Social Networking – What HR Needs to Know

Recently, Paula Santonocito, a business journalist specializing in employment issues, contacted me to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities for HR professionals and Employers with using social networks. The article she wrote following our conversation appears this month on HRWire – an online subscription resource that provides news and information for Human Resources professionals – and she kindly allowed me to share it in its entirety with my readers here.

After you've read the article, I'd love for you to take just a few moments to share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments section on what needs to happen for HR pros and Employers to address their concerns with social networking and begin to use the tools to meet their professional and business needs. Inquiring minds want to hear from you – because you already know that I think it's past time for everyone to get on board!

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Online Social Networking: What You Need to Know Now

Paula Santonocito

LinkedIn. Facebook. Twitter. You no doubt know the sites, and you are likely a member of at least one. But are you leveraging these social networks to improve your work performance and enhance your career?

Beyond an online presence

If you're like a lot of HR professionals, you have a LinkedIn profile, which provides details about your current employment, work experience, and education. You probably also have a number of associates as connections.

However, the business network is more than a site where you can park your resume and contact list.

Similarly, social networking site Facebook is not merely a place to show your face.

These social networks, along with Twitter, offer HR professionals tremendous opportunities.

What can you do using social media?

Learn, develop yourself, and grow your career, says Jennifer McClure, vice president of Centennial, Inc., a company providing business advisory and recruitment services.

You can also build relationships and seek advice, she says.

Meanwhile, from a day-to-day work standpoint, social media can facilitate employee recruitment and retention, and further efforts at employment branding.

HR's position

Yet, while opportunities to take advantage of social media are readily available, HR professionals as a group are reluctant to fully embrace what the technology offers.

McClure, who was an HR professional for nearly 20 years before transitioning to consulting, understands the hesitation.

She tells HRWire she knows the tendency toward isolation, to put your head down and do the work at hand. Be that as it may, McClure says she also knows that HR professionals should think more about how they can develop themselves and interact with others.

Used effectively, social media tools allow for interaction and relationship building, she says.

But first an HR professional has to overcome another obstacle, one that, ironically, makes him or her good at the job: the risk management factor.

McClure finds an HR person's initial perception with regard to social media is how to control and how to manage the risk, from both personal and company perspectives.

"How much of myself do I put out there?" is the personal conundrum. From the company vantage point, it's about risk and possible repercussion.

Risk averse

Unfortunately, when an HR person gets bogged down in this kind of thought process or analysis, it only contributes to lack of participation.

The reason?

Looking at social media through a risk-management lens doesn't work. "Social media is the exact opposite of that," McClure says, adding that the lack of guidelines in not how HR is wired.

To further explain the situation, McClure likens HR's role, or its perceived role, to that of a church pastor. You're put on a level where you represent the company and its policies and as a result tend think of yourself as one step above the everyday, McClure says.

Social media, by its very nature, allows for exposure. In effect it allows people to wander into a social setting where they see the pastor having a beer.

Given this scenario, even those HR professionals who use social media generally take a vanilla approach so they don't risk offending people. McClure believes this is a mistake, and recommends HR professionals put themselves out there more.

Setting the tone

One reason is rather basic. "Being vanilla kind of makes you boring," McClure says.

At the same time, social media wallflowers need to understand sharing isn't about becoming the life of the online party. There's a business reason to put yourself out there: It allows for more connection opportunities. And, according to McClure, the benefits far outweigh any potential risks.

This isn't to say a no-holds-barred approach to interaction is advisable. McClure doesn't recommend venturing into controversial areas like politics and religion, at least not without some restraint.

But sharing information of a personal nature can help forge personal relationships. McClure gives the example of how disclosing her interest in horses has helped her get to know other professionals.

With so many people working virtually today, interacting via social media makes sense. The tools allow for business relationships with a social component, just like in the face-to-face world.

"For me, it's how I do business now," McClure says.

Professional resources

And doing business via social media allows for a wide range of opportunities.

For McClure, social media is a valuable source of information. If she doesn't know the answers to particular questions, she can easily connect to people who do. By participating in LinkedIn Groups, for example, she can tap into a huge network of knowledgeable associates.

Following people on Twitter offers opportunity as well. By reading the tweets (Twitter postings) of various professionals you quickly learn who the experts are. When a question arises, you have a resource.

HR professionals can also use Twitter to establish themselves as experts in the field, which can help further their careers.

Social media provides a connection to community, and although the community has a social component it furthers business objectives.

McClure tells HRWire she gets an average of five business inquiries per day that are the direct result of social media activity.

Company presence

HR professionals can acquire professional knowledge, make new contacts, and brand themselves as experts using social media.

They can also use social media for employment branding.

McClure gives the example of online shoe retailer Zappos.com, which has branded its culture using Facebook. The company's CEO is also on Twitter, where he shares news.

The concept behind using social media for employment branding is to show that a company has a human face, that the organization is comprised of people. The way to do this, according to McClure, is simply to show the person or people who work at a company.

In addition to Zappos, McClure cites high-speed Internet and cable provider Comcast and Southwest Airlines as examples of employers that use social media effectively.

From an HR perspective, involvement with social media for the purpose of corporate recognition takes time. But according to McClure there is a return on the investment. "When they do need to recruit, the brand is out there," she says.

Social online, social offline

In an age where social media continues to gain ground, it may be advisable for HR to shift resources.

Instead of newspaper ads, marketing campaigns, and websites few people use, McClure advocates joining communities where people are already interacting.

In fact, she says social media isn't that different from good old-fashioned networking, the kind where you meet in person and exchange business cards. What's more, it can facilitate live interaction.

McClure tells HRWire she attended this year's Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) annual conference as a blogger and found she had a core group of people she already knew at the event. Even though she had never met any of her colleagues in person before, it was a reunion of sorts and they were able to socialize with ease.

Contact: Jennifer McClure, vice president, Centennial, Inc., cincyrecruiter@gmail.com.

Online: Cincy Recruiter's World, Jennifer McClure's blog, which includes social media tips and other information for HR professionals, http://www.cincyrecruiter.com. 

© 2009 Thomson/West

This article originally appeared in the Thomson Reuters publication HRWire and is reprinted here with permission.

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

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3 thoughts on “Social Networking – What HR Needs to Know

  1. I have a definite tendency to be the, “head down and do the work at hand” person you mention above and now, after being out there and interacting – I feel a definite void when I am not – that’s my signal to get back in the game. The challenge for me is getting into a rhythm where I am able to incorporate everything I want to do into my life (!) and feel comfortable with my level of participation and interaction.

  2. I have often had the thought that a couple of hours of online networking with my peers across the country and globe is equal to a couple of semesters in college. I’m not kidding. The choice on how one uses SN is unique to the individual. You can spend all your time on Bejeweled and passing virtual beer and kisses around or you can connect with people on various platforms who share interesting relevant information and discussion pertaining to your profession and those related. In this case HR/Recruiting.
    The biggest benefit for me is having my own professional advisory board and networking group available wherever & whenever.
    As our peers become introduced exponentially and daily to the “2nd World” there will be no going back. Why on earth would you want to?
    It’s time for the HR Pastors and Police to lose the frocks and badges. We need to be ahead of the game when it comes to what the rest of the workforce already knows, not behind it.

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