The 10 social tools you need

Are you fed up of the s-word yet? Hopefully not, because the trend for putting the word social in front of everything – from learning to recruitment to performance management – shows no sign of abating.

But for some in HR, it wreaks of the hype that has accompanied many a passing fad. The scope of their role means HR professionals ought to be among the most connected people in a company. The social revolution is one they can’t afford to sit out on.

Any initial reticence might have been due to questionable business value, says James Fabricant, founder of the social platform IdeaPlane. “In some cases social media has been viewed as a time draw rather than something that can contribute to the business,” he says. “This is because the focus has been on the social rather than the enterprise.”

Today though, workplace applications of collaborative social tools are becoming far more explicit and, coupled with the rise in more enterprise-orientated platforms, are providing HR with an opportunity to add value. “Many of these tools can improve the way HR works, but they also have a resonance when it comes to changing the way employees, managers and business leaders work,” says Jon Ingham, HR blogger and executive consultant at Strategic Dynamics Consultancy Services. “The latter are often seen as areas that aren’t appropriate for HR to get involved in, but that is completely wrong.”

Aside from resourcing, which was quick to see the relevance of social media, and sales and marketing, where the applications are evident, it is still early days for many business functions when it comes to integrating social tools into daily work routines. Paul Harrison, managing partner of social business consultancy Carve Consulting, reckons most organisations are some way off using social tools to create value for the business in “any meaningful and systemic way”. Gareth Jones, community and social engagement strategist at talent consultancy The Chemistry Group, likens this period to the web in the late 1990s. “There was a lot of pioneering going on,” he says. “Eventually the internet embedded itself into our daily life and the market produced the incredible technology that we use now.”

Ever since the likes of Facebook and Twitter burst onto the scene, there has been much discussion over who has ownership of these: is it IT, marketing or corporate communications? Or all of the above? To a large extent, though, HR has been left out. Collaborative tools can be hard to control; they potentially shift the balance of power towards employees; and they demand that traditional policies and procedures are re-written. But according to Harrison, the time has come for HR to assert itself when it comes to these so-called “disruptive technologies”. “With their bias towards people and collaboration, they offer strategic HR leaders an opportunity to take ownership and demonstrate the deep business value HR can bring,” he says.

Here is HR magazine’s guide to the top 10 types of social tool for the workplace you need to know about:



To send out an open call to a large community of people with the aim of solving a problem, getting new ideas, advice or feedback – a virtual cross-functional team. One of the best examples is IBM’s virtual brainstorming session Jam, in which thousands of online contributors collaborate and share ideas on a particular topic.

WHY HR NEEDS TO BE INVOLVED An obvious application of crowdsourcing is for the function to tap into the collective minds of employees on a host of topics, whether canvassing views on the employer brand or to help shape flexible benefits options. However, Justin Kirby, managing director of consultancy Digital Media Communications and co-author of Connected Marketing, urges HR to adopt a similar creative mindset to that of marketing or R&D, which have been quick to seize the opportunities presented by harnessing the power of the crowd. “If you really think about HR 2.0, then it’s about how the HR department helps facilitate crowdsourcing among its employees to provide internal innovation,” he says. “For crowdsourcing to be truly transformative, it needs to allow ideas to be developed from the bottom up, and filtered by the crowd.”

Look out for: Crowdicity, Crowdgene



A method of learning that makes use of tools such as wikis, blogs, podcasts and other social technologies in the workplace. Some define it as the new informal learning or an evolution of e-learning and knowledge management. In reality it overlaps with all of these, but more significantly brings a step closer the L&D holy grail of the true learning organisation.


It can help HR and learning and development functions embed learning into workflows. Learning becomes a natural part of performing a job for an individual, believes Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. “The HR/L&D role should be to help teams self-organise, not manage the whole process for them,” she says. “The benefit lies in supporting the natural, continuous social learning – or knowledge sharing – that is already taking place in teams and work groups.” Learning technology and leadership expert Nigel Paine adds that social learning allows a true culture of learning to develop in the workplace: “It gets away from the idea that learning is something that is done to you.”

Look out for: Bloomfire, Knoodle



An internal, private intranet in a secure corporate setting, used by organisations to help employees better communicate, exchange information and interact on tasks. Individuals create a profile on the platform as they would on any social site and while its interface will probably have a similar look and feel to Facebook or Twitter, the primary focus will be business. Suppliers, partner companies and contractors may also have profiles on the site. All then have a range of collaborative tools at their disposal.


It improves communication and collaboration within the function, as well as with other departments, and consequently helps HR to better connect with the rest of the organisation. “An ESN is a layer of electronic communication on top of real-life communication, allowing HR professionals to have real-time conversations across all of those working relationships,” says IdeaPlane’s Fabricant. “If you put that into practice, it means huge parts of an HR professional’s job become easier. Training collateral, for instance, can be shared more easily within an organisation. On-boarding of new recruits becomes easier, as it’s possible to instantly connect someone to everyone across the company and give them the ability to search for expertise and ask questions.” Prior to implementing its ESN, information giant Thomson Reuters had what Nick Creswell, vice president, strategic talent, describes as a “very fragmented set-up” for collaboration tools. “What we really wanted to do was have one space where it was easy for colleagues all around the world to collaborate, where we could talk to one another and share company news, documents and videos,” he explains. “It is already having an impact on our business. But if you look at where we will be in a few years in terms of our ability to share information more effectively, it has huge potential.”

