Tech Insights: Finding Value in Social — If HR Can Learn to Manage It

Mar 11, 2014

You can’t walk through an HR trade show without bumping into vendors selling software that has some kind of “social” capability.

BraveNewTalent offers a platform for talent communities (e.g., a group of engineers) to share ideas. Drumtalk’s platform offers a similar knowledge sharing space, often with a goal of capturing knowledge relevant to a particular initiative.

TalentCircles’ “social recruiting” platform offers a tool to engage candidates so that HR has a pool of prospects to draw on when vacancies arise. Many other vendors offer related social tools.

Adding social capability

What is this social capability all about?

  • First, it is about identifying some kind of community; it could be any group of people with something in common, such as qualified candidates, sales representatives, people involved in a large corporate initiative or expats.
  • Second, that community is given a place to share information and a way to connect to each other. The technology simply provides a means for doing this. It is not so different from adding Facebook-like functionality to recruiting, training, on-boarding or some other HR software.

There are three (3) reasons for adding social capability:

  1. Responding to a specific need — For example, if the organization needs technicians to be better at troubleshooting, then a social learning community can help.
  2. Building capability — Organizations may create a community without a specific goal; they simply want to build capability based on the belief that linking people will lead to better ideas, learning and engagement.
  3. Top-down communication — While the social space stresses horizontal communication, organizations often value communities as a way to improve top-down communication. For example, social recruiting is more about the organization talking to candidates than candidates talking to each other.

What is interesting

  • Social has become universal in HR technology, yet we have not figured out how best to use it.
  • Organizations are going from having no technology-based social networks to having too many. How many social networks can one employee engage with?
  • Social is quickly going from being a hot trend to a standard feature that is embedded in most applications.
  • Social networks do not necessarily respect organizational boundaries; this can be a risk but it can also open up new possibilities.

Where the real value is

  • I expect the real value will come from unexpected outcomes. Enabling people to connect and share creates conditions for making discoveries. Investing in the social space is an investment in serendipity.
  • We have always used our circle of friends as the best resource for everything from picking a movie to getting career advice. It works because advice from a friend can combine subject matter knowledge and an understanding of context — and because the friend is not trying to sell us something. Friends provide a particularly powerful support for decision-making; it only makes sense to extend that mechanism.

HR simply can’t shy away

HR professionals often fixate on the risk of uncontrolled social interactions. What if someone says something untoward? What if information leaks out of the organization? What if … well, what if something happens that we did not anticipate?

The fears are understandable. However, the social space has more upside than downside so we are wrong to shy away from it.

You do need policies and a process for dealing with problems as they arise; a process may be nothing more than having a place where people can report issues and a person accountable for responding to them.

The social space is here; HR needs to take the lead in managing it.