Business Acumen and the Social Media Revolution

By Lindsay Northon, M.A., SHRM-SCP Oct 4, 2016

​It's no secret that technology has changed the world and how organizations do business, and it continues to do so at a fast pace. To keep up, HR professionals must be agile and responsive to change. Admittedly, I was once resistant to technological advances—I was still using a Motorola Razr when the iPhone 4 came out, and I didn't start banking online until 2010—but I am shifting toward becoming an early adopter who embraces the benefits that technology offers. My recent focus has been on increasing my presence on social media to develop my own professional brand. 

Social media is changing the way we get news and connect with friends. It's also changing the way we do business—specifically, the way organizations conduct business operations and construct their vision for the future. What does social media mean for HR professionals and their development of Business Acumen?                    

Here's one dictionary's definition of social media: "Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)." Let's translate that for business: Social media sites can help you and your organization achieve goals. Here are a few goal-oriented, HR-specific uses of social media for individuals and teams:

  •  Sourcing and recruiting. The hunters and the hunted alike are on social media—that is, both those searching for new careers and those posting open positions. People who are currently employed can reach out to their networks for job referrals.
  • Branding. Social media can do more than showcase and market your organization's brand; it can actually help shape your brand. If your clients and customers like your products and services, they can do additional marketing for you through Yelp or Instagram. Employees past and present can post to Glassdoor. Consider the ramifications of all these posts for branding purposes.
  • Training and development. Gaming on social media increases flexibility and access to content and can improve participants' abilities to quickly learn on-the-job skills. This mirrors the U.S. military's use of gaming and virtual reality to simulate combat exercises.
  • Data collection. Social media is a way to collect information from competitors and determine market position. Scope out the lay of the land with your eyes and ears open to customer needs, paying attention as people exchange their thoughts about products and services with friends and their networks. Scarcity equates to value, according to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.
  • Strategy formulation. Social media can influence strategy, so be ready to shift your plan as needed: Should you tweet that announcement? Blog about it? Push it out to your social network? The current competencies of your organization's employees should be analyzed against proposed social media strategies. 

Creating the Business Case for Social Media 

CNN Money discusses several social networks and specific uses for several top sites. Business News Daily provides guides for choosing the right social platform for your business. Your organization's business leaders will undoubtedly want to hear about social media's return on investment (ROI). 

Since the science of calculating ROI in this context has not yet been perfected, consider thinking outside the box to illustrate the ROI to leadership. Tell stakeholders that most social media accounts are free, for instance, and that successful companies are active on these sites. This may be enough to convince leaders to utilize the various platforms available. 

Social media is changing how people consume information. It's delivered immediately, can be sent at any time, and can be authentic and unfiltered. Content must be succinct, whether it's delivered in 140 characters or with a video, picture, emoji or sound bite. Showcase your aptitude in Business Acumen by performing a comparative analysis and presenting to leadership a synthesis of the various platforms. 

Here are some other pertinent considerations when it comes to ROI: 

  • 84 percent of organizations are using social media to recruit talent, and 9 percent are planning to do so, according to SHRM research.
  • On social media, there are no travel costs involved in working with or marketing to individuals across the world.
  • Facebook receives more traffic than Google. People sharing links on Facebook could mean an increase in sales.
  • Geo-targeting is a premise on which entire companies have been formed (e.g., Uber). It may open doors for new or alternative consumption models (e.g., delivering instant, proximity discounts).
  • Apps are another opportunity for your company to deliver products and services to consumers. As of June 2016, Android users have over 2.2 million apps to choose from. 

In developing a social media strategy, HR has a great number of considerations to take into account. How big is your organization? Who is the target audience? What is your budget? Are there cyberthreats? If so, do employees need training on how to prevent cyberattacks? Do you need to update the employee handbook to better address the dangers of viruses, scams, malware, phishing attempts, etc., in order to protect the organization? Are policies in place that establish boundaries for how employees interact with social media sites (e.g., using these sites at work, posting on behalf of the organization, posting to their personal sites, using sites when they are identified as an employee of the organization)? This list is not exhaustive, so start thinking about potential points of entry—yours and your organization's—into the social media realm. 

It's time to get with the program—the social media program. Now more than ever, it's important for organizations to be transparent and for HR professionals to sharpen their #BusinessAcumen. 

Lindsay Northon, M.A., SHRM-SCP (@SHRMLindsay), is HR competencies specialist at SHRM. 


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