Social Media finds its use in corporate HR

19 Nov,2013


By Priyanka Sangani


When Marriott International announced it was opening a new Courtyard by Marriott property in Bilaspur, it got over 300 CVs through its Facebook page. The page was launched just a month ago and already has 1.1 million likes.


A few months ago, Godrej Consumer Products started using Yammer, an enterprise social networking site, not unlike Facebook. What surprised Sumit Mitra, head – group HR and corporate services, the most is the rapidity with which employees caught on to it, irrespective of age, location and hierarchy. It is rapidly emerging as a platform to share best practices across the business, and has now been rolled out across the Godrej Group.


Cisco Systems has brought down its usage of placement agents from 50% to less than 5% of the total people hired over the last four years bringing down recruitment expenses by over Rs 30 crore a year, while L’Oreal India saved on 93% of its recruitment costs last year by using social media.


Look closer and you realise that these aren’t stray examples. From a time when Indian companies instructed their IT departments to put in firewalls to block access to all kinds of social media, they are now exploring how these sites can be leveraged. “We are past that stage where we debate the impact social media will have on productivity; you have to learn to channelise it creatively,” says Prasenjit Bhattacharya, CEO, Great Places To Work, India.


Godrej first started experimenting with social media as an HR tool in July 2012 for Godrej Loud, its campus recruitment programme. “After the initial campus visit, all communication for this initiative was done through Facebook and Twitter. The benefits in terms of reach, cost effectiveness and productivity are significant,” says Mr Mitra. Apart from the tangible cost incurred in flying people across the country multiple times, there was a high hidden cost in terms of management time and productivity. The company has now moved its entire summer internship (and campus recruitment) process to Facebook.


Platform Play

At L’Oreal India, the use of social media stretches up to mid-management positions as well. Mohit James, director-HR, says that the company has its own company page on LinkedIn and has hired for over 20 senior level positions in functions like IT, marketing innovations and development through social media platforms: “The hiring process becomes a lot more open, cost effective and has a faster turnaround time. Using social media allows you to reach out to far more people than you could have earlier, and it also gives them a chance to see what the brand is all about before they even apply.”


While a number of companies have signed up with Microsoft’s Yammer or are simply using Facebook for their online communities, for those with the tech expertise and inclination, building your own platform is always an option. At HCL Technologies, MEME was the result of a group of enthusiasts who went ahead and created an internal social networking platform despite feasibility concerns from the IT department. With over 80,000 active employees, this is now an integral part of the communication process at HCL. Prithvi Shergill, chief human resource officer, HCL Technologies, says, “The company is present in 31 locations and this is a convenient way to reach out to everyone.” There are special interest pages and the human resources department even uses it to get people’s opinions on policy changes before actually rolling them out.


One big reason why social media is gaining acceptance as an effective communication tool for companies is the entry of the digital natives into the workforce. Over 60% of the employees at Cisco are under 30. The company uses Webex Social, its own social networking platform for all internal communication, including buying and selling things. Subash Rao, senior director – human resources, Cisco Systems says, “It is essential to reach out to employees in a manner that they are most comfortable with. So with most people spending more time on their phones, we’ve ensured that Webex Social and Cisco Jabber, an instant messaging service, are both accessible on the mobile.” The company is now in the process of shifting static intranet pages like blogs to this platform which will make the exchange far more interactive.


“While traditional channels continue to exist we are increasingly finding that our audiences prefer to consume information at their own pace. Moreover, given the dynamic nature of our business employees feel the need to connect informally in addition to connecting formally with their peers,” says Microsoft India’s head of human resources, Rohit Thakur. In August, Microsoft created a special employee microsite using SharePoint for their annual kick-off meeting. “The microsite provided our employees with the facility to register for the event, learn about the agenda and logistics and comment on the topics covered in the meeting. We also used the microsite to poll our employees about their feedback. This will help us design next year’s event in line with the audience needs. All this was possible due to enterprise social technologies such as Yammer, SharePoint and Lync. I also strongly believe the engagement during this meeting helped us drive significantly better business momentum during the quarter,” says Mr Thakur.


Mr Bhattacharya, who has observed various companies up-close says, “Social media is an enabler and allows a multi-dimensional view of the organisation as against the earlier unidimensional view where the conversation was restricted to job description and compensation. Whether you like it or not, social media has an impact on the perception of the organisation. If you are smart about it, you will allow access and use it to promote discussions and dialogues on the company and the brand.


