No HR professional can afford to ignore the importance of social media, either in terms of their use of it in their working life and in furthering their career, or in terms of how employees within their organisation are using it.
“HR professionals must become increasingly social-media-savvy in order to navigate a progressively more noisy digital environment,” says Sarah Wynn, associate director at recruitment consultancy Badenoch & Clark.
Social media is now widely used by HR professionals to share and disseminate information with their industry peers and as a networking tool. People are using a whole array of platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, webinars.
Recruitment, outsourcing and talent management company Ochre House runs an HR network of more than 600 senior HR specialists that regularly meets and communicates through LinkedIn and webinars, sharing news, opinions and best practice. “The growth of online forums has made this sharing possible not just domestically, but also on a regional and even global basis,” says Chris Hornsby, business solutions manager at Ochre House. “This collaborative approach allows practitioners to save time on basic research and keeps them from constantly reinventing the wheel.”
These platforms are also a good way for HR professionals to increase their visibility in the industry and connect with peers.
Social media has had a major impact on how and where candidates are now recruited. Recruiters routinely go online to search for new talent on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Hornsby says that it has radically altered senior level recruitment: “At more senior levels where search is the most common way of recruiting people, the proliferation of LinkedIn has meant that anyone with a profile has become a potential candidate.”
Recruiters are also using digital technology to check candidates’ details and find out more about them. But, as HR recruiter and blogger Mervyn Dinnen says, employers need to “check with caution”. What are the legal implications if a candidate is refused employment as a result of something that is found online, particularly if that online information is found to be wanting?
“There are discussions all the time about ‘how legal is this? how moral is this?'” says Dinnen. “Nobody knows.”
Dinnen advises HR professionals to keep context in mind when viewing details and comments of candidates online. Otherwise, it is very easy to make judgements based on incomplete or misleading information.
As with all areas of recruitment, HR professionals must ensure that they make and retain good records of the selection process. This means recording how and where you found the candidates that you decided to interview. But also, if you find information online that leads you to discount a candidate from the recruitment process, record where the information was found and why it was deemed relevant. Selecting and de-selecting candidates online is still new territory and it is vital employers protect themselves from potential legal action – particularly if a candidate feels that they have been discriminated against – by having clear, transparent records that adhere to best practice.
It is not just the reputation of potential employees that is at stake on the web – organisations have just as much to fear about unsuitable information being found about them online. With employees, ex-employees and even the general public posting comments about organisations online, particularly through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, employers cannot control how they are portrayed. “A medium like Facebook can give any disgruntled employee or candidate not just a voice, but a megaphone,” says Hornsby. “For that reason we use tools such as Radian 6 (a social media monitoring and engagement tool) to monitor the macro- and micro-environment and are able to react to comments about Ochre House.”
However, if people are making negative comments about your organisation online, it is important not to disregard what they are saying. The first questions an HR professional should perhaps ask themselves at this point is “why are people talking about us, and are these comments true?” Protecting your employer brand online is more about using the digital platforms to listen to what is being said about your organisation – and where and why it is being said – and then engaging with the audience in the most appropriate way to address any issues.
Dinnen says that social media gives employers a window on what is being said about them. “If employees go on Facebook and say you are a rubbish place to work, the problem isn’t Facebook. They are probably saying this at the coffee machine, in the pub, in the supermarket – at least now you can hear the conversation.”
And if you can hear the conversation, you can do something about it to protect and improve your brand, continues Dinnen: “This is why social media is an opportunity, not a threat.”