Following my recent rant about HR's ignorance around the power of the social, and unstructured content – “all that crap on Facebook and twitter” to the as yet uninitiated – I figured it would be useful to share some specific examples. So, over the next few posts I’m going to feature three examples that are, in my opinion, game changing stuff for HR and the associated industries.

First up, a subject close to my heart – assessment. I spend most of my waking moments immersed in the field of human behaviour, researching and designing new ways of predicting personality, behaviour and ultimately performance. The stock trade in this field are personality questionnaires, used in large numbers at many stages of the employee lifecycle from resourcing through to development.

These assessments are big business and are sold and used in huge numbers globally. The acquisition of SHL by CEB just over a year ago, signals how commercially important these solutions are.

More recently, alternatives to the stock questionnaire are emerging, including the use of images and or gameplay – examples include VisualDNA who use visuals instead of straight questionnaires and The Knack who claim to be able to predict high performers simply through observation of gameplay.

However, one of the most compelling and interesting approaches was brought to life this year, but not by a traditional vendor or new market entrant/start up but instead as part of the Wold WellBeing Project – an initiative that is pioneering techniques for measuring psychological and medical wellbeing using language in social media.  A summary of the work can be found here, and the detailed research article appears on the Public Library of Science (PLOS) One website. In short, this fascinating initiative is the largest ever study of Language and personality. Using 700 million words, phrases and topic instances taken from 75,000 Facebook volunteers, they undertook to see if they could correlate and predict personality type from an analysis of their social profiles, and they found that they could:

“The "open-vocabulary approach" of analysing all words was shown to be equally predictive (and in some cases more so) than traditional methods used by psychologists, such as self-reported surveys and questionnaires”

For anyone working in HR or the assessment industry, this is BIG news, or should be. Here we have potentially a new and equally predictive way (according to this latest research) of providing insight into personality and behaviour, without asking a single question. Perhaps more interestingly, one that potentially sits outside of the current psychology governance and compliance infrastructure – the BPS, the licensing test providers and the ‘practitioners’.

The fact that your Facebook drivel can predict your personality will be a revelation to many and I suspect will be met with scoffs of disbelief, especially from some of the established players, but this would be very short sighted, in my opinion, and if they are not already neck deep in this research then they should absolutely be.

Think about it. It isn't so long ago that the de-facto way of assessing and predicting your personality was Astrology (It still is for some!). Then along came science and the field of psychology, which put some well needed rigour into the process, leaving Astrology behind as the psychometric equivalent of a quack cure.

Given the nature of this research, is it really that hard to imagine, in years to come, a bunch of psychologists sitting in a bar somewhere (Ok, so a quiet bar I grant you ;)) and saying:

"Remember when we used to measure personality using those god awful questionnaires? Hahahahahaha!"

I think not….