SoMe, So Far, So What?

Wednesday sees the hosting of the CIPD’s Social Media conference. Cue lot’s of posts about “what social means to me”, “what I’ve gained from social” and of course, “why social makes me a sparklier and better human being than you will ever be”. There is something about the dumb smugness of the Social HR community that sticks in the back of the throat. I’ve written about it before and whilst things got slightly out of hand, the arguments are pertinent and remain.

The fact is, that there are as many malingerers, as many sops and as many charlatans on social channels as there are in any other walk of life. If social was all shiny, then there wouldn’t be trolls. Social channels don’t have a selection process, they don’t discriminate. The democratisation of media places it in the hands of the dull, feckless and boring as often as the interesting and informed. You want evidence? Just look at your Facebook timeline.

In HR we need to be taking the debate beyond the, “I’ve met so many interesting people”, or “we’re a real community” nonsense and start talking about how social tools can be used to better engage with employees, better engage with job seekers and create value within the organisation. We need to be innovating, piloting, experimenting and seeing how we can best harness the technology that is freely being placed in our hands.

Social media policies are potentially limiting and dangerous. Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Yet 80% of HR professionals are still busily enforcing theirs within the organisation. Are we there yet? I think not.

If Social HR doesn’t want to eat itself, then it needs to step up and demonstrate value, not talk about social in such whimsical and, frankly eye wateringly nauseating terms. It is time to start to use the technology to transform your organisations, not just tweet cupcakes. It is time to engage internally, not blabber externally. It is time to come of age.

My question is, does Social HR really want to? Or is it just another pink and fluffy example of the profession slowly losing credibility. Only time will tell.


  1. Meg Peppin · December 2, 2013

    It (“Social HR”) is a small movement but I see it growing, daily through the vulnerable hesitant day 1 tweets I am seeing more often.

    Most organisations don’t understand social media – I think you have to “do it” to get it, and many HR departments have been dealing with redundancies that have been all consuming. I’m curious how we can reach out to them. People aren’t blogging, tweeting, yammering because they don’t really understand what exists and what transformation opportunities that are offered..

    I have met more people in my two years than I would have been able to connect to throughout other routes, and some of that has led to work, some to friendships, some to a useful network of ideas and thoughts, and some, to who knows what. There is at times a niceness, but I think that SoMe is only a reflection, magnified, accelerated, distorted, random – it’s real life. It’s all there.

    I wonder whether social media is what will transform HR or whether the adoption of Social Media is an indicator of an organisation who is already thinking differently.


  2. hrgem · December 2, 2013

    I will probably regret commenting on this thread. I wrote one of the blogs you so condenm, Do I agree with what you say about using social media better internally, using it to change organisations? Of course I do. I’m trying to do exactly that in my own organisation. I have a social media policy, but it has just five bullet points of the ‘don’t be stupid variety’.

    At the same time, there is nothing wrong with any individual talking about what they personally get from their community – and I use that word deliberately. To me it helps spread the word to other non social HR folk. And there is nothing wrong with the odd cupcake tweet. It’s just a little bit of fun after all. It isn’t one or the other: you can have fun on twitter and be a massive advocate of what it has given you personally, whilst still using social media strategically for the benefit of your organisation.

  3. richardsmith0309 · December 2, 2013

    Neil, I’m with you 100% on this. The whole “Social” aspect reminds me of the retail dilemma of only a few years ago when the retail world was predicting the demise of all shops as internet sales took off at record pace. Lo and behold what’s happened? Customers have exercised choice and sometimes we shop on-line and sometimes we shop in store. I think the same will apply with social recruitment, sometimes it’s right and sometimes it’s not, so as long as we always keep the customer’s needs in mind, Perhaps that’s the message recruiters on-line and in the real world should keep front of mind

  4. Sukh Pabial · December 2, 2013

    I do the community writing thing. I do the appreciation of lovely people thing. And, I definitely do the frivolous tweeting thing.

    But here’s the thing. I think we’re talking about a red herring here, Neil.

    Social isn’t the thing that will change organisations. Social is the thing which suddenly and dramatically changes the way organisations work.

    It’s not for HR to embrace social and be innovative.

    It’s for HR to make a difference because social allows it to happen with ease.

    I notice a lot of HR pros are ‘on social media’, and therefore equate that to being innovative. I question that.

    You can only claim to be innovative if using social actually made a positive difference to the organisation you’re part of, or to how you work.

    What I struggle to understand is, what motivates someone to change from being a lurker to being a change agent?

    • dougshaw · December 2, 2013

      I’m also curious Sukh. What does it matter so long as it’s lurking and not trolling? I love the lurkers, and surely they and only they should decide what, if anything, to do next?

