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Web 2.0 and HR: Ignorance is not bliss

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Like it or not, Web 2.0 is unleashed and a part of everyday life, but does HR really know what to do with it? Christiana Tollast examines how HR can harness this powerful beast, and use it to its own advantage.


The CIPD’s 2008 Web 2.0 and HR discussion paper describes Web 2.0 as a “read-write web, encouraging people to share ideas, promoting discussion and foster a greater sense of community”.

This paper then led to a report, released in February 2009 and called Web 2.0 and Human Resource Management: ‘Groundswell’ or hype?, which found that HR is failing to take advantage of many opportunities presented by Web 2.0 technology.

When the report was launched, Vanessa Robinson, CIPD adviser, organisation and resourcing, said that Web 2.0 provides employees with new tools for collaboration and knowledge-sharing, but that HR professionals were just focusing on the “negative side”.

“All the things that HR does have the potential to be transformed through Web 2.0 technologies.”

Jon Ingham, HR consultant

“HR is in danger of playing catch up as a profession in failing to advance the interests of organisations by navigating them through the undoubted benefits,” she added. “Organisations will be increasingly faced with employees seeking to use Web 2.0 social media technologies at work, so rather than ignore them or ban them outright they will need to adopt sensible policies that fit a particular context.”

The word ‘community’ is key in grasping what Web 2.0, or social media, is all about. Log on to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter and the main theme they have in common is they are all about communities. Communities that HR cannot afford to ignore.

HR consultant and blogger Jon Ingham explains that the biggest win is in how the working environment itself could be changed: “All the things that HR does have the potential to be transformed through Web 2.0 technologies. From recruitment to performance management, through to learning, whatever it is, there are potential applications.”

Feeling Twitterish?

Perhaps the most talked about new kid on the block is Twitter, the microblogging site where users can post messages or updates onto the site to their friends and ‘followers’, who in return, can ‘tweet’ their messages back.

Ingham explains: “On the face of it, Twitter can look pretty stupid. Until you start developing your own use of it and set up people you are following and get people following you, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Ingham strongly advises that before HR does anything else, it should log on to Twitter, set up a blog and start playing with the technology. “If they [HR] are not on LinkedIn, get a profile and start forming relationships, because until they are doing all that, they won’t really understand it.”

Confront the enemy

One of the main concerns, says Dave Dunbar, head of BT Workstyle, is that employees will use sites to bring their company into disrepute: “In the past people would go into the pub after work and tell their mates how terrible their company is; now people blog it, and the whole world knows.”

Yet Ingham does not see this as a concern: “People will talk about organisations anyway. The more they get involved in the technology, the more chance they have of managing the situation.”

The other big fear, says Dunbar, is that people will spend forever on say, Facebook, so productivity is lost. However, he adds: “At BT, we measure people on their output, as opposed to their time. So that worry about productivity vanishes.”

Deal with it

Lauren Harkin, from employment law firm Lemon & Co, says that employers should have a policy in respect of emails and internet usage, “stating that the company reserves the right to monitor employees’ usage and that any remarks made online of a derogatory nature will warrant disciplinary action”.

“The genie is out of the bottle; if we don’t use it, we are going to start to lose ground to the organisations that are.”

Dave Dunbar, BT Workstyle

Harkin continues that remarks made out of office hours can still be dealt with by employers: “All employees should act in good faith towards their employers – in or out of working hours. If employees make online derogatory remarks out of work about their employer or their colleagues, then providing the remarks have a sufficient connection to work, there is no reason why employers should not consider taking disciplinary action.”

Use it or lose out

Dunbar has a stark warning for HR about the consequences of ignoring social media: “The genie is out of the bottle; if we don’t use it, we are going to start to lose ground to the organisations that are.”

Ingham agrees and urges HR to think seriously about what business needs must be addressed and if social media is part of the answer. “Focus on the output rather than the activity. Would a social network or a Wiki help? Should you be getting people to blog? If microblogging is the appropriate technology, should it be Twitter or Yammer, or even the in-house counterparts?”

