The Role of HR/Training in the World of Social Media

originally posted on Concept Hub

Imagine this scenario;

It is your first day on the job and you are handed a stack of forms; forms for taxes, for insurances, for investment and retirement benefits and among all of that paperwork is the company’s Internet policies and guidelines.

You have a new job to learn, a new culture to adapt to and you need to be prepared to make an impact and prove you were the best choice for the job. So you take a few hours and fill out the appropriate new hire paperwork and sign all of the documents after glancing through what you are signing.

A week later a project manager approaches you telling you that the team has decided to participate in finding new business leads for the company. He has been exploring social media for a few years and considers himself a social media expert. In fact, he has spoken on the topic at a number of events lately. He is going to get a core group of people to participate in forums, social networks, blogs, and to save any leads to the social bookmarking site, Delicious.

This basic scenario is probably happening every day in every organization around the world. For those of us who have evangelized social media for so long, we may be rejoicing at the fact that the trends we have seen for so long are finally being adopted for the greater good. For those of us who have worked in the corporate world in many various ways, and who also understand the power of social media, we look at the above scenario and scream; NO! STOP! WAIT!

Many organizations are starting to draft their social media policies. The policies range from the very basics of “don’t do anything stupid” to very strict of “do not mention your company or work online –  ever!”

At this time I am not going to discuss what should or should not go into the company policy. I believe there is no set template. It really depends on many variables that are unique to each organization. What do want to stress is that the policy should not be one of the many documents that your new hire signs, it should be part of an ongoing, holistic organizational training initiative.

Take the scene above. This is a rogue group being led into the world of social media by an employee, with the best of intentions, who has decided he is the expert guide. As the expert guide, he has very specific goals in mind for his team’s social media efforts. But has he considered and prepared his team for the potential traps that exist in this new world?

Try this. Go to and search for your organization’s name or other organization’s names.
I have done this with several companies and I have found FTP files saved, links to Intranets and RFPs. I have discovered teams of people using delicious for collaborative research and I have been able to tap into what they are searching for. In short, I have been able to tap into an organization’s intellectual property simply through a few searches in Delicious.

Let’s consider another scenario. The team mentioned above begins to participate in various online groups and they are gaining a following. They have become great representatives of your organization raising the visibility of the talent that exists within and even attracting the attention of the mainstream media. The bottom line has been impacted in a very positive way because of this group’s social media activities. Then one day, during a random online chat, one of your employee’s makes what seems to be a harmless criticism and your competitors decide they have discovered your Achilles heel. The same mainstream media that had been cheering you has now turned on you because the story just got interesting again. Will your organization be prepared?

One final scenario. The team above goes through very stringent channels to get their social media initiatives approved. Guidelines have been put in place and the message has been nailed down and goals have been set. The project is moving forward and there are signs of success. In the department down the hall, the group that has been feeling like the red headed step child sees the success and they decide to launch their own pilot program. They suspect, based on recent past experiences that they will not get support from their executives until they prove a business case for them to be involved in social media, so they launch the pilot as a means to build their business case. As they progress they trip, maybe they notice maybe they don’t. But in their path, they leave comments and open doors that will compromise the company’s intellectual property and reputation. Who will know? When will they find out? When will it be too late to correct these mistakes? The biggest challenge we face today is that a simple mistake online will be more widespread and live longer than what we have ever experienced in history. Don’t believe me? Google the words “Ketchum and FedEx”

Today many organizations have delegated social media as a project that belongs to the marketing and communications departments. I argue that it belongs equally in the departments of Human Resources and Training.

This past month Ariel Silverstone provided a fascinating presentation for the  TAG Enterprise 2.0 society regarding the realities of blocking social media. Consider if the Iranian government could not block social media efforts, how can any organization think they could control social media activity.

The only step an organization can take is to manage the use of social media. This starts with employee training and development, open door policies, and guidelines that are ingrained into the culture of the organization. These efforts are typically delegated to Human Resources and Training, not Marketing and Communications.

In Ariel’s presentation, he suggests that managers and leaders manage the risk of social media by learning what tools exist and the many ways each tool can be used as well as the many reasons why someone would choose a social media tool over existing traditional communication channels. To do this, Human Resource and Training professionals have a great opportunity to review and implement social software to communicate with their employees, train them and gather feedback from the group as well as to encourage transparent collaboration amongst the various departments.

So where do you go from here?

  1. Create social media guidelines and find ways to ingrain those guidelines into the culture of the company. A fun video, role-playing, and team meetings are great ways to accomplish this. The goal is not to stop social media efforts, but to protect your intellectual property and reputation from the unsanctioned use of social media.
  2. Be open to all ideas from all departments for implementing social media and be prepared to train each participant on how to use each tool. For example, every employee should know how to use and when to use the privacy settings that exist on the various social media sites.
  3. Begin to use the tools for training and internal communications. This will keep the organization constantly learning about tools and trends that are continuously changing and to leverage ways to find additional benefits from the new tools that are being introduced.

I believe most people now agree that social media is not a fad, Pandora’s box has been opened. Many tools and communities will come and go, but the social software that is free and readily available will continuously be introduced to the market at an ever-accelerating rate. Organizations need to make sure each member of their team is prepared.