Godrej for instance tried using blogs earlier but with limited success given that the degree of interaction was far lower. “We were looking for a platform to connect employees across the world where we could have a free flow of ideas without hierarchies,” says Mr Mitra. So, if a distributor has run a successful promotion in a small town, he can post details and pictures within minutes and share his experiences. Earlier this kind of knowledge exchange would have taken a few months. It helps that the senior management is fairly active on this platform as well, with Godrej Consumer MD Vivek Gambhir ensuring that he spends at least 30 minutes a day on it. Mr Mitra himself is a part of various groups related to HR and people management.


Last year, Polaris Financial Technology launched its own enterprise collaboration portal, Octopus, which primarily functions as a project management platform. Employees have access to all the details related to the project they are working on, but what sets it apart from other such portals is that it integrates various other social networking features into itself. “The site facilitates sharing of knowledge through the technology wikis and design wikis, and also provides a platform to ask questions. Chances are that someone else may have already encountered the problem you are facing and has a solution, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” says Sashi Mohan, CIO and CTO, Polaris FT. The company also has a popular video sharing channel, KTube which it uses to share videos on a wide range of issues, not just related to technology.


However, using social media to communicate with your employees, or as a recruitment tool, isn’t necessarily idiot proof. “While finding people may have become easier, a recruiter needs to know how to engage, network and harvest a talent group and not just use social media as a search engine. LinkedIn is more than a platform to acquire talent; it is a medium to build candidate consideration and employer branding as well,” says HCL’s Mr Shergill. Cisco has a separate page for campus recruitments where it gets the alumni from these institutes who are working at Cisco to talk about their experiences as it builds a far stronger connect with potential employees. The biggest challenge, says Mr Rao, is that most companies still don’t take social media very seriously. “You need to have a dedicated resource monitoring social media. If activity levels on your page lag, it has an immediate fall out or impact on people’s interest levels.” This is also perhaps one of the biggest challenges of using social media – constantly updating it with relevant information. While it definitely helps cut down on the deluge of emails and brings in a lot more democracy to the communication process, companies need to ensure that they are providing meaningful -and not distracting- content.


Marriott International launched its dedicated jobs and careers page on Facebook as a result of the traction they were getting from (potential) employees on their hotels page. In addition to job postings, they also update the page with excerpts from Chairman Bill Marriott’s blog and employee success stories. Gurmeet Singh, area director of human resources-Indian subcontinent, Maldives, Marriott International says, “Attrition in this sector is high at about 35% so it’s useful to employ non-traditional methods of sourcing. Besides, the generation is also such that you can reach them more effectively through social media.” A clear indication of how seriously the company takes its social media initiatives is that it has fairly detailed corporate and regulatory guidelines on how to use social media. These have been in place for three years, but are constantly evolving. Prasad Iyer, cluster ecommerce- India, Malaysia & Maldives, Marriott International, says that this is a double-edged sword. “While you want to reach out to people externally, you have to manage expectations internally as well. At the end of the day, it’s a social platform and cannot replace the existing professional systems you have.”


Mr Shergill echoes this sentiment adding that it’s primarily an enabling mechanism and you cannot devote all your energies to it. Then again, there will always be topics that won’t generate the kind of interest you want in these forums and at such times, it’s best to revert to email or face-to-face conversations. It’s also important to ensure that the posts don’t get offensive or aggressive.


Going ahead, while a lot would depend on how these particular platforms themselves will evolve, most companies are working towards moving their e-learning initiatives to social media. Another trend that’s rapidly gaining traction is gamification. L’Oreal has been using an offline game Brandstorm globally for two decades now, and has recently introduced two online games, Reveal and RU HR? The company tries to recruit about a third of its managers through these channels. While RU HR? requires participants to deal with real human resource situations and develop an HR strategy, Reveal is aimed at non-marketing professionals who can get online and participate in say a discussion on supply chain issues and solve a problem to move to the next stage. James says that the benefits are twofold. “Not only does this expose people to L’Oreal, but it also allows the company to assess them in terms of brand fit based on their reactions to various stimuli.” This is followed up with an actual interview since there’s always the danger that it could be a group of people playing the game as one candidate. “The two most important benefits of gamification are crowdsourcing and collecting powerful customer data. Crowdsourcing helps in solving complex business problems where participants bring in a fresh perspective to solve tricky situations. As these games require comprehensive research and study, it also helps the organisation to collect important customer data and statistics,” he says.


One thing that is clear is that as just as social media influences how we communicate in our personal lives, it will have a bearing on how we communicate at work and companies would do well to adopt it, albeit with caution.


Source:The Economic Times

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