Simplifying Social Media (and Putting It to Work)

By Peter Caulfield

How to get the most out of LinkedIn, Facebook and other electronic dialogue technologies?

In what seems like the blink of an eye, social media has come out of nowhere to become the go-to way for organizations – including their HR departments – to communicate with customers, prospects, employees and potential recruits. Organizations in every sector of the economy are scrambling to jump on the bandwagon for fear of being left behind. Below are a few tips from those in the know to help you on your way, whether you’re a social media neophyte or a pro.

‘Natural’ Evolution of Collaboration

There are many different types of social media tools (also called social computing, Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0.). A few examples are LinkedIn, FaceBook, Four Square, blogs, Twitter, Ning and Wikis.

Steven Fitzgerald, president of Vancouver-based Habañero Consulting Group, says to make the best use of social media in the workplace, it needs to be seen as a means, not an end in itself.

“Social media represents the natural evolution of workplace collaboration,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a shift from a focus on content to a focus on people. Social media can maximize the capabilities of a company’s work force by pooling and disseminating knowledge so that it flows everywhere in the organization.”

These collaborative technologies are modeled after natural social behavior.  “The power of social media lies with the users and networks of users – connecting the tribes in an organization,” he said.

Fitzgerald says every organization should have a social media road-map that suits its particular needs. “Some work cultures are not sharing information to the extent they could,” he said. “To do so requires a change of the work culture, including identifying the factors inhibiting the use of social media.”

Fitzgerald says HR needs to get involved in “the conversation about social media.”

“The work culture has been changing for the last 10 years,” he said. “An organization’s employees are on FaceBook and LinkedIn outside of work. HR has to catch up to where the culture is now. If it doesn’t, social media will picked up by another department – mostly likely IT – and it will start building a social media strategy.”

Starting the Online Conversation

Although social media has become the modern equivalent of the office water cooler, the majority of its enthusiastic users are in their 20s and 30s. What about those of us who didn’t grow up digital? Are we fated to miss out on all the fun? Fortunately, there is hope.

Julie McLeod, Vancouver-based associate recruiter at Lululemon Athletica, advises first-time social media users to start using it right away.

“Faking your way through is easily noticed and not received well,” she said. “If you are connected on a variety of platforms and rarely use them, then pushing out information to help you get something is not an effective strategy.”

McLeod recommends entering the social media pool in the shallow end.

“Start with one platform, maybe a Facebook page or a company blog,” she said.  “Grasp it, own it and do it well.”

McLeod says social media’s learning curve is a shallow one. “Basic computer skills are required to use social media tools,” she said. “If you know the computer, you can use social media.”

McLeod says there are many social media how-to’s and best practices on the Internet to help the newcomer feel at home with it.

“My feeling is that once you get going with it, and start to really listen to those you are engaging with, you’ll be hooked,” she said.

Focusing on the Return of Social Media

To get the most out of social media, users need to get focused, says McLeod. “Social media is about engagement, long-term engagement, in fact,” she said. “That is one of the more important pieces of the social media pie to remember. It’s not about the ‘job right now,’ but about creating and maintaining relationships.”

McLeod says a hypothetical example of the payoff from cultivating long-term relationships is connecting on LinkedIn now with a director of design and then hiring that person as a vice-president three or four years in the future after having maintained an online relationship.

“It’s a two-way conversation,” she said. “When you give, people give back to you.”

The main types of social media that McLeod and the rest of the Lululemon recruiting team use are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the Lululemon blog.

The Art of (Inter)Connecting

“Social media platforms are great because they easily link to each other,” McLeod said. “For instance, our Lululemon blog feeds into our Lululemon Twitter feed and our Facebook page. The recruiting and online community teams share stories about new hires, people in the company and the cool things they are doing.”

Mike Bassani, HR Analyst (now senior business analyst) in the Burnaby head office of Best Buy Canada (Future Shop and Best Buy Canada brands) says they use a variety of social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Microsoft Communicator and blogs.

Each has its own strengths and uses.

“We use Twitter for brand-building and for recruiting,” he said. “LinkedIn is for recruiting, to gain networks and leverage knowledge. It’s also a great way to stay connected with former colleagues.”

Both Best Buy Canada and Future Shop have their own Facebook pages.  “They’re used as product and service feedback loops by company associates and the public,” Bassani said.  Microsoft Communicator is used mostly for communication within the office.

“It’s good for sending quick bursts of information,” he said. “It’s an internal chat for employees that fosters employee engagement.”

Bassani says Communicator is more informal than email and probably has a faster response rate.

Targeting Tomorrow with Today’s Technology

The future is not ours to see and that’s especially true in the case of  social media, which is constantly changing in unpredictable ways. Uncertainty notwithstanding, a BC industry association has made social media an important part of its strategy for bringing together labor demand and supply and for training its employees.

According to Arlene Keis, CEO of go2 Tourism HR Society, which coordinates the BC tourism industry’s HR strategy, tourism is one of the top three industries in BC, with total annual revenues of $13 billion and about 18,000 employers.

Although the industry is large, most of its employers are small: seventy-eight percent have less than 20 employees and only one percent have more than 200 employees. Their small size makes it difficult sometimes for tourism industry employers to find and train an adequate supply of staff.

Lynne Henshaw, go2’s director of marketing and communications, says most BC tourism industry employees are young “and because social media is how the young communicate today, the industry needs to know how to use social media to connect with its employees and potential employees.”

go2 has a free job board for BC employers and three Twitter feeds that connect the board to two association Facebook accounts. One is aimed at Canadian employees and potential recruits and the other targets potential international recruits. In addition, go2 uses social Internet bookmarks and has a Google search-optimization strategy. During the 2010 Winter Olympics the association deployed a Google ad campaign.

“All our social media tools refer traffic to the association’s Web site, which is the portal where labor supply and demand actually meet,” Henshaw said.

Looking ahead to the future, go2 is incorporating more video and YouTube into its social media strategy. “Visual communication is especially effective for job training, for getting more people interested in entering the industry and for encouraging the people who are already working in tourism to upgrade their credentials,” Henshaw said.

Henshaw says that any organization that wants to benefit from deploying social media needs to look before it leaps. “Social media is free, but it can take up a lot of your time and your resources,” she said.

“You need to have a strategy in place and be sure who it is you’re aiming to attract to your Web site and why.”

(PeopleTalk: Summer 2010)

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Category: PeopleTalk, Recruit & Retain, Technology, Training & Teambuilding

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