Recruiting via Facebook

Twitter has proved so popular for posting job vacancies, that it has just launched Twitterjobsearch.com, but are social networking sites really the right medium for recruiting?

Ingham says that the real value for HR of Web 2.0 is in forming communities through social networks, “to make powerful relationships with the people that you potentially want to recruit.”

Brewers SABMiller has been using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool for the past three years, as Danny Rosewarne, group talent acquisition manager, explains: “After looking at who we already know, we will go straight onto LinkedIn and network for the right people as our default resource.”

Over the past 18 months, Rosewarne says they have hired around 30 to 40 people on LinkedIn, to service the global needs of the business, all with salaries from £50k to £130k. “At around $1 to $2000 per user per year, it’s very cost effective.”

The future

Rosewarne sees that, going forward, organisations will increasingly use the social media platforms to develop their brand: “There will be a pull towards the organisation, rather than us going out there and actively finding these people.”

Ingham sums it up simply enough: “This is an opportunity not a threat.” So what are you waiting for? Get logged on and blog on!

4 Responses

  1. Supporting Research
    A recent study by You at Work has shown that contrary to popular opinion, allowing employees access to social networking sites could improve their commitment or ‘engagement’ to their employer.

    Younger employees in particular view work as part and parcel of their social lives, and those employers that discourage socialising at work by banning social networking sites are less likely to retain and motivate these critical employees.

    Encouraging the latest generation of workers to socialise is critical for retention and motivation, with 76% of 16-24s saying they are less likely to leave a company that encourages them to do so.

    The survey of over 1,000 office workers in the UK revealed that more ‘very committed’ employees spend more work time on non work-related emails, texts and instant messages than ‘not at all committed’ employees (68% compared to 44%). 80% of employees say they work harder when they get along with colleagues.

    Currently 25% (7.7m) of employees use online networks to interact with colleagues, 43% (3.4m) of those are through external networks like Facebook.

    Social networks can prove more than a motivational benefit. 16-24s are ten times more likely to use external social networking sites to network with colleagues than the over 45s. However, the tendency for businesses to close down access to the technology networks that young workers consider essential is creating a turn-off. A third of 16-24s are frustrated about the restrictions their employer places over their use of the web, compared to 8.8% of the workforce as a whole.

  2. More on the Opportunity
    I think that Creative Chaos makes a good point – and would suggest that introducing social media provides an excellent opportunity for HR to show its business colleagues the level of strategic contribution it is able to make.

    And I’d also recommend David’s white paper – some great points in here.

    However, I still think the greatest need is simply for HR practitioners to get involved in this stuff (my comment: “On the face of it, Twitter can look pretty stupid.”)

    I’d strongly recommend readers of this article who want to take advanatge of this strategic opportunity to get involved. As I suggested in the article, “log on to Twitter, set up a blog.”

    It doesn’t matter whether this is an HR blog, or something else. But the way you’ll learn about, and be able to talk about, social media with your business colleagues, is to get some personal experience yourself.

    Jon Ingham
    HCM consultant
    http://strategic-hcm.blogspot.com

  3. HR and Social Media
    Good article Christiana. It’s unfortunate that HR doesn’t get the opportunity to lead change in their organizations, except mainly as administrators. The future of our discipline (as well as ones business) may depend on how well we embrace these technologies and the communities that form from them.

  4. Good Article
    Good Article. Similar to other HR investments, we find our customers struggling in three main areas as it relates to the adoption of enterprise social strategies and software – an understanding of the topic, defining a strategy, and working in collaboration with Finance, Legal, and other parts of the organization on the successful deployment and governance around social communities.

    We have just released a whitepaper “10 Steps to Enterprise Social Networking Success” which can be download for free here –

    http://www.vanaconsulting.com/whitepaper.html

    David Vanheukelom
    President and CEO
    Vana Consulting
    http://www.vanaconsulting.com

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