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HRD's pocket guide to... social media

May's pocket guide talks the talk on social media in the workplace

Why do I need to know about it?

Think of HR and social media and you’re likely to picture one of the following: using LinkedIn to screen a candidate, writing a social media policy, or politely declining a friend request from an employee on Facebook.

Many in HR perceive social media predominantly as something of a threat to be managed and minimised. Others simply fail to see the value. But both camps are missing an opportunity to learn from peers and expand their network, according to Gemma Dale, an experienced HR director and co-author of the Putting Social Media to Work series of books.

“Some of the best ideas I implemented in my last role [at Tunstall Healthcare] were things I had learned from people I met on Twitter and then took into the organisation,” says Dale. “HR professionals have a responsibility to bring the outside in and social media makes that possible.”

Stephen Moir, chief people officer for NHS England and head of profession for HR, has 2,200 Twitter followers and counting.

He tweets regularly throughout the day about HR and the NHS. “It gives me the opportunity to engage in real time with organisations, individuals and the wider HR profession [and is] a good way to learn new things,” says Moir. “It’s also good discipline to manage what you say in 140 characters!”

What do I need to know?

Firstly, social media doesn’t have to be hard. Karen Beaven, HR director for River Island, checks Twitter each day before she gets out of bed and says it allows her to keep up to date on developments within HR and retail both at a global and local level. “It’s easy to get started. Pick a couple of platforms that seem to fit best for you and give it a try,” she advises.

Secondly, there’s more to social media than LinkedIn and Twitter. Glassdoor (the website that rates employers) has long been feared by organisations for its potential to attract negative criticism. But Dale says that HR teams should view the platform as an opportunity for employee engagement. “Glassdoor gives HR a chance to listen to the employee voice in a whole new way,” she explains. “What we’re seeing is the consumer model of reviewing coming into the workplace.”

‘Social’ is also an ever-more ubiquitous word when it comes to internal employee-to-employee communications. Long bemoaned as having much to learn from newer social kids on the block, email is being steadily replaced by more real-time, collaborative forms of communication like Slack and Trello. River Island is trialling Trello as a platform for its HR team. Beaven explains: “There is value in using platforms [like Trello], particularly when you have teams working remotely.

It enables the whole team to be more informed and to actively make suggestions that we can consider.”

Where can HR add value?

“We know we have a digital skills gap in this country,” says Dale. “We are facing a future of increasing automation and AI in the workplace. A lot of organisations are not adequately skilling their people for the digital future that is to come.”

Dale says it is up to HR directors to lead from the front in narrowing that skills gap. “When HRDs are social they are role modelling the skills that workforces need.”

Moir agrees and credits social media for bringing HR into the digital age: “It gives HR a voice in a really powerful way. [HRDs] are talking about the organisations they work in, raising the profile of their employer brand, sharing thought pieces, offering insight and comment and, of course, having an opinion on issues.”

Anything else?

For those that have still not sent their first tweet, the concept of ‘dark social’ may seem ominous. However, most have engaged in this form of social media without knowing of its sinister moniker. The term refers to content that is shared through less visible channels; a group chat on Whatsapp, an article you send via email, a message sent on Facebook.

People director at Fletchers Solicitors Tim Scott says: “The risk is you can’t see what’s being said, but on the other hand the same risk exists in an employee using a telephone too. We have to be willing to be open-minded and look at the advantages of these trends. There could be potential cost savings and yet more opportunities to engage with employees.”