Social media is being lauded as a tool with which HR professionals can engage with past, current and future employees, and is simultaneously being derided as a waste of employees' productive time. At times it has become an uncontrollable outlet for the debate of issues we would rather have kept out of the spotlight. But it is these very conversations, rather than who controls the social media platform, which we should be addressing.
HR has aspired for a long time to move beyond the role of people-focussed politeness and procedure-focussed policing and into a strategic business partnering role. A paper by Dave Ulrich and Dick Beatty published in 2001 discussed how HR could become a strategic asset in business, and their discussion parallels how individuals can approach their own HR career development strategy. To paraphrase, HR practitioners need to know the business of HR, become an expert in the basics, and become proficient in using HR tools and concepts to achieve strategic outcomes.
Social media can provide HR practitioners with a forum to keep up-to-date with the concepts and practicalities of HR as well as being a sounding board for your own ideas, knowledge and questions. The question is how to balance your approach to social media tools, with managing your personal brand, as well as using it as a professional development tool.
But before we consider how best to use social media as a personal HR career development enabler, a word of caution: social media is a broadcast medium in the sense that it is capable of being transmitted to and read by a wide audience. However, as it is not subject to dispassionate editing like other mass media, messages of sometimes a very personal nature are not flagged until it is too late. It is easy to forget this dynamic, and unwittingly end up in damage control. The woman who wrote inappropriately about her employer on Facebook, forgetting her employer was one of her Facebook friends, comes to mind.
Sharing bad stories on social media need not be completely negative however. Consider HalogenSoftware's YouTube channel: their series on HR practitioners sharing their horror stories could be a festival of dark clouds. Instead, it is in the positive light of finding the lessons available in those otherwise hidden everyday problems. In one of their videos, for example, Tammy Erikson spoke about how one company's orientation process showed how the recruitment process raised candidates' expectations that did not match the realities of the organisation. The 'horror story' instead became one of a shared lesson in the importance of maintaining consistency throughout a recruitment process.
For upcoming HR professionals such as Ben Eubanks, social media has provided a creative outlet to discuss his career building in HR. His blog, upstartHR.com, focuses on various types of career advice from certifications to conferences, and personal insights into everyday life in HR. In an interview with Monster.com, he said of the value in engaging in social media "One of the things is making connections with people. I've met so many amazing professionals that I would have had no other way of knowing if not for my involvement with social media."
Social media may have a viable future in being readily able to be used by HR professionals to communicate with and engage with our employees. Speaking at the Future of Social Media 2009 Conference, social media commentator Michael Van Devort said: "The next evolution is probably going to be: how do you reach inside to communicate using social media to talk to your associates and employees inside your company?"
Well by 2011 that moment has arrived. Take, for example, Zoey Pindar, an HR Coordinator with a Sydney-based business, who uses a social networking platform to communicate with employees about amendments to shift patterns and selected policy updates. Zoey felt very confident that the message would reach the employee in a timely manner—it was she said "a reliable medium to use" —and she added that the employee was more likely to be checking messages in this medium than through any other, and therefore it had the edge.
This ability to share, connect and test knowledge may be where the future of social media lies for HR: social media is a term which describes a range of tools which can provide opportunities to improve knowledge, understanding and engagement. How you decide to use those tools will determine your social media strategy and what you need to do to prepare yourselves to use it regularly. The conversation about whether social media is a fad is over, it's here to stay. Your brand is being discussed on social media platforms, whether you're involved in that discussion or not. HR has a great opportunity to move beyond questions of whether to act, and instead focus on how it can enhance HR's operational and strategic effectiveness.
About the author
David Owens is managing director, HR Partners. For further information visit www.hrpartners.com.au