Frédéric Radier looks at the benefits that social networking can provide in the workplace, and offers some advice to help HR professionals implement a corporate network within the organisation.
Social networking sites have revolutionised communication and the art of personal marketing. A huge number of people now have profiles on sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn and spend a significant amount of time communicating with friends and colleagues via these sites, as well as using these tools as a means to create their own personal brand to stand out in the crowd.
Facebook alone has roughly 8.5 million users in the UK. Many businesses are now recognising that the communication benefits social networking technologies provide in the consumer world can also be applied to the corporate world, and as a result are looking at ways of harnessing Web 2.0 technologies.
Resistance to new technologies
For HR in particular, social networking represents a fantastic opportunity to create a sense of community among employees, to promote communication, and the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and as a result boost employee engagement. The problem is that HR has typically shied away from new technologies. Recent research from Clearswift found that one in five HR decision makers are not familiar with social networking technologies and two-thirds of HR professionals do not personally use them.
If we look at the benefits of a corporate network, then the choice to not pursue this technology could be a very costly mistake – as we’ve heard time and time again, the war for talent is getting fiercer so HR needs to do all it can to attract and retain the most talented individuals. HR needs to not just familiarise itself with social networking sites but also needs to seriously consider implementing a corporate networking solution to keep key talent.
What are the benefits?
Generation Y, which is three times the size of Generation X, is beginning to hit your talent pool. Just as it’s important for a company to change its marketing strategies to reach new consumer tastes, so is the need for HR to adapt its talent strategies. A social networking tool can be particularly effective at engaging Generation Y, for whom Facebook et al are part of everyday life. Furthermore, social networking is fast becoming the elusive multi-generational communication conduit comfortable for any age.
Social networking encourages collaboration, helping to foster knowledge and idea sharing right across the company. So for example, employees can communicate on items as diverse as what to do for the annual Christmas do, to coming up with new ways for boosting customer loyalty.
Globally aware companies recognise the vast impact of YouTube, and understand that corporate networks also bring down geographical barriers enabling employees to easily talk to and share information with their colleagues in other offices, both in the UK and worldwide.
New recruits can also benefit from social networking through learning about the organisation and its culture, and connecting with others sharing similar experiences. This can help to speed up their induction into the organisation.
Vital to the X and Y generation is the ability to create a personal identity and brand to improve visibility and career mobility. By providing details on career goals, experiences and skills, HR and managers can get to know their employees better which can greatly help internal mobility programs that can reduce external recruitment costs.
Employees are empowered to interact directly with senior level managers, which may not have been possible before. This encourages employees to take a more active role in the development of their own career, and as a result, creates a stronger sense of company loyalty.
Employees can also post personal information, for example what music they are into, favourite films, sports, and hobbies. This presents a holistic view of the employee from both a personal and professional perspective and helps employees remove false stereotypes to better understand and engage one another.
Now that we have established the benefits, how should HR approach the implementation of a corporate network if it’s not sure where to start?
Implementing a social network
Before introducing any new technology, not just social networking, HR needs to develop a blueprint for implementation. This should include an assessment of the current IT infrastructure, i.e. is the infrastructure in place for social networking to be rolled out, or will upgrades need to be made?
HR also needs to identify any skill gaps within the department – are the right skills there to successfully roll out the new solution, for example IT and project management skills? If the skills don’t exist they will need to be brought in from external sources to ensure the project is a success. The blueprint must also of course include a budget and timeline.
The development of a business case is vital. This should clearly lay out the benefits of social networking in order to engage key stakeholders, and the objectives the company wants to achieve with a corporate network such as better internal mobility, improved employee satisfaction and reduced staff turnover. Within the business case, benchmarks must be established in order to assess the success of the network. For example – what is the target number of users for the new networking tool? Or if one of the goals is to boost internal mobility, how will this be measured?
Finally, a corporate social network is not MySpace or Facebook, but rather a professional environment that requires some basic ground rules on what is appropriate or inappropriate content. Guidelines for establishing forums and groups need to be thoroughly explored to prevent creating unintentional situations of exclusion that could be deemed discriminatory. For example, employees should be provided similar rights to opt-in or opt-out, and strategies for disciplinary actions for any misuse must be considered.
Ensuring its success
Sponsorship and active involvement at the highest rank is crucial to creating a new culture of active engagement to motivate a company. A misguided word from an executive can very quickly cause a project to fail, before it has even started. Once the network has been implemented, employees should not be left to discover it on their own!
Communication is absolutely vital to ensure take-up. HR must market the new tool to employees and provide some basic training for how social networking will be used within the company. For example, assign super users to initiate conversations, and to create groups and forums so that people are actively encouraged to use the network.
HR also needs to either monitor the network itself or appoint a team to do this in order to ensure that people are making the most of it. This many include dealing with any negative uses of social networking such as too much gossiping, or unsuitable comments.
The great advantage of an internal network is that there is no risk of embarrassment externally if an inappropriate comment is made as there is with sites such as Facebook. However, an internal network still needs to be monitored to avoid potential disclosure of confidential information or an impact on morale if someone says something negative.
Lastly, to assess its success, feedback should be sought from employees on the corporate social network. Find out what they enjoy about it, how much they use it, and how it benefits them in their everyday jobs. The benchmarks which were established in the business plan should also provide a way of measuring success, for example how much of an impact the corporate network has had on internal mobility.
The future is networking
Ultimately, the benefits of a corporate network are too strong to be ignored and HR should be embracing it now. Internal social networks can stimulate employee involvement and knowledge sharing, which ensures that every person within the business counts, helping to create a strong feeling of community. This, in turn, can help boost employee engagement and productivity. Research demonstrates a link between high employee engagement and enhanced business performance. During these hard times, surely anything which can improve engagement has to be taken seriously?
Frédéric Radier is vice president, operations, at Jobpartners.