Social Media and HR: Worthy Partners or Evil Enemies?

I was recently at an HR Professionals networking function and asked who there was using Social Media in their business. The majority told me that they don’t let their staff have access to any Social Media platforms because “they’d just be on Facebook all day”. I wasn’t all that shocked. Disappointed yes, but I had been hearing that quite a lot. I do get it; there are thousands of reasons why we should keep ignoring it and hoping it might go away. Some of them are even valid.

The biggest impact Social Media can have on any organisation is the ability to change it. If you are not involved in a decision about the introduction of Social Media into your business, then you may be put in a reactive position. Social Media creates open, honest and transparent engagement with customers, suppliers, peers and staff, whether it is used as a PR campaign or a whole of business strategy. It means listening to what people have to say, hopefully responding, and learning to adapt. What does that mean for your staff, policies and business? It could very well drive change in the entire business, so we need to be prepared. Here are some fables, tips and benefits:

Fable: It will make our staff less productive.

I wrote recently about this. Using Social Media in the workplace is no different to using the phone on your desk for personal calls, or using email to contact friends, or going out for a coffee. If you have unproductive staff, they will find any excuse to be unproductive. Monitor the behaviour, not the tool that is causing it.

Fable: Our only online presence is our website.

Are you sure? How often do you Google your company name, managers, Directors, Board members?  I don’t mean typing in your company website address, I mean putting those names into Google or Yahoo or even Bing? Each one of those search engines will get you different results. So it probably pays to check them all. Do the same search on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. That is real time search; what is happening right now. Hopefully you won’t be surprised by what you find.

Fable: All voices are equal.

Are staff sharing praise or complaints about your organisation? Are they telling their innermost thoughts and secrets about the company, co-workers or their boss? Generation Y love Social Media platforms and they love to share; a lot and loudly, to anyone who will listen. It could be bad if they are a staff member. A supervisor or manager could have far greater impact. Are they on the board…..well you would hope not, but stranger things have happened! Usually if they are not saying it to you, they are saying it about you.

Fable: Ignorance is bliss!

OK, so you have been brave enough to Google, Bing and Yahoo yourself silly. Did you find comments or a whole conversation? You may be more visible than you would like. Assess the risk and decide on what to do. Do companies even want to know what their staff are saying? They could be either supporter or detractor.  What about ex-staff members, what are they saying? Surely this can’t be any different to what was said at dinner with friends? Unfortunately it is; times a few hundred, thousand, or million. The old way of being social meant we had a few wines then forgot the whole conversation; it was just having a moan. The new way means it all stays for eternity. The old adage that “Four things come not back: the spoken word; the spent arrow; time past; the neglected opportunity” is so true.  The rest you can find on Google.

Um, HR – we need your help…

So why does all this matter? We never did it before, why start now? All this public discussion can impact on your brand, your reputation or your competition; let alone your retention of staff, attraction of new staff and your own credibility as a contributor to the business. Are you a “values based organisation”, are you on any lists as an “employer of choice”? Does it matter what someone once may have said about you? It does if you have principals and values and you use them to attract talent. There are countless examples all over the internet about one person’s perspective, how it was picked up, misconstrued and shared with millions of people.

As HR Professionals we all know what happens the minute something in the business gets too hard to handle. Our phone rings or there is a knock on the door. If someone came to you with an issue like this, are you prepared? Would you know what to do? I have many colleagues and friends in HR all over the world, unfortunately most of them think I have lost my marbles and gone to “the dark side”. It’s true. I have and the message is: be prepared, don’t be scared, and embrace it! These tips may help you start:

Understand the tools. (the most relevant)

  • Twitter is very powerful for business, short, sharp relevant messages and real time search. (It’s also cool to be on it if you are human!)
  • Facebook is becoming powerful for business. Look for business pages. Probably the best area for direct communication with staff.
  • LinkedIn is the most professional platform. Used predominantly as a recruitment tool, it also has some wonderful moderated groups and forums for discussion across industry and profession.
  • YouTube is of course the most popular of the video sites. Anyone can post content…on anything. Nothing moderated here.
  • Blogs are a great business tool if done well. Used for sharing industry and business information, and learning before you actually have to experience it! Excellent marketing and communications tool.
  • Google and Google alerts. You can set up an alert for your company name so that anytime it is mentioned on the internet; you will be sent an email.

Learn and Research. Set up a personal account on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you are not sure, then create an alias. Once in, go and see what all the fuss is about!

Standards. Create a non-disclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement, or remind your staff  of what they signed in their employment contract. Find or create a policy, framework or guidelines around what you can and can’t do and say on these platforms.  The quick fix is to add them to your IT, email and web standards.

Finally…..The Benefits

Like anything else, Social Media can be managed and controlled if you think you need to. Remember the introduction of fax machines (how many jokes did you or your staff used to fax around?), computers, the internet, mobile phones…the list goes on.  Think about the core of our profession: our people. Use these tools to engage with them, to understand them, to listen and then respond and to get to the truth of who you are, who they are and who the business is.

