HR struggles with social networking

by 22 Jul 2008

THE POTENTIAL of social networking websites for business remains largely untapped, however they will become increasingly important to the competiveness of large enterprises in the future, with a number of significant implications for HR.

At present, most users of such sites are motivated mainly by personal needs and a desire for entertainment, rather than business and practical objectives.

In the future, however, the recruiting process will be transformed by social media and networks, where recruiters can discover the right candidate to match their open position at the right time, according to Dan Schawbel, a social media specialist at EMC Corporation.

“Recruitment will be less of an HR management system and more of a person-to-person contact and reference list,”he said.

“Web 2.0 will level the playing field for recruitment, where there is now a war for talent and everyone is a free agent. As younger generations enter the workforce, companies that are not prepared will lose a chance to recruit some of the best and most technologically advanced talent in the marketplace.”

Schawbel said that HR currently struggles with social media, and one of the biggest problems is that both legal and IT are always involved and social sites are blocked from employee access, which is limiting.

“A lot of hiring managers and recruiters understand how recruiting passive candidates can help build a stronger talent pool, so they are trying Second Lifeand LinkedIn,” he said.

A recent survey by Clearswift found that 54 per cent of HR decision-makers have encountered or have had to discipline employees for time-wasting on the internet and 7 per cent for inappropriate content on social media sites, blogs and wikis.

A further 23 per cent of HR decision makers were unfamiliar with web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia, while 63 per cent blocked access to social media sites and 70 per cent blocked access to video-sharing sites.

“They are still unsure of how to create corporate policies around the use of blogs and retain control over what employees write about,” Schawbel said.

“HR knows they have to build proficiency within their company because business is changing and companies need to adapt in order to be efficient and more productive – relative to competitors.”

Schawbel said many HR professionals are in experimentation mode with web 2.0 and haven’t quite figured it out. He said it had forced HR to open up its forcefields, and that HR must now represent much of what web 2.0 is all about – such as transparency, honesty, integrity and the social culture that surrounds it.

“HR must understand that they can collect feedback, as well as some of the more sought-after candidates just by participating in web 2.0,”Schawbel said.

“Competitive pressures have made many HR organisations just do web 2.0 because their competitor is doing it. This typically doesn’t work too well, because they need a plan of attack and to be able to measure it simultaneously.”

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel Development has found that organisations are failing to boost the attraction and retention of key talent through the benefits of web 2.0.

In a survey of 779 companies, 80 per cent do not currently use web 2.0 online methods to attract or recruit employees, while only 8 per cent plan to start using the technology in the next year.

Despite this, 56 per cent believe that social networking sites are useful for engaging potential job seekers and welcome its ability to shed light on how they are perceived in the marketplace. However, 62 per cent expressed concern that damaging comments about their organisation might be posted.

Encouragingly, the majority of organisations that do use social networking (85 per cent) do not use it as a tool to vet candidates during the recruitment process.

“Organisations should be careful when using these technologies to vet candidates,” said Deborah Fernon, organisation and resourcing adviser for the CIPD.

“In the quest to find the right person for a job, social networking sites could be, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, misleading. Good practice requires that every candidate is treated equally, which means all candidates would have to have similar profiles before information is used, and this poses challenges as not everyone has a social networking profile.”

Fernon said that web 2.0 technology provides a chance to bring the employer brand to life and create experiences online that allow potential employees to experience what it is like to work within the organisation.

“Using technology like Facebook or Second Life, an employer brand can have a global impact,” she said.

Of the organisations that use social networking sites to attract or recruit employees, the favoured sites include LinkedIn (62 per cent), Facebook (58 per cent) and MySpace (11 per cent).

Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner, said social networking software holds enormous potential for improving the management of large businesses.

However, he said work in this area is still immature and companies should be aware of what is happening in consumer social networking and implement appropriate usage policies for employees’ use of services such as Facebook and MySpace on company time.

A recent Gartner survey across 18 countries found that, despite the hype surrounding social networking, internet users generally did not place a high level of importance on social network sites, compared with other mainstream Internet applications such as e-mail and search.

However, taken together with other broader forms of networking – including instant messaging, e-mail, sharing of photos, files and chat rooms – there was a significant level of interest in the social aspects of communication as opposed to applications that are simply transactional, diverting or functional.

“Social networking is arguably as old as humanity – not something new that has been invented for so-called ‘digital natives’,” said Julia Lin, project manager of research data and analytics at Gartner.

“However, social networking has found new forms of expression on the internet which has helped to reshape the purpose and protocols of social networking in the online world and beyond. How to apply this in a corporate environment will be the next major challenge.”


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