It’s clear that organisations are behind the curve when it comes to using social and digital technologies within the workplace, and this seems to be particularly true when looking at HR and social technologies. Whilst organisations are increasingly competent when using social media with external stakeholders, in particular with customers, the same cannot be said of using social media with employees.

It seems reasonable to propose that over the next few years, organisations will become ever more reliant on their internal social network. Nathalie Nahai (2012), better known as the Web Psychologist, argues that the reason companies have lagged behind in the adoption of social media, both external and ESN, is down to the lack of control and perceived risks to reputation. Many organisations also hold the assumption that time spent on social networking platforms is not productive time, given they do not classify this activity as work. In addition, many leaders are sceptical of the benefits these new technologies can bring to the workplace. A recent report (Silverman 2013) highlighted a common theme among the HR profession, that using social media at work is not work, but an abuse of work.

“It is often a concern we hear that employees will spend their time playing on social networks rather than working,” says Adam Wootton, Director of Social Media and Games at Towers Watson

Clearly there is a big opportunity here, for companies to harness the power of these new technologies to contribute towards achieving not only their people strategy but wider strategic priorities as well.

So what can social media do for HR?

The Guide is aimed at HR professionals who are interested in what a collaborative platfrorm like Jive, Yammer, SharePoint can do for them.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to understand how social media can be used within the field of HR is to use the framework of the employee life-cycle: that is to evaluate the overall employee experience and understand how social media could be used to enhance and improve this. This approach uses a combination of both external social media and ESN, and focuses on both individual needs as well as business needs.

The employee life-cycle:

1. attraction – glass door/ linked in/ twitter/ Facebook

2. recruitment – glass door/ linked in, Facebook

3. induction – tibbr, Facebook,

4. communication and engagement – Yammer, Jive, Chatter

5. learning and development -Jive, SharePoint, Beezy

6. growth – gamification, video and live events

7. retention – forums, communities and peer recognition

8. exit – Social celebration of achievement and knowledge retention

Social At Work – The Current landscape

In 2014 the CIPD published a research report looking at the use of social media within the workplace and the move towards social business. The headlines from this report paint a clear picture of the extent to which the world of work has embraced digital and social technology, at least within the UK.

For those employees who do use social media at work, around 1 in 4 of us, the frequency with which we use it is far less than when we use it outside of work within our personal lives. Just 5% reported that they access social media several times a day work, compared to 37% accessing it several times a day for personal use. And for those who do access social media at work it is still a small part of the working day, with 53% saying they spend less than 30 minutes using it. When asking employees about the role of social media within the workplace, what’s really interesting is that just 18% of employees say that social media is important for their work, and 45% strongly disagree that they need it to do their job effectively.

It seems employees themselves remain largely unconvinced of the relevance of social media within the workplace, which in itself could be a barrier to adoption. In addition 50% stated that they have access to social media within the workplace and 80% report that they know how to make use of social media. These findings challenge the assumptions often made that access and understanding of social media are a significant barrier to use within the workplace: this research suggest that this is simply not the case.

Much has been written over recent years regarding the blurring of boundaries between our personal lives and our work lives. However the same CIPD report found that there is actually a strong desire to separate social media for personal use and social media for work use: with 58% saying that they make this separation. This could be down to that fact that both companies and employees are still figuring out how to use social for work, which is not the case within our personal space: we are free to use social media in any which way that works for us.

Interestingly, CIPD research shows that almost two thirds of employees (61%) use a mobile device for work: a laptop, smart phone or tablet, however usually these devices are personally owned. The research shows that it is actually our behaviour outside of work that is driving the uptake in social technology within work, rather than any organisational strategy. Employees expectations of being able to access, and use, social media, and the value these new technologies can add, are more often than not the driving force behind implementation within the workplace.

The research also looked at the ways in which employees are currently using social media within the workplace. The findings demonstrate that employees are still predominantly consuming content rather than creating it, with 75% saying that they read blogs, comments and articles, and just 20% saying that they create and post blogs and articles. However, 56% say that they share experiences and photos, 48% share interesting information, 43% chat with people in real time and 30% post comments on forums, so this picture is beginning to change.

When looking specifically at the use of social media used exclusively inside the organisation, the study found that 26% said their company had an ESN. For those companies that do have ESN, they are using it predominantly for communication, such as staff and HR updates, and operational updates. It’s interesting that ESN is used much less for collaboration, and discussing and collecting views. It seems the true potential of ESN is still some way from being realized, companies have yet to really harness the “social” opportunity of these new technologies.

Employees report that companies are making good use of social media externally to engage with customers and clients, but are still not using ESN effectively to listen to employee views, give employees a voice or even share knowledge and ideas. However employees themselves are beginning to understand the opportunity here, with almost a quarter (24%) saying that their company needs ESN. The research demonstrates that ESN is currently being used in much the same way as a traditional intranet: for more formal, one-way communication. Whilst there is some move towards exploiting the potential of ESN for collaboration, knowledge sharing and giving employees a voice, there is still a long way to go before this becomes the norm.

Social media within organisations also presents a great opportunity for learning and development. The research shows that only two in five employees have access to any e-learning, and that currently this access is predominantly via desk-tops and laptops rather than via smart phones or tablets. The opportunity for learning and development via social media is less focused on formal training programmes and more on the opportunity to connect with like-minded people, build communities of interest and stumble upon information which is useful and interesting to employees.

An early success story

One of the areas in which social media is used more effectively for HR is within the world of recruitment, with 54% of companies in the UK saying that they use social media for this purpose (CIPD/ ACAS study 2013). However of those companies that use social media for recruitment, many do not have a dedicated strategy. When evaluating exactly who is using social media for work, unsurprisingly there are generational differences. Within the study, the CIPD found that 42% of 18 to 24s were using social media at work, with this number falling as the age demographic increases. Younger employees are also more likely to agree that social media can enable them to be more effective within their jobs. However, there are some interesting findings when looking at seniority within the organisation and social media use, with a higher proposition of senior managers reporting they use social media for work (53%), compared to 33% of managers and 21% of non-managers.

There could be a number of reasons for this finding: increased access, more confidence to use these tools to share opinions and thoughts or perhaps more autonomy at work to define work focus. When comparing these results to use of ESNs though, the picture changes slightly and we find that managers are more likely to use the tool (44%) compared to 35% of senior managers and 36% of non-managers. Finally, when asking who is using social media at work, the CIPD report found no clear gender differences. Although, when looking at the way social media is used by men and women, some differences do emerge. Men are more likely to communicate with professional networks outside of their workplace, build their professional contacts and look for jobs, whereas women are more likely to use social media to build the profile of their organisation and to generate revenue.