Article: How HR can lead the social media initiatives of the organisation

Strategic HR

How HR can lead the social media initiatives of the organisation

Social media has the capacity to revolutionise the HR function

Organisations that are venturing into social media need to embrace transparent and opencommunication


Having just one gate between the organization and its customers results in social media bottleneck and that approach does not scale for larger companies in the long run


The beginnings of social media were in the bulletin boards of the early 1990s. People would ask questions – and other people would answer them. The conversation was threaded and could be about whatever. If you had a bulletin board on a site dedicated to rock music, it would be about rock music. If it was on a tech site, the questions and answers would be about technology.
After the bulletin boards came blogs, which gave anyone a platform to publish his or her views or commentary or stories to a worldwide audience. If a person was passionate about a certain subject, he or she could build a dedicated readership. Then came social networks. The ones like Facebook, LinkedIn and Orkut have rich user profiles, community pages, activity streams and third party applications running on them. Relationships are mutual between users. Twitter is a little different social network than these since relations are not mutual.
The big change between earlier media and “social media” is that people who participate in these have moved from being passive consumers of information and entertainment to creators. Every person can theoretically publish his own newspaper editorial (aka blogs) or his own TV channel (on YouTube).
Most organizations don’t get this. They believe Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are additional channels to TV, radio and print. They then are surprised when consumers react and respond. It’s a great high when the reaction is positive – and despair when they react negatively.
Organizations that are venturing into social media need to embrace transparent and open communication. It also has to set processes and workflows that add on to traditional operations and customer service workflows so that external issues are absorbed internally and resolved and then communicated externally.
Having just one gate between the organization and its customers results in social media bottleneck – and that approach does not scale for larger companies in the long run. Hence, the social business enables a large part of the employees to interact with customers and encourages customers to connect with other customers. A large technology firm in the US found that it could reduce support costs if it put in a bulletin board where experienced users helped newer users.
At its epitome, the social business involves the customer in its innovation process either by using the collective wisdom of the community or by an ideation system where users give ideas for the product or service.

Why should HR lead this initiative?
HR (in the sphere of OD) has the critical skill to make such changes less painful and with a higher rate of success. Let's face it, change management seen from a tool vendor's point of view is just a "training program" and about process changes. Other business functions really don't have the change management understanding that OD practitioners have. That understanding can be channelised to make "social business" a reality by thinking about the structure, process, emotional and personal aspects of change.
Enterprise 2.0 is both about engaging people with other people (employees, partners, customers) as well as embedding that in the business processes. Typically, HR professionals don't get a chance to influence what happens in the business – but with E2.0 they can – and build their strategic impact. Holy grail, anyone?
Enterprise 2.0 will soon be the platform of learning and people to people engagement in the organization and as such will have impact on all aspects of HR work – Recruitment, Employee Engagement, Learning and Development. And unless HR leads the conversation, it will find itself more and more redundant like IT departments are finding themselves.
My view is that someone in the Marketing / Recruiting function needs to take a “Talent Community Manager” role to drive these initiatives and to get others internally in the organization to get engaged with the candidate community. This community manager needs to have a mindset of open and honest collaboration and organizations must be clear about what objectives they expect from her / him and therefore what metrics to track to check her / his performance.
Soon companies will collate all these efforts into a community that they will own – and which will have representation on social networks and blogs.

Some Ideas for making HR work Social

• RECRUITMENT: How about talent show where prospective candidates perform tasks and are voted up or down by current employees and final selection of the finalists is done by hiring managers. These tasks could be results or the process of doing the role itself. It could be text based, photographic or video based too. These folks can be pre-screened based on their interests and participation on the company's external communities. Of course, some roles would be more suited to this than others.
• LEARNING & DEVELOPMENT: In their book ‘The New Social Learning’, Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham chronicle how diverse organizations of various industries are moving away from the traditional e-learning and LMS paradigm to peer learning facilitated by social technologies like microsharing, video sharing, blogging within organizations. Rawn Shah of IBM wrote: “Leaders who connect to mentees in an enterprise 2.0 network can stay in touch with them more easily, understand their strengths and offer them more opportunities. They can mentor on an ambient level openly broadcasting their ideas, knowledge and help for mentees or anyone to consider by sharing their thoughts on micro-blog systems; they can receive feedback the same way.”
• COMPENSATION & BENEFITS: How about a Quora like internal question and answer site that helps users to resolve each others’ queries on how to craft their own "cafeteria compensation" plan. And a group voting site on rewards and recognition for fellow employees.
• HR PROCESSES: This has been done. Dell employees use an internal platform to give ideas to improve systems and processes.
• EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT: The internal corporate social network can leverage connections that exist between employees and also help in serendipitous discovery of new knowledge and innovation by getting people to collaborate and discover new people whom they might not ever have met face to face. The question needs to be rethought and organizations need to look at their employees as an internal community they need to "converse with" and not to "talk / sell to."

4 Step Method of Employee Communication
1. LISTEN: Give tools to your employees to make them heard. Use ideation platforms, questions and answers, wikis, internal blogs for employees to connect with each other. Figure out what holds their attention and time.
2. ACKNOWLEDGE: When someone contributes a great idea – borrow it and give her / him credit. Make that employee an owner of that idea and support her / him to implement it. The same away, acknowledge the employees who contribute answers and contribute to building the knowledge base.
3. UNDERSTAND: With the data generated in the first two steps, organizations can figure out (using Thomas Gladwell's Tipping point lingo) who are the mavens, connectors and salesmen. This would be possible using Social Network Analysis tools.
4. ENGAGE: Using the data from the above step, organizations should figure out the highly engaged employees who are mavens, connectors and salesmen and empower them as internal advocates (using the methodology of social influence marketing)
The thought behind this method of employee communication is that influential employees would be trusted and co-creating a message along with them would be a better way to communicate than just using posters and emails that are likely to be ignored by employees.

Gautam Ghosh is a HR Head of a firm. He’s one of India’s earliest and foremost bloggers. You can see his blog at and follow him on Twitter at

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Topics: Strategic HR, #Social Media

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