Feature

Social HR challenges best addressed through clear policies, plans

The social media genie is out of the bottle for human resource (HR) professionals. Despite a reputation for being the last department to adapt to change, HR has dived head first into the social HR game. By many accounts, nearly 90% of HR departments now leverage the power of social media in recruiting, employee communications and brand awareness.

"Social media has turned HR on its head," said Claire Schooley, senior industry analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "HR is totally different than it was just five years ago."

Before social media, HR controlled communication. There was a predictable one-way flow of interoffice mail, memos and email. Now, social media has made communication a two-way street -- or a multilane, multidimensional highway -- adding complexities and challenges to HR departments striving to make the most of the new social tools. 

But experts say the challenges of social HR shouldn't dissuade businesses from embracing the medium. Here are four key points HR executives should remember while navigating the social HR world:

Update your social media policy every six months and collaborate with corporate counsel to ensure its legal bona fides. "Just because you have a social media policy doesn't mean it's all kosher," said Jessica Miller-Merrell, an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based HR consultant and new media strategist. And if the recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision is any indication, social media policies may be under more and more scrutiny.

On September 7, the NLRB deemed that a Costco policy prohibiting defamatory statements violated the National Labor Relations Act. The policy in question stated that employees using social media should refrain from language that could "damage the company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation …" What may sound like boilerplate policy language may in fact be problematic if you haven't had your policy vetted by counsel.

What's more, every employee should be briefed and trained on the social media policy, said Mikal Belicove, a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based author and business strategist. It is no longer enough to drop a policy on the intranet and assume all bases have been covered. As HR professionals know, a large part of their job is educating employees. Social media is one area where education is king.

Monitor social media, but don't censor employees. Through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and increasingly social activity streams like Yammer, Chatter and Tibbr, employees can quickly and easily share their workplace experiences -- both good and bad. Businesses have little control except to monitor, address the concerns if necessary and continue to communicate with employees.

"You can't control the message anymore," said Miller-Merrell. "Actually, you never could." But with good management and a supportive workplace, "employees who are fans will come to the defense of the company" when negative comments are posted online, she said. However, removing or censoring employee posts is never the right way to go. It will only make a potentially negative situation much worse.

What's more, monitoring social media is a good way for HR to receive feedback that employees might neglect on employee surveys or evaluations, say these experts. Enterprise social networks can now collect social activity -- positive and negative -- and catalog it for later use in employee evaluation sessions. "We don't always remember the good things we do," Schooley said.

Create a social media recruiting plan backed by a strong EEO policy. Recruitment is easily the part of the HR world most affected by social media. Its advocate say social media seamlessly helps recruiters, hiring managers, and even current employees leverage social connections to broadcast job opportunities, source quality referrals and market their brand like never before.

More on social media

Read a book chapter on social media policy

View a video on social media for talent management

Take a quiz on enterprise social media

Ron Kubitz, recruiting and training manager for the Brayman Construction Corp. in Saxonburg, Pa., said that when he started his job seven years ago, the company was spending $80,000 annually on headhunting fees and $25,000 on online job sites like Monster.com. Now, primarily with the help of social media -- and a strong background in headhunting -- the company spends no money on headhunting and only $5,000 annually on online jobs boards.

Kubitz said he uses social media as only part of a complete recruiting policy. He is aware of a number of cases where potential employees who were not hired claimed discrimination under EEO regulations based on information gathered about them on social media sites. "There's great value in these tools -- LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter -- for both employee engagement and recruiting, but you have to be able to utilize those tools smartly," he said. Besides, said Kubitz, in his field if you are only using social media to recruit, you may be missing a lot of quality talent.

Most importantly, Kubitz recommends training recruiters well on social media best practices. "Don't leave the online recruiting to interns," he warned.

Make social HR relevant to your workforce. "In some cases, with some employees, the technology is there, but no one is sure quite what to do with it," said Schooley. Chatter, for example, may come included as part of your Salesforce suite, but if employees don't see the need for it, or don't feel that it helps them with their jobs, they won't use it, she said. It's important for HR to do what it does best and communicate with employees to ensure early buy-in from the influential, tech-savvy ones. The others will learn that, many times, the best way to collaborate quickly and efficiently is through tools like Chatter or Yammer. But the platform must be integral to the work each employee is doing, "or else they just won't see the use case," Schooley said.


This was first published in December 2012

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