Social Media Week: It’s time to for HR to get social

Something like two-thirds of UK employers ban employees from online social networking at work. To some extent, this action is understandable; there are risks from the use of social networking and other social media tools, writes media blogger John Ingham.

IT security will be a problem for some organisations, although this is often over-stated. Employees can do damage to an organisation’s reputation or give away its intellectual property, but they can do this without the use of social media.

Privacy and fairness are still issues we need to deal with, for example if we want to check out someone’s Google footprint. And productivity may seem to be affected if someone is logged onto Facebook at work, although many employees, especially those in Generation Y, would argue that an employer also benefits from the access to these employees’ social networks.

Where organisations are using social media, it tends to be to communicate with customers. However, there are opportunities to use social media within the organisation, too.

The development of this new technology is already one of the biggest changes affecting us at home, and it has potential to make an impact in the workplace just as deeply, especially now organisations are more able to focus on other things than the recession. But the change is not just about new technology.

Organisations are already much more personal than they were even five or 10 years ago. This is partly about the move to the service sector and the need to focus on intangibles. It is also about the rise of knowledge work and the need for people to work in teams. And it is also about a change in the people we employ (not just those from Generation Y) and in the psychological contracts they seek to form through their employment.

People want and need to be treated as individuals. This change can be seen most easily in the increased tolerance for concepts like emotional intelligence. A decade or so ago, people were expected to leave their emotions at home – now we realise emotions are part of what makes every individual’s unique contribution so valuable.

However, we are all social beings too. Harvard professor Nitin Nohria has identified that the motivation to bond is one of our most fundamental psychological drives and this provides the basis for what can be labelled our social intelligence. We all need to and are able to connect quite deeply with each other.

This means that now business has become personal, it has also automatically become more social too. And this is the main reason that social media has a role to play in the workplace. The opportunity is not so much about responding to a push from new technology, but rather a pull to create a more social workplace.

Social media is also called Web 2.0 – borrowing from the software industry’s use of a similar tag to indicate a new release (ie a substantial change in functionality) as opposed to the 1.1 or similar tag indicating the incremental change of a new version.

The social nature of the technology allows us to connect with each other, through the internet, in a significantly new, natural and intuitive way. This is the reason that social media has taken off so rapidly and dramatically at home.

In fact, use of social media is rapidly catching up with, and surpassing, that of other internet applications (in the US, visits to Facebook have already overtaken those to Google).

It should be no surprise that some employers are already trying to take advantage of social media’s potential within their organisation. IT functions are driving the use of Web 2.0 tools within the enterprise. An increasing number of employers are also exploring what business thinker Gary Hamel has termed Management 2.0 – a more social type of management which is enabled by, but does not need to be built upon, Web 2.0.

We are also starting to see some of the most innovative HR teams beginning to focus on HR 2.0 or ‘social HR’. These HR teams at least believe that the opportunities far outweigh the risks of using social media.

Follow Jon Ingham on Twitter.

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