Plenty of HR uses for social media (Guest commentary)

Organizations that don't adopt social media risk being left behind
By Harpaul Sambhi
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/31/2011

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 recruitment 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 500-million user mark in July 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 that cost members $60 to $2,000 a year. As of August 2010, the site had 75 million members and saw a $17-million profit in 2008.

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 is an ideal tool for recruitment. 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 recruitment 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.

Harpaul Sambhi is the founder and CEO of Careerify, a firm that consults on social media for the HR and talent management industries. He is author of Social HR, a new book published by Carswell, a Thomson Reuters business. To order the book, visit www.carswell.com.

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