Emerging HR Practices

HR on Social Media

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Harnessing it internally

Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy
Peppercom Strategic Communications

Effectively managing human resources across international borders has always been a critical challenge. Today, social media provides a wide array of new opportunities to listen, build relationships, connect, and maintain ties with prospective employees, the current workforce, and alumni of a company. However, it also provides a source of new potential crises for HR managers. The key to using social media at its full potential for internal communication, and avoiding these pitfalls, is by listening to internal constituents across borders and building programs that connect people but do not take an “one size fits all” approach.

Building on Online Social Dynamics

Whether a company provides a platform for it or not, employees are using digital communication channels to do their job. Beyond internal messaging or email, employees are likely exchanging messages relating to work implicitly or explicitly through social network sites or microblogging sites. Rather than the impulse to restrict these types of conversations, HR professionals must work to build around this energy, put parameters on these activities and ultimately build internal communication initiatives that fit the communication patterns of employees.

However, keep in mind that employees are likely only staying connected online with other employees they know. There are great advantages for multinational firms to use social media to help improve communication among offices and between employees who don’t often physically meet. Look at the appropriate social network sites that stretch across international borders (LinkedIn, hi5, Plaxo, Orkut, Facebook) and find the platforms where people across offices participate most fully. Or look to private social network services such as Yammer. Creating means of connecting in spaces where employees already spend time might help build more meaningful internal relationships that lead to better business communication.

As communication among multiple offices becomes an increasing concern for many companies, digital collaboration can often provide the answer. Many retail chains (for instance, IKEA and Best Buy) have used their intranets to provide ways for employees to meet virtually or to collaborate across locations. In some cases, retailers have used intranets for stores to share stories, tips and resources about leading up to and learning from the successes and failures of promotions across locations. Adding strategic social functions, even if to your own internal communication tools, can help transform the company, if the employees themselves help guide the direction and are given a stake in how these communication tools ultimately function.

The Need for Nuance

It’s especially important for HR managers not to make the mistake of presuming their digital preferences are those of the employee base as a whole. While finding social network sites that cross borders helps a company establish cross-office communication, only looking at globally popular social sites might cause a brand to miss how employees are communicating within a local office. Aside from the obvious potential language differences for a multinational company, there are equally important cultural and technological distinctions that shape communication in a country.

The pervasive penetration of broadband Internet service in South Korea stands in contrast to a Japanese connectivity driven substantially by mobile devices. LinkedIn or hi5 might cross international borders in the appeal of their social network services, but employees within a culture might be more likely to communicate through the Skyrock.com in France, Studivz.net or Xing.com in Germany and Austria, Tuenti.com in Spain, or Hyves.nl in the Netherlands. Further, it’s crucial to understand that communication happens quite differently in these various cultures, and thus the nature of interaction on these sites might differ substantially. While HR managers think toward how digital communication might connect various offices together, it’s likewise important to think of where local markets are communicating in particular and to think through potential technological and cultural challenges in connecting offices together in written communication online.

Taking a Multi-Phase Approach

Finding the right ways to use digital communication tools for a multinational company is a daunting task. At Peppercom, we encourage taking a four-phase approach to building internal communication initiatives:

• Find where employees are connected to one another, where prospects are asking for information about you and where former employees discussing their experiences or building alumni groups online.

• Liaise with corporate communication, marketing or other groups involved in monitoring online discussions to find out when your brand is being brought up by former, current or future employees on blogs, microblogging sites and elsewhere.

• Talk to managers across offices to understand where and how employees might be connecting within that location.

Lay the Groundwork:

• Create experiments both within and among offices, drawing on what you’re finding from listening to employees and building on what they are doing.

• Start small to create greater learnings for what works and what doesn’t for your company.

• Build on employee rules and guidelines for communication in social media, based on how you are finding internal discussions playing out online.

Take an Open Source Approach:

• Give employees ownership of helping shape the evolution of groups on social network sites, more social iterations of the intranet or other digital platforms you use to connect people.

• Create clear channels for people to communicate back technical or cultural barriers they are hitting with how they expect to be able to use the company’s internal Web presence.

• Expand functionality and scope of online discussion platforms, etc., based on closely monitoring where employees are pushing these channels to go.

Constantly Evolve:

• Never stop listening to what’s being said outside any official groups, services or platforms you set up and adapting your strategy accordingly to how prospects, employees or alum are talking about the company.

• Continue evolving guidelines for current employees, and stay closely connected with other departments on tracking what former and potential employees might be saying about the company.

• Be sure that a social site set up for internal communication never becomes static and is always being adapted to better meet two crucial goals: what employees need/want to do through digital communication and what the company needs/wants them to do.

Reprinted with permission from www.GLOBALHRnews.com

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