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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Thursday 23 Jan 2014
Social media: helping employees feel better about their employers

Social media: helping employees feel better about their employers

People are changing the way they conduct their personal lives. Much more is public, much more opinion is shared, much less is taken as gospel truth, less store is placed on central and difficult-to-access repositories of information.

The speed of migration to these new ways of consuming and sharing information is accelerating; some of the more common social sites are simply enormous:

  • LinkedIn: the professional networking site (the one HR readers are probably most acquainted with) has 200 million users. 
  • Facebook: with a younger and more gregarious user base has 1 billion users. 
  • Twitter: the recently floated micro-blogging site, with 500 million users.
  • Google +: used for sharing personal updates in multi-formats, with 500 million users. 
  • Instagram: used for sharing photos, with 200 million users. 
All of these sites help to unlock pockets of previously unused knowledge (and create real value from it). They are an excellent medium for the creation of new knowledge by facilitating collaboration across wide geographies and involving many more people than possible via traditional comms tools as well as encouraging its quick and wide distribution.

Some other social sites are less common currently; but are clearly targeted at companies and break down all sorts of barriers and confidentiality:
  • Glassdoor: where employees publicly post reviews of companies and colleagues and share reward information. They also rate the CEO and management teams. 
  • Similar information can be found on less global websites such as “thejobcrowd”, “ratemyemployer” or “jobadvisor”. Take five minutes now to look at any one of them; you’ll be taken aback by what you see. The boundaries between inside and outside your company are thinner than ever.
So what makes them popular, and what are the implications of this for employers?

People want to use social tools as a way of information gathering and dissemination. Whether we like it or not, our colleagues and our customers are talking about us and our companies. The only choice for us is whether we engage in that debate or not.

Social media sites play to some basic human instincts around play, achievement, recognition, competition and self-expression. All of these successful sites have points, levels, leaderboards, ratings, likes, retweets, badges, etc.  This “game thinking” is often referred to as “gamification”.  Gamification helps to drive home and work life closer together and can transform employee engagement, which translates into tangible business benefits. 

For Ceridian, as a technology provider, we are wrestling with questions of how to design software that maximises the benefits of social media momentum. The key to this will be to allow social media interactions and to focus them on how to speed work-related information flow. It can be powerful if harnessed properly, for example by allowing efficient access to deep, but distant expertise; or by allowing simpler on-boarding or training tasks to be handled by the community, rather than the manager. If handled badly, simple work distraction and “presenteeism” will be the outcome.

In our view, tools for employees and customers to express their views on your company exist today; you’d be an ostrich to ignore them. Tools to mix social and the workplace will change substantially in the near future, and capturing the right balance so it improves both your employee experience and your customer experience is the key.

Nick Laird is chief commercial officer at Ceridian UK