There is more to ensuring the success of a project than collecting actuals and checking for resource overallocations. Putting faces on the people assigned to the tasks in your project is often forgotten in the maze of software functionality.

Tweeting, facebooking, blogging, and the rest may seem like unbillable downtime — even if the subject matter is work related. But people are beginning to appreciate the extent to which non-work related social bantering improves morale, and thus productivity — just as much as feeling invested in a project does. Some might even see how the two are dependent on each other.

Social networking tools also help a company uncover hidden knowledge that has difficulty surfacing through normal conversations, corporate web sites, and email. And when the hidden knowledge is surfaced through social networking, it tends to stay surfaced and not disappear when team members move on.

Tip: Make sure there’s documentation in place (such as a blog or wiki) that explains which social tools should be used, which accounts or profiles to use, how to use the tools, when to use the tools, and what type of content should be posted and not posted. You probably don’t want dozens of questions about basic social site usage flooding your email. And you definitely don’t want team members spilling corporate secrets and other sensitive matters across the social airwaves.

Twitter in Project Management

Twitter isn’t just about people frittering away their time expressing life’s banalities (OK, it is often this…). You can also use Twitter as an effective project management tool. Here are a few ways.

Hashtags

Hashtags are those funny #keywords people use to help index the subject matter of their tweet. For example, if someone wants to write a tweet about the Bahamas, they might write:

100908_Sisk_Figure_1

Now, when other tweeters click on the “#ProjectConference” hashtag, they immediately see a page full of the recent tweets that have used the same tag and are thus about the same subject. For example, anyone who is at the conference and following tweets can get an immediate sense of what is happening when and where.

In this way, hashtags become a quick, community-driven way to promote a Twitter account. Keep in mind that when you click on a hashtag within a tweet, the hashtag subjects appear in chronological order. With the speed and frequency of tweeting, you may need to browse the first few dozen tweets on a popular subject to get a full sense of what people are thinking and saying around you.

Tip: You can search for tweets by typing the hashtag in the Twitter search box or use social site management applications like TweetDeck.

So, how can you use hashtags in project management

Search on Known Hashtags

There are a number of hashtags known to Twitter users that refer to project management. For example, the hashtag #pmot is used for tweets about “project management on Twitter.” Other useful hashtags for project managers are:

#projectmanager
#pmp
#project
#msproject
#project2010
#pm

Tip: Since project management professionals will likely be using these same hashtags, using them in your own tweets becomes a way to create professional relationships, or to get involved in project management organizations that you might not have been aware of.

Create Team Hashtags

Your team can decide on its own hashtags for the projects they’re working on. For example, if your team is working on a project involving a local park, such as a public trail system, your team could decide on a hashtag to use across Twitter, such as #TrailCentralPark. Obviously, hashtags used in this way would work for projects where security is less of a concern. For a more secured use of Twitter, look at the next section about Twitter lists.

Tip: Do your best to keep the hashtag as short as possible, while still comprehensible. Twitter limits your entire tweet to 140 characters, including that hashtag.

Twitter Lists

The Twitter timeline, which is displayed when you click Home after logging into Twitter, can get very cluttered very quickly, making it difficult to find tweets related to projects. Welcome to Twitter lists. Lists allow you to group Twitter users.

For example, if you want to group users of Twitter who work on public works projects, you could create a list and name it “Public Works.” You could then specify that the list be either private or public. Or, say you want to follow users who are tweeting primarily about project management topics, and you don’t want to pick them out of the thousands of other tweets you have on your timeline. In this case, you could create a list called “Project management.”

To create a list, do the following:

1. On the Twitter timeline, click New List on the right side of the page.
2. Give the list a name and then select whether the list is public or private.
3. Click Create list.
4. On the next page, search for people by their Twitter name to add them to the new list.

Tip: You can also add people to the list by clicking the List button which appears when you click a user’s profile.

Be sure to let your team know about the list you’ve created. Send them the URL of the list so they can see whom you’ve added. The URL will resemble this:

http://Twitter.com/YourTwitterPage/ListName

Advanced Twitter Search

You can search for tweets using different criteria, such as hashtags, keywords, dates, questions, retweets, and even attitudes. The last takes a bit of explaining. You can search whether the tweet contains a positive or negative attitude towards the keyword you’re searching with.

To try this search, do the following:

1. Go to Advanced Twitter search Web site.
2. Click Advanced Search.
3. Specify the conditions of the search.

Here are some particularly useful criteria you can use as a project manager:

  • Word: Type the word of phrase you want to search on, such as a product name that your company (or your competition) manufactures.
  • Hashtags: Type a hashtag that references your company, product, or your competition.
  • Attitude: Specify whether you want to search for phrases within tweets that have a negative or positive attitude. (And, no, I don’t know how they do this.)
  • Language: Use this criterion to search for tweets in different languages that contain your search phrase (such as your product name that you’re marketing across different languages or countries).
  • Question: Use the “Question” criterion to search for tweets that contain a question. This is useful for, say, searching on a negative attitude toward your company or product that asks an exploratory question, such as, “I don’t understand what’s wrong with the Park’s new trail design.”

In Part 2 I explain how to put Facebook, blogging, and other social networking sites to work for you and your projects.

A version of this article first appeared in Microsoft’s Project 2010 blog.

Read Part 2 of this article here.