Recruitment opened the door for HR professionals to dabble in social media. And, now they are in a good position to leverage that knowledge to lead the way in helping their organizations improve collaboration, communication and knowledge management.
It is no secret that social media has changed the recruitment landscape for HR professionals, offering both significant and quantifiable benefits -- as well as, of course, some legal landmines.
But the benefits to HR of social media reach beyond recruitment. The possibilities are virtually endless and limited only by HR leaders' resourcefulness.
For example, Gilbert Manzano, chief administrative officer and head of HR for ACI Specialty Benefits in San Diego, has been using social media for a variety of activities. Those include:
* During a recent blackout, ACI kept employees and clients advised of events via Twitter.
* ACI teaches sales-team members how to connect with the broker community and potential clients through LinkedIn.
* It communicates employee benefits during open enrollment through Twitter and Facebook.
* It uses the company Facebook page to highlight and recognize employee accomplishments.
* HR professionals share best practices and discuss a variety of challenging employee situations or workplace challenges with peers.
Interest in social media by HR leaders has been increasing. According to a Corporate Executive Board survey of about 250 heads of HR, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) are increasing their social-media spend.
It also finds that business units that are effective in this area outperform those that are not -- by up to 36 percent on revenue targets and up to 38 percent on employee engagement.
Key areas of opportunity for HR professionals when it comes to social media lie in collaboration, communication and knowledge management.
As companies grow and increasingly become global, the ability to connect across department, division or even international lines grows exponentially in importance.
Simply providing ready access to distant staff can be a practical and efficient application of social media, says Christine Eberle, a contributor to The Social Media Management Handbook and a senior executive at Accenture's talent and organization-performance practice, based in the Washington area.
After centralizing its HR structure, one large telecommunications company uses social media as a way for employees to communicate with its shared-services group, she says. Instead of having on-site HR representatives, workers can either call or "chat" with the shared HR group.
The change required a shift in the way people connected with HR -- as well as a cultural shift so workers became more comfortable collaborating through means other than face-to-face, Eberle says.
That transition doesn't occur by chance.
"To encourage employees to learn new attitudes, behaviors and skills, companies must incorporate advanced learning methods," says Eberle, pointing out that many companies have experienced much greater ROI on their learning investment through interactive and collaborative learning programs -- what Accenture refers to as "Learning 2.0."
According to the Corporate Executive Board, for organizations to be successful with using social media for collaboration, they must target three keys:
* Focus: The collaborative process must align with business objectives.
* Filter: Instead of having a wide-open system that anyone can join, employee must be connected to the right people with the right information.
* Facilitate: Collaborative interactions must be managed efficiently and effectively.
While there is a certain amount of hesitance among HR leaders to use social media -- with some viewing such sites as more social than professional in nature -- many others are taking advantage of the various channels for communication and development purposes, says Jennifer McClure, president of Unbridled Talent, in the Cincinnati area. A former HR executive and executive recruiter, she currently speaks and consults, primarily in the areas of social-media implementation.
"There are plenty of HR professionals who are using social media to communicate, whether through the use of instant-messaging platforms, internal blogs or networks that allow employees to communicate with each other," McClure says.
"Last week, I attended a conference on leadership development and they were using Facebook groups, which can be private, for their leadership-development classes. Whenever they had a class, they started a group so participants could get to know each other and communicate before, during and after the class."
Organizations always have to adopt new methods of communication, McClure says, noting that HR professionals "resisted" PCs, email and cell phones when they were new. "I think social media is the next evolution," she says.
Mark McDonald agrees.
"Social media presents a new approach to handling an age-old HR problem related to knowledge management," says McDonald, an analyst at Gartner and co-author of the soon-to-be-released book The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees.
Such tools allow workers access to knowledge either synchronously (people interacting directly with each other) or asynchronously (knowledge transfer that might occur through a wiki or blog), he says.
At New York-based Marsh, social media is already being used for knowledge management, says Ben Brooks, vice president and practice leader of human capital performance.
"We have deeply committed and loyal colleagues who are well respected in the industry," he says. "We want to make sure that all of their knowledge, experience and wisdom is available to the whole firm, across all of our locations in 100 countries.
"Learning has been around for as long as humans have been around," he says, but social learning is new -- and technology has fueled the ability to enhance learning exponentially across both distance and time.
"Adding the social layer is going to be the next big thing in workforce analytics," he says.
Brooks envisions the availability of a "real-time and on-demand social graph to help you understand your influences, to uncover emergent leaders and hidden talent" in much the same way customer-relationship-management systems have been used to analyze customers.
From a functional HR standpoint, says McDonald, some organizations are also finding a role for social media in the performance-management process -- gathering information from across the organization, or even externally.
"Engagement definitely goes up in that environment," he says. "People feel that the ability and visibility that's created by social media give people in the middle and at the bottom of the pyramid -- who often feel their contributions aren't being recognized -- the ability to have them recognized."
Ultimately, says McDonald, social media makes it easier for HR professionals to drive employee engagement: "to create a better, more open workplace environment, to raise collaboration and innovation."
Success in this area, however, involves planning and structure, he says.
"Just implementing a wiki or using a tool like SharePoint isn't going to work," says McDonald. "You need to take that potential energy that exists inside your workforce and focus it with a clear purpose."