Social Media Week: HR’s role in implementation

Jon Ingham continues his series of articles for Personneltoday.com on HR and social media.

I have already mentioned Enterprise 2.0 in this series of articles. This is the IT function’s name for the use of social media within organisations. And in many ways, and maybe not that surprisingly, it is IT which is making most of the running in the use of this new technology, and therefore in the socialisation of organisations as well.

But IT professionals are not generally experts in the creation and maintenance of social relationships within organisations. And even social media itself is not difficult technology to implement, as is an ERP system, for example. The main challenges in implementing social media tend to be about things like changing culture, aligning behaviours, managing change and driving adoption.

The last of these is often thought to be the most significant issue – getting employees to use the social systems that are implemented. Just as in non-work settings, most organisational online social communities tend to be a bit like ghost towns, in which only very few people are active users and most employees visit only one or two times then do not return.

These issues show that the key to implementing social technologies is understanding people and being able to influence their behaviours. It is probably for this reason that analysts Gartner predict that, through 2012, 70% of IT-driven, versus only 50% of business-led, social media initiatives will fail.

In my view, it is HR, not IT, that needs to lead the social collaboration / social media agenda. Although we can also improve our knowledge and skills in this area, we are probably best placed to understand how people can be engaged in more social ways of working, and we can develop peoples’ relationships to make our organisations more successful too.

Of course, I am not suggesting that HR implements this change without involving IT (although some organisations, including some of the most successful case studies for using social media, have done just that). HR needs to work with IT and with other functions too, for example, with marketing, which will need to be involved if the organisation is going to use social media to communicate with its customers as well.

But HR can and should take the lead in using social media internally, and in making their organisations more social. Doing this provides the greatest chance of increasing competitive advantage through social technologies, activities and outcomes. This therefore provides an important way for HR to increase its contribution, and its credibility too.

One of the reasons, I believe, that HR functions struggle to become strategic, is that we are usually not seen as, and often do not see ourselves to be, responsible. We are not responsible for the operation of our processes – line managers are; we are not responsible for the business results these processes support – as we cannot control these. 

It is this lack of responsibility which I think keeps HR in the role of a support function. And a lot of what we try to do to become more strategic is actually just about becoming more proactive – it may be about supporting the business more effectively, but it is not really about driving it strategically.

Focusing on social collaboration and other outcomes, as well as on how these can be developed through the use of social media and other real-world activities, provides HR with an opportunity to be strategic. We can talk to our business colleagues about the competitive or transformational benefits that focusing on social collaboration, innovation or learning could bring. 

And we can say to our colleagues that we are prepared to be responsible, even accountable, for delivering these outcomes across our businesses; and measure our success in delivering these outcomes through techniques like social network analysis.

Just as with human capital, this focus on social media and social capital moves HR to the heart of business strategy and competitiveness. The opportunity is there for HR teams that wish to take it.


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