Social media is generating great interest and excitement based on its potential to enhance knowledge management, collaboration, customer service and innovation as it builds a sense of community across enterprises. All of these capabilities involve how people interact and exchange information with one another and the way in which work gets done. So who better than HR to drive and steer how the enterprise builds these capabilities and derives value from them?
For example, many organizations have been slow to adopt social media out of fear of the unknown: What if a conversation over an internal social network compromises confidentiality or security? What if it hurts our brand, say, or gives away too much about a new product we’re developing? Can we get in trouble with regulators? Is there too much potential for someone to be upset or hurt by something said online?
HR can help alleviate these concerns by establishing the policies and “rules of the road” about what is and isn’t acceptable in order to protect the organization and individuals. There’s also a training component to this to educate people about the proper use of social media in the workplace. Remember the early days of email and the directives about how to use it appropriately? Today, it’s a much faster world of social interaction: there’s no “putting it away and reading it the next day before you send it.” People need guidance about how to deal with such instantaneous communication in a way that reaps the benefits and avoids the costs.
We’ve seen the importance of this firsthand, working with a company that started an internal social network rollout without having done all the prep work in terms of training. It’s tempting to think that people will just “figure out” how to use a new tool, but they may just figure it out in a way you don’t want. In this case, a few early miscommunications prompted senior leaders to stop the rollout, refocus on training and then slowly allow access on a rolling basis, only after people had received the necessary guidance.
In addition to the more obvious policies and procedures aspect of social media, HR also has a higher-level role to play: that of first helping various parts of the organization better understand human behavior and how humans collaborate and then applying this knowledge to increase innovation, facilitate the exchange of ideas and best practices and share knowledge more effectively.
Unless HR steps forward, responsibility for managing social media will likely be given to IT. But is this the best place for this inherently human-oriented technology? We think not. After all, it’s called “Human” Resources for a reason and HR clearly has the opportunity to add real business value by capitalizing on its deep understanding of what gives social media such powerful potential: people.