      • Sukh Pabial · December 2, 2013

        I agree to that about lurking and not trolling.

        So then the question raised for me is, what does lurking offer you?

        I get that the lurkers will help push the numbers up, but I don’t think that’s good enough.

        Why be on Social Media if you’re not going to be activist?

  5. dougshaw · December 2, 2013

    Cheers Neil – I’m getting the grey matter stretched courtesy of a number of folks today, you included.

    One of the most interesting talks I was asked to give this year was on ‘The Dark Side of Social Media’. At first I was puzzled why I, as an advocate would be approached to talk on the subject. I accepted and enjoyed and endured a messy wade through a lot of nastiness. It was one of the most useful pieces of prep I’ve ever done for a talk and it subsequently helped me position social media a lot more….realistically?

    Like Richard says in his comment, it’s right and it’s not. Such is life. I like Gemma’s point about thinking beyond the social HR crowd and looking to make it easy to include others. And I like cupcakes too, just not too many in one sitting please #fatbastard alert. Meg’s point about connections ties up that important aspect rather nicely too.

    I’ll be in the audience on Wednesday, and I haven’t forgotten I owe you a stinker of a question 🙂

  6. Tim Collins, GPHR (@collinstw) · December 2, 2013

    I agree Neil, we aren’t there yet, but we (HR) can and should be leading from the front.

    In IBM, social is central to our external strategy, as it is internally. Our CEO, Ginni Rometty, shows the way with her active social presence inside IBM, and she has made clear to our senior leaders that she expects them to walk the talk. For us, social is all about culture change, productivity, transparency, collaboration, sharing, a better way to work and achieve improved business results.

    In HR, we have introduced a new global initiative to show the way. We call it #SocialHRSuccess. In partnership with my colleagues Khalid Raza (khalidraza9) and Howard Smith (hksmith) we have hand picked a group of IBM HR professionals from around the world to drive change in their countries and regions, in their organizations. They are members of our #SocialHRAdvocate team (an extra credit job). Their R&R includes sharing personal stories of how they have used social in their business, real stories of success, learning, mistakes, progress. Every area of our HR organization is represented. No orders from above to “be social” or “get social.”

    We are enthused about the early response. Our #SocialHRSuccess blog, where we share our stories, was recently among the top five most commented blogs in IBM worldwide. BTW, we use IBM Connections, recognized by IDC as the leading enterprise social collaboration platform several years in a row (had to include a commercial).

    We have more than a blog in mind. Working with our #SocialHRAdvocate team, we have collected more than 25 ideas in the “Ideation Blog” in our Connections community of other actions we can take in HR to achieve our aspirational mission of accelerating HR adoption of social in HR.

    One last story. Our #SocialHRSuccess blog is public, open to anyone in IBM. A colleague from IBM Marketing & Communications, working in Japan on assignment from Eastern Europe, commented that she loved our initiative and she wishes M&C had a similar effort.

    HR can and should lead in social, from the front, and show the way.

    • Sukh Pabial · December 2, 2013

      Now that’s a good reply.

    • Khurshed Dehnugara (@relume1) · December 2, 2013

      Thanks Tim, do you think one day soon those conversations would be open beyond the walls of IBM? Or if they are already could you point me in the right direction?

      • Tim Collins, GPHR (@collinstw) · December 2, 2013

        We are talking about #SocialHRSuccess on Twitter, without a lot of detail at the moment, but intend to continue sharing what we learn externally.

  7. Robin Schooling · December 2, 2013

    My hope, which I have been yammering on about for years now, is that HR pros embrace SM in order for them to understand that it’s NOT about the tools, channels and shiny widgets – it’s about the experience created (personally and within one’s organization) and the very HUMAN behavior that is embedded within the usage of twitter, FB, et all.

    Much like Tim’s success I had similar success at an organization, albeit on a much smaller scale than the behemoth that is IBM.. ;-). I was able to drive an internal social initiative (with an easy to use platform that ‘looked’ like FB so people learned how to use it very quickly) that increased collaboration, sharing, and innovation across the organization. Employees shared ideas, asked questions of each other and made suggestions on internal social channels that led to changes in operational procedures, led the Marketing Department to veer in another direction on a campaign (i.e. from ideas shared by the Sales Department) and even enhanced employee benefit offerings from the HR Department. People talking, sharing ideas and having access to organizational SMEs saved time AND MONEY, eliminated the silo BS, and created a sense of community for people spread across multiple offices and geographic areas.

    It was necessary that as the HR Leader I advocated for social behavior and that I UNDERSTOOD and could reinforce this “new way” of collaborating and communicating. Change didn’t happen overnight and some people were hesitant when we launched but the results spoke for themselves.