Be in control, be aware and start something. You are bound to have a more grateful team who want to connect with you, who want to know they are heard and who want to know they are trusted. If you are blocking access, does that engender a culture of trust? Ensure that this one little act doesn’t go against the culture you have worked hard to create.

Social Media is just another tool. Imagine you are new to a country and you don’t know which newspaper to read. You might buy a paper a day for the next fortnight, scan the headlines, or look at the pictures. However you do it, you will seek out information that is relevant to you. This is no different. You don’t have to be in any of it, you don’t have to know it all back to front, but you do need to be aware of it, of what is happening and how you would act in any situation. Be responsible for being a trend-setter in your industry, create an inviting place to work, and have your people engage with you; for good, not evil.

8 thoughts on “Social Media and HR: Worthy Partners or Evil Enemies?

  1. Great post. I hope those HR professionals realize the FREE press/website traffic they are missing out on, especially with LinkedIn being HIGHLY RATED in Google searches.


    1. Thank you! I am constantly amazed at those that don’t you know! One day the light may go on, and we will all be woken up by it’s brightness!!

      Appreciate your comments very much!


  2. Really good read that Sharon. You are talking to me, 3 months ago!!
    Recruiting into Social Media, means I have to engage wholeheartedly in Social Media, and this blog is one of the more inspiring, logical and directive blogs I have read – in a slightly over-blogged world on this subject!
    Thanks for a good lesson! :o)
    @CloudNine Media Recruitment
    The Cloud Nine Recruitment Group


    1. Thanks Steve! I really appreciate your comments and I am pleased that you can relate to it! I might say you have done a lot of learning in 3 months, well done!

      It is a bit of an overcrowded space, and like you – I like to do things differently! Your time is greatly appreciated & is more valuable than money sometimes!!
      Kind regards


  3. “If you have unproductive staff, they will find any excuse to be unproductive. Monitor the behaviour, not the tool that is causing it.” – Absolutely!

    As for the rest of it, engaging, being open, listening to your market, this is one tool of many, etc. – I’m perpetually on the lookout for an R.O.I. statement from anyone at all who has a handle on their social media metrics. This isn’t cynicism just a recognition that managing that conversational info flow and filtering out the crud, responding, etc. takes time and effort. I’m peripherally attached to the NYC tech community (by virtue of my profession and my network associations) and whenever I ask these self titled Social Media Experts with varying degrees of proficiency and real work history about money and returns I get the following response: there’s money to be made in consulting on it. Sharon, are you aware of any creditable looking case studies?


    1. Hi Steve,
      The million dollar question! I am still searching for the hard core ROI. I was somewhere locally last week where the speaker talked about ROI being a business measure and not a media measure. Interesting perspecitve, but I know it doesn’t happen to make the board happy! I have this info from my guru Tim Ferriss (The 4 Hour Work Week). Interesting read – and does prove a point. I attend Social Media Measurement Camp here in London and we are forever talking pure ROI. For my own clients, they have been found on twitter, and either joined their business or became a client. Now that probably doesn’t reflect directly what I am paid all the time, but… helps to strengthen the argument. I have had other successes, such as introducing new relationships to my clients that have proven profitable and very lucrative – through being found on twitter mainly (some people will now only use it as the live search tool of the moment – interesting!) and whilst I can put £££ on that, does it directly reflect my fees right now – no, but I do a whole lot of research, following, finding and blogging about the experiences. Personally, in the fields my clients are in, their ROI is all about getting new bodies into their business – having someone else share the experience takes the initial pain away and makes the first visit not a fact finding mission, but a dedicated paying visit. I could go on for hours (and I do!!) because it is most fascinating to me. I think I have proven that my clients need to be in that space – they have businesses where they have members, clients (as one on ones) and returning visits to their site and their premises. Those people are communication through Social Media and they are judging who is in the space and who isn’t.

      This is another one: Talks about measuring things other than ROI. Are they more important? Can you convince your board/directors/stakeholders that these are more important?? It is such an interesting debate Steve. My work is all about Social Media as a “whole of business” strategy. That is isn’t the means to the end, it is just another tool that we use to have a customer service (or HR/finance/admin) experience with our customers. For ME (and my clients…!) it is about finding out what their customers want – what can we do to make their experience more valuable. Do we listen & change things – yes, do we sometimes say no, yes – and they are OK with that – they are getting an answer! do we take on their new ideas – yes? Is it vastly different from the strategy – mostly! So for us, that means we have not been listening to what our customers want and let’s do it their way and see. 80/20 rule on that, but the word of mouth experience is worth more to my clients than seeing what they get back in pure hard cash terms.

      That has probably been very vague and may not have helped, but I hope it has Steve! Thanks for the thought provoking on a Friday eve!!!


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