A dummies’ guide to social media for HR

Social media has become so pervasive that even some of the most hardened sceptics are beginning to investigate how the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn might work for them. Georgina Fuller reports.

There was a time when blogging and social media sites were seen as little more than a passing fad. Sceptics claimed that nothing could beat face-to-face interaction and that networking was purely for sales people. How times have changed. Facebook has gained an estimated 500 million users since it launched in 2004, about one in 14 people of the world’s population, and LinkedIn boasts 80 million users across 200 countries. Networking sites have become an essential way of communicating with friends and colleagues. Employers are also now proactively using social media to raise their profile, enhance their company brand and recruit the best people.

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Adrian Moss, managing director at Focus Business Communications, a social media consultancy, says that HR professionals in particular should be making the most of social media.

“HR has so much to gain from sharing information and resources, especially in terms of employment law and problem solving. It’s often a case of engaging with people outside your organisation and making the most of an online grapevine to get fresh ideas.”

Employers have got to connect with the younger generation, Moss adds, and embrace social media accordingly.

“It’s about thinking ahead of the times. Recruiting top talent is always a challenge – even in a recession. But employers have got to wake up and think about their brand and how they are going to be perceived by the next generation.”

We take a look at the main social media sites and how employers are using them.



Facebook is, perhaps, the most well-known and popular social media site for everyone from students to retired CEOs. For the uninitiated minority, Facebook allows users to keep in touch with friends and colleagues by posting status updates, writing on their “wall”, emailing or even giving them a “poke” to say hello. Users can also “tag” friends in photos, share music and video clips, and join or set up similar interest groups or fan pages. Facebook has also launched an online instant messaging service where you can chat with friends.

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Growing numbers of employers are using Facebook to boost their brand and are realising its potential as a recruitment tool. Management consultancy KPMG runs a thriving graduate fan page for potential recruits, currently “liked” by more than 2,360 people. The page includes a number of interactive features, such as a mini-mind workout, audit and tax business “games” and an interview skills section. The page also allows the accountancy giant to post details of its next recruitment fair and refer users to job vacancies on the company website.

Vanessa Soames, senior manager, recruitment and resourcing marketing at KPMG, estimates that around 19% of traffic to the company recruitment page comes from social media sites: “It’s all about two-way communication and being a good ‘brand ambassador’.”

“People will be talking about your brand whether you partake in social media or not, and social media allows you to bring your brand to life and prove the values and culture of your firm to candidates. You can enter into a dialogue and get your views across if there is negative feedback on your brand.”

But it is not just large corporate employers that are using Facebook. The British Army is also cultivating the site to attract new soldiers. A careers adviser oversees the Army jobs page and answers all the questions posted on the wall, from medical requirements to whether or not to take your ironing board with you when you sign up. The page offers advice on all aspects of joining the army, training, and career development.

Starbucks hardly needs to remind people of its existence, with a presence on almost every high street in the world, but the coffee behemoth is also logged-on and has a staggering 16 million Facebook fans. Fans can suggest ideas, express their love for the pumpkin spiced latte, upload photos of themselves or their children and pets, and use the Starbucks’ job search application (although this is currently only available in the US).



Twitter has attracted more than 100 million users since it launched in 2006. The site – described as the “SMS of the internet” on Wikipedia – offers a networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read “tweets”: text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Users can then follow other subscribers’ tweets. As of last year, users can also follow lists of tweeters rather than just individuals. You can follow topic-specific hashtags that are created by the community – for example “#hrjobs” for jobs in HR.

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As with Facebook, many large employers, including HSBC, IBM and PepsiCo are also tweeting new jobs to potential recruits. The PepsiCo jobs page, described as being located on “earth” reads: “Add a little flavour to your career path – it’s as easy as engaging our Talent Acquisition team here on Twitter!”

Job postings have to follow the same format as any other tweet – ie, no more than 140 characters (for example, senior HR advisor, Oxford, UK). The tweet will include a link to the job ad on the company website. A jobs page works in much the same way as an individual’s page and it has to have a decent number of “followers” to make the job tweets worthwhile. The PepsiCo jobs page, for example, has more than 700 followers. Employers use the hashtag (#keyword) to associate a keyword or tag to their tweets. The hashtag links the post to other jobs and so displays the post to more tweeters who are searching hashtag #jobs. This applies to all other postings, such as conferences and events, too.



