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Rob Catalano



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If your company isn’t social, then what the heck are you?


It’s 2017. We’re all a little more social than we used to be: 65% of adults now use social networking sites, which is nearly a tenfold jump in the past decade.

In that last decade though, social hasn’t just changed us as individuals, but as employers and employees as well.

Think about it using an example from the workplace. In 1999, the kick-ass company Monster revolutionised the recruiting market. Job boards offered a whole new way to post, search, manage and match people to jobs. It was awesome. The town was painted purple.

In 2002, LinkedIn came around and allowed an easier way for employees and employers to use their social networks to find each other. It changed the game.

And it quickly disrupted the existing approach. In only a few years, share prices between Monster and LinkedIn tell that story of disruption:

In 2015, millennials (aged 18-34) surpassed generation X as the largest generational cohort in the labour force and in 2016, millennials became the largest living generation, numbering 75.4 million, overtaking 74.9 million baby boomers (aged 51-69).

This generation doesn’t just get social – they’ve experienced it their whole lives. Our organisations need to react.

Since I believe that the culture and daily experience of employees can be heavily impacted by the HR department, there is a huge opportunity for HR and business leaders alike to make a positive impact on their business.

Given it's ‘Social Month’ on HRZone, I wanted to share my experiences and approaches if you’re considering getting your company to become more social.

Who cares? Why should my company be more social?

Times have changed, has your approach? Besides the fact that your employee base is very different than it has been before, there are several reasons and benefits to ensuring your company is more social:

  • Communication and transparency (enabled through social) is a major driver of employee engagement
  • The new employee wants purpose and alignment to the company mission that can be amplified through every employee, not just top-down.  Employees also want a voice that can be heard through social approaches.
  • Increased importance of aligning a blended workforce where professors from Harvard and Princeton predict that Gig Economy Workers range from 15.8% to 34% and aren’t full-time sitting in your office.
  • Data is key – collecting data on interactions and sentiment can offer insight into employees, customers, or the overall community.
  • Company brand can get amplified through a whole organisation promoting employer brand and social selling

…and the list goes on.

HR “best” practices are blowing up all around us. To get ahead, your company need to be thinking about “next” practices. 

Things aren’t annual anymore like they used to be – being social isn’t about a moment in time, but rather continuous conversation and feedback.

Think about employee engagement surveys, annual performance reviews, annual goal setting and performance management, rewards and recognition for tenure after five years of service… they have all been replaced by more frequent interactions, conversations, and access to information.

The workplace isn’t getting more social, it’s already here.

“Thing aren’t annual anymore like they used to be – being social isn’t about a moment in time, but rather continuous conversation and feedback.”

OK, I get it. Where do I start?

It’s important to align your social strategy with organisational goals.

Are you primarily focussing on your customers and growing your business? Improving employee engagement? Supporting collaboration to drive innovation? Ask yourself what the ‘end-game’ is to ensure you start with what success looks like down the road.

Practical applications of where I’ve used social in the past are:

  • Internal crowdsourcing to drive innovation
  • Digital voice from social media to better understand customer sentiment
  • Employee recognition open to the whole company to reinforce key behaviours and culture
  • Encourage and support real-time employee feedback
  • Social performance management to ensure frequency in feedback and ensure it is always-on (not one single rating)
  • Social recruiting and selling – leveraging the whole company’s voice through social channels to build employer and company brand
  • Skills development through highlighting key skills in organisations and serving up joint learning and mentoring
  • Employee wellness through social challenges and gamification

Then what?

Once you’ve defined your objectives, and know why you’re going down this journey, it’s about executing on a solid plan. Think about these major milestones in your plan:

  1. Pick team and tech – don’t let technology define your parameters. Once you have objectives and passionate people that support them, then this step can be accomplished
  2. Get executive/leadership sponsorship – you’ll need passionate leaders to champion and promote the benefits of your initiatives
  3. Communicate – ensure intentions are clear, and what the approach is
  4. Train and ensure social media literacy if required
  5. And if you do it – decide what you can measure. You want to ensure you can identify impact when all is said and done.

Leap over barriers.

When you go down this road, you’ll be reminded (ad nauseam) of all the reasons why you CAN’T or SHOULDN’T focus on social.  Be aware of what they are and how to respond to them. A few common barriers to adopting social media:

  • Misunderstanding of social and its capabilities – most people think social has nothing to do with work, is distracting, and offers no value. Letting people know the type of feedback and insight you can gather is important. Use examples and cases of what’s worked to help get buy in. I had the pleasure of helping build the C-Suite Guide to Social Engagement for the Engage for Success movement that has some great case studies worth reviewing.
  • Command and control – you don’t have full control of what employees do, and ask yourself if you really want that? You hire employees to offer value to your customers and your company – and that requires autonomy.  Build structure for the majority of employees, not policy on what the 1% of employees may do wrong.
  • Previous adverse experience – you can’t completely shut people off social media. Embrace it versus ignoring it. You could try blocking people… then load up on recruiters because you’ll have a lot of roles to replace.

“Build structure for the majority of employees, not policy on what the 1% of employees may do wrong.”

Sure it’s scary, but…

Using social systems that allow an open voice to employees, or even customers, prospects and the whole community that surrounds your entire organisation can be scary.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hear an employee or partner complain and curse to me than post it on Glassdoor or review sites. 

It’s not only about maintaining a company image, but hearing this type of feedback internally allows companies to dig deeper, understand issues, and remedy things.

And OMG, stop it with the social media policy.

No one reads your employee handbook, policy booklet, or employee guide unless it’s short or pleasant to read and reflects your awesome culture (assuming you have an awesome culture).

Here’s an old post of what I really think about them when I was working at Achievers, where our employee handbook fit on a single business card.

Let’s treat our employees like humans that we trust… we choose who to hire after all.

Getting your organization to embrace and leverage social approaches and technology isn’t easy, but requires the right mindset and approach.

More importantly, it requires you to be social too!  Think about it, if you want to create a social workplace, be open, transparent, embrace feedback and be social yourself first.  

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Rob Catalano


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