Plenty of HR uses for social media

Last Wednesday, I was in beautiful Edmonton speaking at the Human Resources Institute of Alberta’s conference: HR360. I created a unique exercise where each table, who had novice to expert users, were forced to create a recruiting strategy on a specific social media that ranged from Facebook to Flickr. More on the results later, as I believe the exercise created multiple blog posts.  But I often find when speaking to audiences that everyone has a unique definition of social media, and this is exactly what fascinates me on the social media, and its impact on Human Resources.  A recruiter might tend to have a simple equation, “LinkedIn = head hunt”, whereas a senior HR practioner may have an opinion of “Social Media = Waste” from their personal experience at the dinner table with their children. I know my former girlfriend, for example, thinks social media is a great way to stalk me, but more on that later.

The term “social media” covers a wide range of websites, including personal social networks such as Facebook and MySpace; professional networks such as LinkedIn and Xing; micromedia tools such as Twitter and Foursquare; blogs; video distribution sites such as YouTube; as well as wikis and internal collaboration networks.

Despite the ubiquity of social media, many organizations outside of the technology sector have been slow to adopt social networking as part of business strategy. Social media can be used in every part of the HR strategy, from recruiting to employee engagement to labour relations to organizational development to total rewards. Too many HR departments aren’t using social media to its full potential as part of an overall HR strategy and consider sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as just flashes in the pan, sure to disappear in a couple of years. While the popularity and growth of early social media sites such as MySpace and Friendster have fizzled, Facebook, which launched in 2004, has created a strong business model with advertising and hit the 600-million user mark in December 2010, making it the most popular social networking site in the world.

LinkedIn, a professional social networking site, has also developed a profitable business model with the creation of premium accounts. As of March 2011, the site had reached 100 million members and saw a $161-million profit in 2010. There are 1.2 billion total Internet users around the world and in February 2010 alone there were more than one billion unique visitors to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, according to data from marketing research company comScore. These sites aren’t going anywhere and are likely to continue to grow in popularity and profitability.

Social media is more than just another communication tool. These sites create communities where like-minded individuals can come together to connect. The HR applications for social media are vast, both internally and externally.  From an employer marketing perspective, social media allows an organization to reach out to a large yet specific audience, such as graduates of a particular program at specific schools. It allows for a transparent, two-way dialogue between an organization and a targeted audience.

And a social media marketing campaign, whether for employment or sales purposes, is often a lot less expensive than traditional media campaigns. If it garners a lot of buzz from users, the campaign can go viral as users from your targeted audience pass it along to friends outside of the network. And this can lead to traditional news media coverage, something organizations are always trying to figure out how to get.

LinkedIn allows HR to see who is working for competitors, and what kind of skills and background they have, and can be used as a recruiting tool. While a picture is worth 1,000 words, video is worth millions and the power of YouTube allows organizations to create brand awareness across the Internet. Social media can also be used to increase organizational effectiveness and employee productivity. Organizations can use Facebook to arrange mentoring programs across different locations and time zones, for campus recruiting or to broadcast social events to current and potential employees.

Internal networks, such as the Twitter like Yammer, allow employees across an organization to collaborate and innovate. These networks can highlight experts within an organization so employees know who to turn to when they have a question. Connecting people who don’t usually work together increases diversity of thought, which breeds innovation. It can save time on projects because people can collaborate across geographies and time zones, instead of having to meet in the same physical location at one time.

Social networks also provide a space where employees who completed a training program together can continue to learn, even after the training, by sharing how they have applied their newly learned skills in real-world situations. It’s important to learn how to use the tools and begin to formulate a social HR strategy for the day when the organization is ready. Social media is here to stay and HR departments and organizations that don’t adopt the technology will be left behind.

Every week I will be blogging a few times on set topics from my book, Social HR, and trends we at Careerify are seeing.  That being said, feel free to ask me questions on topics concerning to you, and I will do my best to shed some insight.

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