LinkedIn has really taken off since being launched as a professional networking site in 2003. It now boasts 80 million users. The site has become very popular with HR and recruitment professionals as it enables users to view CVs, place job ads and share information in online groups.

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Peter Burgess, managing director of The Appointment recruitment consultancy, is certainly a big fan. “As a business, we embrace social networking. As the main sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter develop, so does our understanding of how to get the best from each function they offer. Our consultants universally use LinkedIn, as well as the new LinkedIn iPhone application,” he comments.

Users are able to create a CV on their profile page, download a photo and “link-in” to colleagues, recruiters and mutual contacts. They can then build up a network of direct connections and extend their network to include connections of existing contacts (second- and third-degree connections). As with Facebook and Twitter, users can follow different employers and get notified when they have vacancies available. The site also offers a LinkedIn Answers feature, similar to Yahoo! Answers that allows users to post questions and blogs for their community to answer. The Human Resources UK group currently has more than 2,800 members who can post questions on anything and everything from where to get the best CIPD qualification to managing difficult colleagues.

One of the best things about LinkedIn, according to Burgess, is that it encourages information sharing and, as a social media site, helps break down some of the barriers in the recruitment industry.

“In the same way that many employees have been known to check the Facebook profile of potential employees, a LinkedIn profile and Twitter account also help create a picture of each individual outside of their CV. If used correctly it will do wonders for employer and candidate branding,” he notes.


Blogging, YouTube and Yammer

Social media has made people and companies increasingly visible, and the growing popularity of blogging has created a real sense of an online community. Blogging is no longer exclusive to the younger generation and a number of what used to be referred to as “silver surfers” are also getting in on the act.

Bill Marriott, CEO and chairman of the eponymous hotel chain, is a prolific blogger. The 78-year-old believes that listening is one of the most important leadership skills: “Since I can’t make it to each and every hotel, we have many other ways for our guests to communicate with us, from comment cards in our hotel rooms to various social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and even my blog.”

YouTube is another media stream that has become popular with companies in recent years. Many forward-thinking employers are now using the video and music website to broadcast corporate videos that would have traditionally been used on the university “milkround” for training purposes. KPMG features alternative videos on the site including three accountants performing a sterling rendition of a Backstreet Boys hit. Universities, such as Bristol UWE, are also putting promotional videos up for prospective students.

Nick Shackleton-Jones, manager of online and informal learning at the BBC, is a big advocate of learning videos and believes all learning professionals should master the art of directing, shooting, editing and distributing video. “Websites like YouTube, VideoJug and LifeHacker demonstrate how effective video can be in delivering learning. Video has the power to convey individual enthusiasm or personal conviction – precisely what makes a face-to-face session worthwhile. Video is ideal for capturing and sharing success stories within organisations – and learning professionals are the right people to do this,” he blogs.

Yammer is another success story. Currently used by an estimated 80,000 organisations worldwide since it launched in 2008, the social network acts as a Twitter service for business. Unlike Twitter, which broadcasts messages to the public, Yammer operates within organisations and users need to have a company email address to log on. As with Facebook, users can post messages and status updates about what they are working on, ask questions and post news and links. It also includes an events option, where users can invite and track colleagues from their organisation, via Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook.

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The HR and social media paradox

There is, however, a paradox in the world of social media. Although it is universally accepted that networking sites now have an essential part to play in business, HR has historically been put in the role of policing internet use within an organisation and cracking down on employees who post derogatory comments about the company on social media sites.

But Vanessa Robinson, head of HR practice development at the CIPD, says that employers are really starting to recognise the value of social media for branding and recruitment: “It’s easy for people to put all the different social media sites under one umbrella but HR people are now looking to understand the different ways that people are using the sites and adjusting their policies accordingly.”

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, for example, recently lifted its ban on social networking sites. Brad Taylor, head of HR at the institute, says: “This was a way to encourage a responsible approach towards social media access on the part of staff and also to help them see how we are trying to use it with our students and members. I was (and still am) cautious about us doing this, but hopefully it will help to develop an organisational culture of trust and empowerment we are seeking here.”

Graham White, HR director at Westminster City Council, says that there is still a long way to go before employers really embrace the concept of social media.

“We haven’t even realised that just as email was the death of letter writing so social media will soon see the end of email. Social media presents to industry and commerce the opening up of final barriers to globalism making it possible for anyone to become a participant in the online information flow.”

So perhaps the question is not “can you afford to let your employees spend time on social media sites?” but “can you afford not to?” Let us know your thoughts by commenting below…

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