Look out for: Yammer, Jive Software, Telligent, Atlassian



A microblogging site allows the sharing of small pieces of content, from short sentences to a video link or image. An example is Twitter, which lets users post messages of no more than 140 characters.


It’s one of the most powerful and immediate ways to disseminate key HR messages or company announcements to internal or external audiences. Microblogging can build relationships, promote the latest HR initiative and drum up interest around a topic. Become a follower to keep at the forefront of conference news or use it to provide a quick snapshot of the happenings of an event you’re attending or to inform your community about what you’re doing. According to Harrison of Carve Consulting, these sites are all about the “interest graph”: “They are where people congregate around stuff they care about.”

Look out for: Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ have microblogging features



A method of performance management that uses online tools to create a collaborative and continuous approach. For instance, 360-degree feedback can be gathered daily, generating an ongoing dialogue between employees, peers and managers.


It has the potential to revolutionise the management of people by providing a far more reactive, rapid and accurate method for improving performance. Armed with meaningful information on individual performance in real-time, managers can take immediate steps, such as giving on-the-spot coaching. It also allows individuals to access multi-rated feedback on themselves, as well as greater public recognition and/or instant reward for great work. After exploring alternatives to ‘normal’ performance management, Beth Steinberg, vice president, talent and organisational development at US solar energy firm, SunRun, hit upon Rypple software (now for goal-setting, feedback, recognition and performance summaries. “Performance management needs to be useful and easy or people will not take it seriously,” she says. “The lightweight process works well. We have many people, including VPs, who want feedback about their performance completely on their own. They want to do the best they can, and incorporating feedback is crucial in understanding where they are succeeding and where they need to focus.”

Look out for:, Small Improvements, Saba



A group of people who meet on forums to discuss a specific topic that unites them. Typically they are located within a bigger network or community such as an ESN or a professional networking site. LinkedIn, for instance, has nearly 2,000 groups on HR management.


Online groups can help take the discussion forward, facilitate collaboration, and the sharing of knowledge on specific topics. Thomson Reuters, for instance, has around 15,000 technologists working for it globally who come together as an online group hosted on its ESN platform. “One of our original proofs of concept for it was to help technologists share knowledge with each other,” says Creswell. “It’s very much driven by the users. The topics are user-generated and the energy [of the group] goes wherever the community wants to take it rather than coming from the top down. It’s proving really useful to help us take a different approach to learning.”

Look out for: LinkedIn, but groups can also be set on ESNs



Business applications that have been specifically developed for the mobile environment.


Access to information is no longer confined to a PC, freeing HR professionals and workers from their desktops. There is no shortage of mobile software and apps being developed for the function, but HR’s role in the mobile revolution is more pivotal than one of simply being able to work on the move. With the rise in remote working, the advent of bring your own device (BYOD) and the consumerisation of IT, the line between technology used at home and at work is eroding. As collaboration with colleagues, customers and suppliers in the mobile space increases, HR must work closely with IT to ensure the correct policies, procedures and data security measures are in place. Gartner predicts that by 2017, two-thirds of enterprises will adopt a mobile device management solution, and as Phil Redman, research vice president at the analyst, points out: “Employees are becoming more mobile and looking for ways to be connected wherever work needs to be done. Securing corporate data on mobile devices is a challenge, but one companies must embrace.”

Look out for: Both native and web-based mobile apps from your HR software vendors



The ability to share presentations online on mainstream social media sites such as YouTube or dedicated ones like SlideShare – the biggest slide-sharing community site. Users include The White House, the US Army and Bill Gates. SlideShare’s recent acquisition by LinkedIn is a sign of its significance to the business community.


Gain instant access to thousands of other HR practitioners’ slide presentations, videos and documents, and engage with them about their content. Or upload your own work to boost your company’s visibility and demonstrate your particular expertise to a wider audience. The vast libraries of content with free access are extremely useful for knowledge sharing. Key the term ‘HR metrics’ into and it will return more than 12,000 related presentations. Sites like these can also be used for social learning.

Look out for: SlideShare, SlideBoom, SlideSnack, YouTube



There’s nothing new about the definition of video conferencing, but new technologies and tools have made it a much smoother experience.


Stay in touch and hold meetings with colleagues, teams and offices across the world. While in some cases it will still be necessary to book a full-blown video conferencing suite, this technology has been democratised and made far more accessible. Webcams on laptops mean you can hold a conference call at your desk or at home, while whiteboard software and the ability to share files such as presentations make for a far richer, more interactive experience.

Look out for: WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, ooVoo, Google Talk



It provides a single location for everyone to easily log, organise, keep tabs on and make known what they are working on from inception through to completion. Tools range from online to-do lists to more sophisticated ones with built-in collaboration functionality.


Activity can be scheduled, due dates set and the more collaborative products facilitate communication about the project within the software – eliminating inbox to-ing and fro-ing. Tasks can also be synchronised with other devices such as mobiles and tablets.

Look out for: Flow, Google Tasks, Asana