is enough to know that this approach answers the question, “How will the programme effectively communicate and engage with the stakeholders?”
When putting the stakeholder engagement approach together the programme management team should consider the organization’s maturity and capability in using such platforms and assess which platforms are already in use in the organization. This knowledge will guide the team as they put the approach together. With regards to business collaboration platforms, the approach should cover topics such as:
- Which platforms will be used on the programme and for what purpose?
- Which standards and legislation will business collaboration platforms need to comply with?
- For example, data privacy standards such as GDPR, industry legislation or organizational guidelines on confidential information.
- What training will be needed for new users of the systems?
- What resource will be needed to support and administer the platforms?
- This work might include IT, security, moderation, governance, editorial and who will deliver key messages via the platforms.
- How to measure the success of communication on the platforms?
The last point deserves a little more expansion. Measuring successful communication and engagement via business collaboration platforms should be aligned to measuring the overall programme communication effort. This could take many forms. For example, any good programme management team will regularly measure stakeholder’s understanding of the programme’s objectives, perhaps by surveying stakeholders on their understanding of the programme’s vision and key objectives. Business collaboration platforms provide a method for doing this. As already discussed, some platforms such as Microsoft Yammer and Survey Monkey, provide survey and polling features. Reviewing comments posted on platforms can also help a programme team gain an understanding of the current level of support or resistance to the programme.
More direct measures can be taken of the success of using business collaboration platforms. For example, programme teams can measure the number of log-ons to the systems or the number of comments posted or the amount of time spent online. Many collaboration platforms have ways of generating analytical reports to show product usage.
Overall, it is essential that the programme management team treat business collaboration platforms as just one part of their stakeholder engagement approach and integrate it careful with the rest of their communication and engagement efforts. Like all communication tools, there needs to be a careful cost benefit analysis of using collaboration platforms.
I am writing this article amid the COVID19 pandemic. The virus has had a profound effect on our world but it has also forced many programme management teams along with their organizations to confront long held prejudices and beliefs against using such business collaboration platforms and start to realize how beneficial they can be. This rush to digitize communication has not come without problems and an example of this is the widespread news story concerning the Zoom platform. As Zoom was not originally designed for confidential business meetings, organizations have found their discussions “zoom bombed” as uninvited guests appear.
Although, it is unfair to feature Zoom as an example as they have responded well and have updated their systems quickly to fill security loop holes, but it does show that programme management teams need to consider the risks as well as the benefits of using the platforms discussed in this article. However, as I have hopefully shown in this paper, business collaboration platforms and social media have the potential to provide programme management teams with far great engagement with their stakeholders, lessen resistance to their initiatives and substantially improve the likelihood of programme success.
About the Author
David Hinde has worked with PRINCE2 for over twenty years. He has delivered a range of large-scale projects using the method for clients such as the Department of Education, the BBC, and Islington Borough Council. He has taught leadership and management skills including PRINCE2 for over ten years, working with Learning Tree and delivering training to attendees from a range of organizations such as Deloitte and Touche and NATO. He has worked in a large range of cultural environments across many different industries, organizational types, and countries. He is the author of the PRINCE2 Study Guide published in 2011 by Wiley and The Project Manager and the Pyramid published by Orgtopia in 2017.
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