Social media is one of the most powerful platforms in the world today. In fact, it has already toppled a few governments. However, it can also be one of the most effective ways of reaching out to broader markets, and building the reputation and corporate citizenship of companies.
In this article, Marius Meyer and Penny Abbott provide a balanced perspective on the use of social media in HR by assessing the current state of social media use by companies, and propose practical guidelines for developing effective social media policies.
Social media represents opportunity, but also risk. A new type of professional is needed in the workplace, one who can balance the extremes of opportunity and opportunism on the one hand, and the negative side of business risk on the other. An employee can make millions of rands with a single tweet, or destroy your company’s share price if your reputation is damaged.
All departments – HR, finance, marketing and IT – need to assess their readiness for social media, and decide how they will leverage this unique opportunity. In essence, it is the choice between elevance and irrelevance. In the wider business world, marketing professionals have embraced social media. The question is to what extent the HR function has embraced, or avoided, the use of social media in South Africa. The HR Survey 2012 conducted by Knowledge Resources and the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) attempted to assess the readiness of HR departments to embrace social media.
Deloitte Consulting states that beyond just being the next new thing, “integrating social media and mobile devices with HR service delivery can provide a real opportunity to restore some of the personal touch that was lost in previous pushes for improved HR efficiency”.
Social media tools create communities for sharing knowledge and support employees through direct, informal communication. Instead of using a call centre, for instance, questions about benefits can be discussed by smartphone, participating in discussion threads with specialists and other community members in order to share knowledge, opinions and questions.
Driving the trend towards social media and mobile devices as effective tools that can help improve HR’s service and responsiveness are (at least) the following:
- Breakthrough technologies. Mobile devices and social media have already revolutionised the way in which people interact, making it easy to communicate and share knowledge regardless of time, geographic location or organisational boundaries.
- Business acceptance. Mobile devices and social media have become standard business tools. Social media are no longer viewed as a (passing) fad.
- Rising expectations. People have already come to expect the rich, engaging experiences that mobile devices and social media can deliver. Now, they are looking for the same thing from their interactions with current and potential employers.
The use of social media for different HR applications
We tested the extent to which social media and mobile devices are utilised in HR. Figure 1 depicts the use of social media for different HR applications. And it’s clear that much more use can be made of social media and mobile devices in general and more specifically in recruiting, learning and development, personal skills development, and work-related personal networking. LinkedIn is by far the most utilised provider of social media in HR, probably because it was developed with recruitment and other business applications in mind. In addition, LinkedIn is also a good medium for discussion groups involving other HR professionals from different companies.
Is the media revolution bypassing HR?
By far the most damning answer to the question: Is the media revolution bypassing HR? is the response to the next question: Utilisation of social media providers – without a clear strategy and social media policies one can hardly expect any behaviour change in HR. Only 12% of HR departments have social media strategies in place. Where social media policies are in place, they were probably introduced by IT. Interestingly, only 38% of companies have social media policies in place. Similarly, only 40% of companies allow employees access to social media during working hours.
HR’s inability to develop the mental model of ‘playful work’
The last two questions go to the heart of the business dilemma – too many people see only the social side of these media and not the possible business applications. HR departments should learn and be mentored by those business units already using it to do work. This may be the issue – HR’s inability to develop the mental model of ‘playful work’, or simply a lack of technological savvy.
Social media is new; early-mover advantages are still to be exploited. In a couple of years even those HR departments slow to innovate will be forced to copy the practices of their more successful counterparts at great cost and inconvenience. How HR departments respond to this (no longer weak) strategic signal will, perhaps more than any other, give CEOs a good indication of the quality of their HR department and its practices.
In contrast to the social media discussion, how HR departments use (or neglect to use) metrics to provide insight into ‘the people factor’ in business is probably keenly felt by every CEO.
The SABPP recently published the following Guidelines for Effective Social Media Policies:
- Identify all the business opportunities and risks associated with social media. In essence, the employer should answer two questions: How can social media advance or promote my business? The second question is: What are the risks of social media for my business? In other words: How can social media harm my business?
- Consider relevant decision-makers according to the needs and requirements of your business. For instance, if you do not have a Chief Information Officer, you may assign responsibility to any other relevant manager taking ownership for the particular function in question.
- Always make sure that social media is not seen as a separate or isolated project imposed by the outside world, but rather ensure that it is aligned to your overall business strategy.
- Review all other related policies, for esample, information security, information technology, disciplinary procedures, or other company- or industry-specific laws, rules, codes and standards.
- Keep engaging with key stakeholders in the organisation to test the policy and adapt it should the needs or circumstances change in your organisation.
- Create communication forums where staff can engage on the practical implications of the policy.
- Train all staff in the appropriate use of social media.
- Acknowledge and reward managers and employees for compliance and positive promotion of the policy (for example, social media champion of the month), but make it clear how positive behaviour contributed to this recognition.
- Include a notice about the policy in your company newsletter or magazines and on your notice board, as well as on your intranet.
- Large organisations are encouraged to employ social media managers or officers if social media becomes a key imperative of their overall business strategy, and smaller or medium-sized organisations may outsource this function to external providers, or appoint part-time social media coaches or consultants.
- Keep up to date with relevant trends in the broader market regarding social media.
- * Ensure that the policy is reviewed and monitored, by capturing lessons learned and implementing improvements.
If employers and employees are not sure about the correct use of social media, an explicit social media policy, followed by awareness and training sessions, is a good mechanism to create certainty in guiding appropriate behaviour on social media platforms. While social media cannot be fully controlled, risks can and should be managed. Employers can sit back and wait for litigation and unnecessary costs incurred, or become more proactive in managing social media risks upfront.
Rather err on the side of caution than put your business at risk. Once social media risks are managed, business owners will be in a better position to exploit all the positive business opportunities presented by social media. It is evident that HR has some work to do in adapting to the social media revolution.
By Marius Meyer and Penny Abbott. Marius Meyer, Chief Executive Officer, SABPP and Penny Abbott, Head of HR Research Initiative, SABPP