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Kate Phelon

Sift Media

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It’s crunch time: How will the HR sector respond to the war for talent?

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Gavin Ingham Brooke defines the now widely coined phrase 'Web 2.0' and offers some insight into why HR professionals should be harnessing the technology to attract the pioneers and innovators of the future's workforce.

Increasingly, 'Web 2.0' is being touted as the next big thing for HR – but should we believe the hype? Recent research by Clearswift found that two thirds of HR professionals do not use new social media technologies. Why, then, should HR professionals bother? Do the benefits outweigh the costs of adopting new, and potentially risky, technologies?

Amidst the dual crises of the talent crunch and the credit crunch, it is becoming more and more important to use every tool available to attract the best candidates and employers. Whilst learning to use new social media technologies may be time-consuming at first, this represents a small cost compared to the potentially huge payoff as Generation Y hits the workforce. To gain the advantage, HR professionals should be at the forefront of social media trends, participating in the debate and helping to shape emerging platforms.

Web 2.0 defined

'Web 2.0' is an umbrella term for the new (and constantly evolving) participatory web – collaborative, user-generated content like blogs, wikis, social networking and mashups which are quickly replacing the static web sites of Web 1.0. Yet more than defining the applications, the term Web 2.0 is meant to convey a spirit of collaboration and open sharing online.

Blog

Short for 'web log', a site that allows an individual or group to share a running log of events/insights and receive comments

Career Hub
Evil HR Lady

Social networking

Creating and verifying online social networks through platforms which enable various ways for users to interact e.g., chat, messaging, video, discussion groups

Changeboard
CIPD professional communities
TrainingZone.co.uk community

Wiki

A website that allows visitors to add, remove, edit and change content

WikiJob

Podcast

An audio or video recording which can be downloaded and played later, and is often sent to subscribers via RSS

HR Podcast
Personnel Today Podomatic

RSS Feed

'Really Simple Syndication', an RSS feed allows users to subscribe to web pages and be notified every time content changes, rather than visiting each site individually

Feedreader
NewsGator
Google Reader

Widget

Also called 'gadgets', small, functional applications nestled in other websites

Radical HR widget

The challenges

What is at the root of HR's reticence to adopt Web 2.0 technologies? Three perceived threats are perhaps delaying HR professionals from joining the fray:

1. Security risks
The same functions that make Web 2.0 so valuable in the workplace – better collaboration, communication and innovation – also herald increased vulnerabilities – the influx of too much (often irrelevant) information (spam) and privacy concerns. Social media represents a shift from centrally controlled, or one-to-many, to user-generated, or many-to-many, content. This general loss of control may cause concern about potential damage to customer and employer brands. However, these conversations will happen whether or not you participate, and the risk may be greater if you don't engage with critics. Most security threats posed by Web 2.0 can be mitigated by establishing clear policies on internet usage and communicating these to staff and other users.

2. Time wasting
Much of the debate about social media has focused upon employees' excessive use of Facebook and MySpace on the job. The initial knee-jerk reaction was to ban these sites, but now more and more companies are opening up and learning to trust their employees to use social networking responsibly, with clear policies in place to guide usage. Experts are even encouraging bosses to allow their employees to spend time experimenting with Web 2.0 technologies, including Facebook and Linked In, because it will encourage innovation and networking within the organisation.

3. Cultural barriers
Finally, many HR professionals – along with the majority of us! – do not yet know or understand how to use social media in the corporate world. Lack of expertise, especially at the higher levels, means that many HR professionals may lack the 'buy in' to begin using new technologies for the wider, corporate benefit. In addition, some IT departments are reluctant to adopt new technologies for fear of damaging their current systems. Cultural complacency is always a challenge, but in this case change represents great opportunities.

Opportunities

What are these would-be benefits that should motivate businesses and HR professionals in particular to embrace the unknown? The most innovative firms will use Web 2.0 technologies externally, to enhance client relationships by building communities and to bolster networking and internally, to improve communication and working, e.g., by building bottom-up blogs and hosting shared documents such as wikis. There is a significant competitive advantage to be gained in early adoption, particularly as the social media natives, Generation Y, are becoming a larger part of the workforce.

Social media technologies stand to benefit HR across the full range of business types and practices, though there is no cookie cutter mould for adopting new technologies. Each organisation will have to develop its own policies for use. Much of this is common sense – online social networking is likely to be a better tactic for recruitment than, for example, to manage sensitive client relations, where a 'walled garden' (password-guarded) form of online communication is more appropriate. Many companies choose to implement Web 2.0 on a gradual basis, testing out individual applications carefully inside the firm before going public and growing platforms 'organically' so that users can help create the best model.

Best practice: The BT Experience

BT's adoption of an internal social networking platform, incorporating wikis and blogs, successfully addressed the demands of its workforce and added value to the way the firm communicates. Whilst most firms were dealing with how to handle the problem of employees 'wasting time' on internet social networking sites like Facebook, BT adopted a libertarian view making sure that employees could access them. Further, BT decided to adopt these tools internally with a social networking platform on the company Intranet. This provided every BT employee with a page in which they could connect with other people through a 'friend' function, create web pages and wikis, share photos, set up file stores and wiki calendars, and create blogs. According to Richard Dennison, internal programme manager, this allowed BT to "transform the way our employees interact with each other, with 'the company', and with our customers, suppliers and partners".

Finally, the value of social networking from the recruitment point of view should not be underestimated. As Generation Y enters the workforce, they will expect these technologies (which are already ingrained to their daily lives) to help them interact and manage their time. Companies, and company culture, will be judged based upon the extent to which they too adopt these tools.

For more on how Web 2.0 can benefit HR professionals, visit www.spada.co.uk/swordplay

Gavin Ingham Brooke is managing director of Spada – a communications and research consultancy for the professions

2 Responses

  1. What is at the root of HR’s reticence to adopt Web 2.0 technolog
    What is at the root of HR’s reticence to adopt Web 2.0 technologies?

    To, me it’s that we’re not clear about the benefits of doing so (in which case, I think it’s right to be reticent).

    Much of the debate seems to focus on how we can use these techologies – rather than what our are objectives, and do / how can these technologies help us achieve these.

    I’m worried this approach will take us down the wrong path. Experience in various areas, for example, e-learning, suggests that the actual technology doesn’t matter that much; it’s how this is used as part of a blended solution to achieve certain learning and business outcomes that counts.

    And actually, I do think there are clear benefits – around connecting and social capital – which I believe are becoming increasingly important.

    Once this is understood, I think web 2.0 has a clear role to play.

    You can see more of my perspectives on this at: http://social-business.blogspot.com/2008/09/linking-social-connections-social-media.html .

  2. The technology is here to stay…
    ” As Generation Y enters the workforce, they will expect these technologies (which are already ingrained to their daily lives) to help them interact and manage their time.”
    I recently worked on a project with 16 year olds in school acting as consultants to a multinational employer. The were asked to look at how social networking could be used to enhance communication and team development. Their approach, findings and explanations were refreshing and easy to understand. It certainly opened my eyes to the potential and – as a blogger – I thought I was quite up to date! When I speak about this with other (not just HR) professionals I meet with similar responses about security and time wasting but a few simple examples of how working practices might be enhanced help.
    Not adapting to and taking up opportunities to use social media might still be a personal choice but as Gavin says businesses will be resourced by more and more GenY employees for whom it has very much been part of their education. Attracting- and retaining – them might depend on it

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Kate Phelon

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