Social Media – HR needs to dare to fail

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-07-36-53Today I am at Comms Hero, talking about why many of us HR folk are still scared of social media, and why, for too many people, it is still Someone Else’s Problem. The theme for today’s event is ‘dare to fail’ – something that we need to do with social media in today’s workplace.

It’s 2016. But some organisations are still banning social on their corporate networks. Many leaders still think it is “just” something that the marketing department does. I meet plenty of HR professionals who still think Twitter is all about what celebrities had for breakfast.

I recently attended a large conference as part of their social media team. I was surprised (sort of) as to how many exhibitors, after spending a whole lot of money on stands and free merchandise in order to be present, had done nothing to support their real-life presence with some social media activity. Many didn’t even know their organisation’s Twitter handle when I dropped by and asked. At one stand, I was told (very politely) that the person who “did” Twitter had gone to the toilet, so maybe I should come back later?

So where does this head in the sand mentality come from?

When it comes to HR, it’s about what we are so often required to do as part of our role, i.e. reduce the risks, write backside-covering policies and deal with any resulting disciplinaries.

There are plenty of scare stories about social media and a great deal of them come from employment law. There’s lots of case law, widely publicised, about when it all goes wrong and no one wants to be behind the next leading case reported in the media, that is cited by lawyers and HR people for decades. No one wants to find themselves defending an expensive employment tribunal case.

There’s plenty out there too on how social media can go wrong and what to do about it. I know, I run a course on it myself! But generally, in the workplace context, there is a lot of focus on the risks and not always enough on the potential rewards.

Then there are IT departments, also historically a little on the risk averse side too, who worry about the risk to the corporate networks. Add in line managers who are worried that employees are going to waste their day on Facebook and the fear starts to build. A perfect storm.

Then there’s the SEP field.

If you have read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you will know all about Somebody Else’s Problems. As Ford Prefect puts it: “An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem…. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.”

It is easy for social media to be someone else’s problem – usually the Marketing or Comms teams. That’s their job. Or the role of the HR and IT teams to manage it…. or try and stop it happening at all.

But the world is changing.

Both in HR and in business leadership we are supposed to be people people and where our people are these days is social media. And guess what: that is where your customers are too.

Need some facts and figures? Ofcom’s “Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015” tells us:

  • 83% of people go on line somewhere using some device every day
  • Amongst 16 – 34 year olds this rises to 98%
  • Two thirds of UK adults use a smartphone – up from 54% in 2012
  • 72% of online adults say they have a current social networking site profile
  • 97% of those have a Facebook profile
  • 26% have a Twitter profile

When I talk about social media, people ask me where I find the time. They tell me that they want to do social stuff but they don’t know how. Or they talk about the ‘what-if’ dangers.

The benefits are tangible. As Erik Qualman says in his latest Socialnomics video: the ROI of using social media is that your business will still exist in five years’ time. 

To be a truly social organisation in 2016, we need a joined-up approach:

  • Social leaders acting as role models
  • Social marketing and comms functions engaging with customers
  • A HR team that gets it and will act as champions – and make it part of the learning and development offering
  • Social employer branding and consumer branding working together
  • HR and marketing working together to join it all up

To be a truly social organisation we need to dare to fail. HR, in particular, needs to dare to fail because actually the risks of not doing so are far greater.

Get social. Get rid of the fear.

As we say in our book, there are three simple rules: Be you, dive in, share stuff.