Social media and HR - arch enemies or vital partners?

This article was originally published on Changeboard.com The recent ban by Portsmouth City Council on their employees accessing social media sites such as Facebook while at work, has provoked much debate in other companies and organisations.

I suspect that a large number of HR departments up and down the country are looking at the issue in more detail than ever. Retailer magnet Theo Paphitus encapsulated the social media detractor’s point of view very well when he said this in a recent interview: “At Ryman, we had to knock this problem on the head about a year ago, when it became obvious that too much staff time was being eaten up by this nonsense”.

What HR departments might be less familiar with though, is the strong case for the integration of social media into the workplace. Tony Hseith of Zappos, has this to say, “If you don't trust your employees to tweet freely, it's an employee or leadership issue, not an employee Twitter policy issue” While he might not be as well know in the UK as the Ryman’s Dragon, the recent sale of Zappos to Amazon for the best part of a $1 billion illustrates that he also knows a thing or two about running a successful business. Indeed it’s not a coincidence that Zappos is considered by many as the best place to work in US.

What this tells me is that producing a sensible, successful corporate policy on social media usage is very difficult if you don’t use it yourself. It’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon of negativity if you have no idea what the advantages could be for your department and your company.  If you’re struggling for a place to start then it’s well worth considering some of key benefits of social media for the HR profession

Information intelligence

Over the last two years there has been a proliferation of blogs covering HR and recruitment issues. Information can be updated in an instant and breaking news now travels in seconds rather than hours or days. Relevant industry conversations take place daily on sites like Twitter and useful content is continually being uploaded to sites such as YouTube and Slideshare. Is this market intelligence you can afford to miss?

Networking

LinkedIn and Twitter offer the opportunity to expand your professional network like never before. Organisations like “The Firm” (The Forum for In House Recruitment Managers) are also proving this isn’t just happening in cyber space. After starting life as a LinkedIn group they now have regular events, which allow corporate recruiters to meet and network in “real life”.

Recruitment strategy

Recruitment budgets have been slashed and the recession is making it less likely that the very best people will be tempted to move role. Against this backdrop, “social recruiting” is giving many companies a cost effective and dynamic way to evolve their recruitment communication strategy.

Communications

Social media is also driving a corporate communications revolution for many organisations. Major CRM systems such as Salesforce.com are integrating Twitter and Facebook so that customers can communicate with companies directly via these channels. Secure network services such as Yammer are making internal communications more informal and useful while social networking and wiki technology are finally dragging the corporate intranet into the 21st century.

The aggressive consistent growth of the social web should be proof in itself that we are dealing with revolution not a fad and progressive companies like Zappos have already integrated it deep into the culture of their business to great success. As similar positive case studies emerge expect the debate to become more balanced and social media to start being seen as the force for corporate good rather than something that should just be banned.