    So yeah – my social media habits and love for twitter, FB, et al. served me well.

    • Steve Hearsum · December 2, 2013

      @Robin – thanks, you summed up for me the key point when you said this: “it’s NOT about the tools, channels and shiny widgets – it’s about the experience created (personally and within one’s organization) and the very HUMAN behavior that is embedded within the usage of twitter, FB, et all.”

      In other words, it’s not about social media, or HR, or technology. It is ‘both/and’ all of them.

      Another example of a related pattern. In some recent discussions I have seen and been part of on-line re ‘social business’ (someone care to tell me the difference between that and ‘social HR’?… Is one nested in the other, or is it splitting hairs? Genuinely asking the question!), and in conversations off-line, there is a growing trend. Orgs that historically develop, design and implement digital strategy are beginning to recognize that they need to think about and support clients around OD/leadership & management development issues that arise out of change that on the face of it is labelled as ‘social media’ and/or ‘digital’. I am talking to one at the moment, and I know of at least 3 others where that pattern is evident, and I haven’t been looking that hard.

      So let’s turn this on it’s head: what is the question that needs answering, and is social media/digital a good way to go? Not the other way round. Get that in the right order, and the above debate, maybe, becomes moot.

      • Emma Browes · December 3, 2013

        I work in a large organisation & a large HR team, sometimes it’s hard to get new ideas heard amoungst all the other priorities. I think that the cupcakes and community is really valuable and that shouldn’t be underestimated. I also completely agree that Social HR needs to translate into actions and add value. I’m new to this, but I have been using what I learn through the online community, and the confidence I’ve gained, to evidence that my ideas aren’t dangerous (or wacky) and get myself heard. I can see a small but quickly growing movement of people applying ‘social’ (not always followed by ‘media’) to make a real difference in business and in communities. I’m excited by this change, I love your comment that this is about human behaviour and human experience and think it’s vital not to forget this in however we apply the technology (or not).

  8. Robert Ordever · December 2, 2013

    Let’s not forget the SoMe benefits of bringing HR closer to the external customer – the best way to really understand the business.

    Engaging and listening is just as important externally as it is internally for an HR professional hoping to make a difference.

    • Doug Shaw · December 2, 2013

      Nice one Robert. Organisationally – your observation is key. And I’d love to see HR push, push, pushing this.

  9. Natalia Thomson · December 3, 2013

    When I read blog posts like this one, in the back of my mind is always ‘what can the CIPD do to help’. We’ve certainly come a long way with the social media conference and resources to try to support the HR profession and we have the big research piece being launched tomorrow which should give some interesting insights into social technologies and business. But I think we can do more…

    Reading some of the comments above, there are some great case-studies out there. It’d be great for us to showcase some of these innovative uses of social media to inspire and encourage others. What do you think? What else could we be doing?

  10. Simon Jones (@ariadneassoc) · December 3, 2013

    I think Neil is right to warn against the “self-congratulatory” tendency – though I don’t think this is exclusive to HR. But – at the risk of merely repeating my blog last week – what is being missed here is the enhanced benefits that “Social HR” brings:
    a) if you’re an independent HR professional like me then it gives access to HR professionals and Employment Law experts worldwide. That may not matter if you work for a large corporate that can afford to send HR people to expensive conferences 2/3 times a year and pay for the finest legal minds. It makes a hell of difference if you’re a sole trader.
    b) If you’re working alone as an HR person then the opportunity to have a bit of online banter with colleagues is a real benefit. (I don’t personally go in for cupcakes and cute cat photos, but I’m sure my occasional tweets about music, books or football are just as irritating if you don’t like those things). Again, if you work in a big HR department you’ll get that banter in the office
    c) Neil seem to be suggesting that HR is only “talking to itself”. Well, some may be, but at the same time I’m chatting to fellow HR pros on Twitter I’m debating issues in the voluntary/charity sector with some of my VCS clients, engaging with SMEs on recruitment or TUPE issues and generally using social media as a way to connect to current and future clients.

    This debate reminds me of a little of those indie music fans who love a band when they are obscure and “cool” but drop them like hot bricks when they achieve a wider audience. While we’re right to challenge what we want or are doing with social media, I don’t see that being unnecessarily cynical takes the discussion forward.

  11. Pingback: Being a social facilitator | Thinking About Learning
  12. Pingback: HR – social or anti-social? | Up the Down Escalator
  13. HR Community · December 16, 2013

    We’re in agreement that HR must move beyond operational activities to be considered a strategic contributor. I also like your additions to the list, particularly bravery. I think that’s an important component for any leader who is taking action to effect change!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s