What’s Social Media Got to Do With HR?

This week the topic of social media as it relates to HR has been popping up in my LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Early in the week, I read this article, published by Inc. Mid-week I participated in the #HRTailGate Twitter Chat hosted by G&A Partners. These discussions about social media have been percolating in my mind ever since.

I remember well when Facebook hit the inter-webs and caused an outright frenzy among the members of the Legal team and HR team at the corporation where I was employed. How would the organization address the issues that might arise, thanks to this new communication vehicle that was available—for free—to our 100K+ employees around the globe?

It’s not surprising why social media platforms, such as Facebook, cause such angst for employers. While these platforms can and do contribute to the greater good, they also provide a trackable, traceable record that serves as a vehicle to highlight an employer’s faults, reveal employee wrongdoing, or act as a platform for customers to voice their concerns.

As social media evolves, I offer three questions for HR to consider if they’re looking for a proactive approach:

How does social media impact the workplace environment?

Back in the day, people gathered at the water cooler. Today, people gather online. Yes, there was gossip then and there’s gossip now; however, social media provides opportunities that the water cooler didn’t. Thanks to social media, people can post or find a job, network with a colleague, or learn something that adds value to their performance.

If—out of fear—HR, and the larger organization, attempt to squelch social media, they’ll lose the opportunity to maximize the benefits a positive social media community can provide for an employer.

How should employers address social media?

First things first, draft a social media policy. You’re not going to be able to drive a positive social community unless you’re clear about what will and won’t be tolerated when it comes to employee’s activities on social media. But just having a policy isn’t enough. You need to communicate—regularly—about the policy. And, you need to provide training for employees and managers. Help them understand how social media impacts their career and your brand.

Should an employee’s personal social media pages be part of disciplinary actions?  

Some argue that “personal is personal”. I agree…to a certain point. If an employee is posting photos of themselves at parties, posting political commentary, or sharing their astrological information in posts, that’s their choice.

But if an employee’s social media posts cross the line and indicate wrongful workplace or employment-related actions (e.g., harassment, conflicts of interest, or misuse of company resources), HR should investigate – just as they would if a conversation was overheard at the water cooler.

I’ve provided only three questions about how employers should handle social media, but there are dozens more questions to consider.

One of those questions is around how an organization should or shouldn’t use social media during the recruiting and hiring process. I’m not an expert about what is and isn’t legal, which is why I’m looking forward to learning more during an upcoming webinar, Social Media: The ‘Double Edged Sword’  of Hiring & Recruiting, with HR law expert, Jonathan Segal, and Hyrell’s Co-Founder, Patrick Clark.

Bottom line: in order to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of social media, there’s a lot for HR to learn. As practitioners, it’s our job to keep the conversation going.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.

Author: Liz Sheffield

Liz Sheffield is a freelance writer with more than a decade of experience working in HR. Her areas of expertise are in training and development, leadership development, ethics, and compliance. She enjoys writing about the human side of business and works to help organizations express their message in a way that engages employees, business partners, clients and the HR community.

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