HR Leads the way for Embracing Social Media in the Workplace

Date:   Tuesday , May 03, 2011

Human Resource professionals are increasingly using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs to support their organizational objectives and hiring goals. Interestingly, while we in Human Resources are by nature wired to interact directly with people, HR has been an early adopter in business use of social media.

A global study into the Consumerization of IT used in the workplace commissioned by Unisys found that two of the top four reasons organizations use that social networking and communities in the workplace are HR related – internal communications and recruitment:
* Employee communications – 38 percent of organisations
* Customer communications – 38 percent
* Advertising & public relations – 31 percent
* Recruitment – 19 percent.

The primary purpose of HR is to share information, ask and answer questions, educate, inform, collaborate and connect. Social media simply provides another set of tools to build communities, both within and outside the organization, and create the ability to start, monitor, and participate in discussions about the organization both among the employee base as well as with people outside the organization. HR professionals can use these social media tools to gain knowledge about what is being said about their organization on various social networking sites and develop cost effective and wide ranging recruitment programs.

If the organization is not participating in a meaningful way, not only do they lose the chance to build communities and present a balanced and fair discussion about their business, but they run the very real risk of allowing the conversation to go unchecked. And it will, irrespective of whether the company is paying attention or not. The advantage of monitoring such discussions is that the organization will have a chance to offer a different point of view that will help maintain the image they want to portray about their organization and its business as an employer.

Of course any comment on behalf of the organization should only be given by designated spokespeople – in line with the organizations overall communication protocol and policy. When embracing social media, organizations need to take a comprehensive approach that involves IT, human resources, legal, risk and senior management teams while setting and managing policy. Employees, including HR professionals, need to be conscious of their responsibility to protect sensitive information. Not only do they need to be familiar with the corporate polices, they need to understand that they are mandated and the consequences for not complying with them.

With time, social media is becoming more defined in business. This will play a significant role in the kinds of online presence that HR professionals occupy to promote the company. For example, recruiters are increasingly frequenting networking sites like LinkedIn to find qualified candidates who not only look good on paper but have the skills to back it up and fit in with the organization. On the flip side, companies are encouraging their employees to use social networks to expand their list of contacts. Several organizations have also set up internal social networks that work within the organization’s network to enable employees to better share knowledge and collaborate – particularly if they are part of global teams working across different time zones. For example at Unisys, as part of our “Inside Unisys” intranet employees are encouraged to use MySite – a collaboration portal based on SharePoint 10 to get to know their colleagues, share best practices and seek information from subject matter experts.

The Middle Ground
We are now at a turning point; many companies now understand the value and power social media has to transform their business as well as the corporate culture. Once upon a time, the assumption was that social media was just a fun, easy way for employees to connect with friends, thereby taking time away from their work. However, employees now expect to use the same tools they use in their personal life for their work life – from mobile devices to social media – and employers are responding.

Yet this doesn’t mean a free-for-all. Like all work tools, organizations should first examine an employee’s role requirements to determine if social media could help them do their jobs effectively. The organization should consider both external public systems and internal secure systems when evaluating options.

While it is important to create value for the business, it is just as vital to make social media work for the internal workforce and the industry. Employee involvement in the corporate social media strategy means HR working with senior leadership to create a culture that supports the change. Using social media is convenient no doubt, but appropriate metrics to measure results need to be established. Similarly, social media use policies that need to be implemented so that employees know what is acceptable to say about their employer on both the organization’s and their personal networking sites. This also ensures that only appropriate people comment on behalf of the organization.

Networking and How
Effective use of social media enables one to expand their networks considerably. In HR, being able to connect with quality people is a really big advantage. Interacting with people on a regular basis results in stronger relationships and in the world of HR, relationships are everything. Social media also enables employees in the company to position the business in a way that makes the world outside pay attention to the business and what it has to offer.

Social media allows both organizations and employees to expand their networks on multiple levels. Human resources is no exception to this rule. Being able to interact with colleagues around the world to discuss the many challenges that HR professionals face provides a platform to adopt the latest innovations and learn about mistakes that can be avoided henceforth. By expanding networks, we increase our access to the latest information and cutting edge tools.

Why It’s Time For Innovation
Nowhere is the adage of “think outside the box” more apt than it is when it comes to social media and HR. Technology is ever evolving and it is imperative for companies to not just embrace innovation but wholeheartedly take advantage of every new thing that social media offers so as to grow their business and increase revenue. The advances in social media are so fast paced, it is important to stay connected on a very regular basis so no new opportunities are missed.

Corporate Values Get A Makeover
Social media has the power to dramatically alter expectations. Facebook and Blackberry Messengers allow us to connect with people all the time. However, this needs to be managed to better enable employees to find a balance between their work and personal lives.

One thing for certain is that social media is here to stay. Whether you befriend it and take advantage of the multiple benefits it brings or ignore it and lose out on transforming your business, it is a decision that will change the fate of your organization.

The author is Head HR, Unisys India