Leveraging Social Media

HR leaders should promote the use of social media for communicating with both internal and external audiences. It will lead to better communication, enhanced trust and corporate-brand building. It can especially be helpful in times of crisis.

Sunday, November 1, 2009
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Today's tech-savvy professionals use social networking to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues around the world. Companies can ignore this, and end up woefully behind the curve -- or they can create a culture that embraces it in order to foster positive and productive communication both internally and externally.

Here's what we know:

It's here to stay. It's important to view social media as a new wave of technology, just like the telephone was. You cannot cut off employees from friends and family during work hours just as much as employees cannot avoid work tasks in the evenings or on the weekends.

Those who think they can haven't thought through the penetration of personal cell phones in the workplace.

Social networking is a valuable means to help employees help themselves when it comes to maintaining work/life balance; in fact, the value it brings far outweighs any of the legal risks that may keep HR up at night.

To help sleep soundly, consider encompassing social-networking sites under your company's media policy so that the same rules of engagement apply.

It builds trust. We see social networking as a trust issue.

Just like the introduction of the telephone to the workplace, there are managers who trust their employees to use technology with good judgment and those who don't. Many managers fail to see that trust is a two-way street and that management has to earn the trust of its team as well. Mistrusting their use of social networking doesn't get you there.

It's more than water-cooler talk. There's harm in trying cut employees off from the world. Some companies are putting severe time limits on social networking -- treating it like coffee-break time -- and forgetting how much interactivity and communication is being done across these channels.

Information is being introduced to prospective customers, employees are connecting with one another despite geographical boundaries ... companies even have the ability to resolve customer complaints, as Comcast has become well-regarded for, with their use of Twitter.

It keeps us informed externally. In addition, social networking helps keep service-oriented employees right at the leading edge of key issues, thus strengthening their vertical expertise.

This applies to HR professionals as well; they might have been part of an organized Yahoo! group a few years ago, but social networking has vastly opened up the playground of information to connect to. For example, there are quite a few networking groups on LinkedIn that allow HR professionals to discuss issues of the day among like-minded colleagues, from the value of employee assessments to retention strategies to compensation studies.

It keeps us informed, internally, too. In times of crisis, social-media platforms can serve as two-way communication channels to keep employees informed, while also offering a mechanism for them to ask questions, minimizing the chances for rumors or misinformation to propagate.

Ensuring HR has a direct connection to senior management will drive HR's ability to be consistent in messaging when reaching out with updates. Keep in mind that employees will be more receptive when senior management communicates directly with them.

It doesn't need to be micromanaged. HR needs to emphasize to managers that rigid, unenforceable rules cannot substitute for good management.

Managers who fear employee misuse or overuse of social networking fail to understand it is their job to ensure their team's work gets done. Like clock-watching bathroom breaks, monitoring use of social networking can be punitive and does not lead to motivated performance behavior.

If an employee is spending hours on Facebook, that time drain will show in their results and should be factored into future performance reviews. A manager will get better results out of their employees by focusing on the metrics of the role and measuring those results rather than blocking Web sites and instituting a long list of rules.

This was true of the introduction of the Internet to the workplace several years ago; those managers who embraced the technology as a tool for their teams -- the usefulness of which could be measured -- got a big jump on both their internal and external competitors who attempted to throttle its use.

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It helps you find star employees. Externally, HR can use social media to lead its recruiting efforts. We see a strong focus from our clients on using social networking for announcing positions. And interested applicants expect to see companies on Facebook and Twitter, so not participating on the most popular sites may negatively impact a company's ability to recruit.

It takes common sense. Employees are navigating the social-media sphere for both personal and professional reasons. HR can help get employees on the right foot by introducing rules of engagement and encouraging employees to connect and participate with an understanding of corporate expectations.

Ensure the right level of professionalism by making social media a part of the electronic-media policy, so that employees view their use online with the same understanding as e-mail. Anyone with enough common sense and good judgment to use corporate e-mail probably can be reasonably expected to apply that same sense and judgment to social networking.

And if they do not, that's what good management is for.

It celebrates accomplishments. Post videos of sales-conference keynotes on YouTube, share pictures of company picnics on Flickr, open up your Facebook page for peer-to-peer recognition, tweet about company milestones ... all of these put a "face" to your company name.

TriNet is very enthusiastic about our use of social networking as a community-building tool. We use it in our own workplace, and even encourage employees to participate as much as they like -- as long as they use common sense and follow our electronic media policy. 

We believe we've seen the return on that investment in terms of communication, trust and employer-brand building. HR leaders can lead this effort at their own companies by embracing these tools for communicating with both internal and external audiences.

Becoming proficient in this space now will help your company understand different sites' strengths and limitations, learn the sites your employees gravitate toward, establish a following for the corporate sites and gauge opinion -- which will not only help accelerate your company's growth in the good times, but becomes paramount in times of a crisis.

Greg Hammond is chief legal officer of TriNet, a San Leandro, Calif.-based company that provides HR outsourcing services in the areas of human resources, benefits, payroll, workers compensation and strategic human capital services.

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