How are HR Staff Handling the Social Media Boom

The number of people using social networking platforms has soared in recent years and this has presented HR professionals with a huge challenge.

Channels such as Facebook - which attracts approximately 1.19 billion active monthly users - have transformed the way in which people communicate and in many ways, social media has brought plenty of benefits to businesses.

Managers and employees can talk to each other without paying for expensive phone calls, workers find it easier to share documents and files with their colleagues and marketers can use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and other platforms to raise awareness of their company to a huge number of potential customers.

A recent study by global information services and publishing firm Wolters Kluwer showed that 77 per cent of UK accountants now use social media in some capacity and this trend is reflected across a multitude of industries.

Managing director of the company's CCH Software enterprise Simon Crompton commented: "Social media is now an established part of the business landscape.

"Although a good deal of social media activity is still purely person to person, social media websites are increasingly being used to support commercial activity in both B2C and B2B markets. There is evidence that consumers perceive social media as a more trustworthy source of information than some traditional ways of marketing professional services."

What is the problem?

While there is no doubting that social media has many positive attributes, it also carries a certain amount of risk.

There have been examples in the past where companies have suffered reputational damage because of something an employee has posted online.

In worst case scenarios, firms could even see important sensitive data being shared via social networks, which can obviously cause significant financial loss.

It is therefore unsurprising that most employers have established clear social media policies and it is usually down to the HR department to ensure these are being updated accordingly.

What is expected of HR departments?

With more than 259 million members in over 200 countries around the world, LinkedIn is currently one of the fastest growing social networking platforms.

In a recent interview with HR Magazine, LinkedIn HR director Connie Gibney explained that social media has transformed working cultures and employees now expect to be able to use these channels on a daily basis.

"Young people entering the workforce expect companies to have a presence on social media, whether that's in the recruitment process, ways of delivering learning or internal messaging," she was quoted as saying.

"It is important a company's HR department doesn't put barriers around social media use, as that will only [come across] as a negative feeling towards employees."

Clearly, HR departments must strike a balance between allowing employees to utilise social media and protecting a company's reputation and bottom line. This can be more difficult than many people think and it is an issue that is likely to become even more pronounced as even more workers sign up for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

A practical way of managing social media

First and foremost, it is imperative that HR departments familiarise themselves with UK and European laws relating to social media.

Once this has been done, staff are in a far stronger position to create a corporate social networking policy.

The key to this is not to be overly aggressive and focus on the positives, rather than the negatives. As Ms Gibney alluded to, if companies are overly restrictive, they run the risk of alienating their workforce.

Social media policies should then be integrated in a firm's onboarding process, as this will ensure all new recruits are fully up to speed on what is expected of them right from the start.

Technology is advancing all the time and it is inevitable that social networking will evolve further in the coming years. HR specialists must do all they can to keep their policies up to date and make sure all workers are familiar with the changes.

The best way to do this is hold regular training sessions. Sending out an email with the new terms and conditions attached is not enough, as a high percentage of staff will not read it.

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