Is lack of social media know-how in HR negligent?

It’s odd that some professionals wear a disinterest in social media as a badge of honour; given its ubiquity, understanding the business, governance and legal impacts should be a requirement.

Social media impacts the employment life cycle from pre-employment to recruitment, training and dismissal and every tier of business strategy from product development, marketing, sales and customer service.

According to Global Web Index, there are now over three billion internet and two billion social media users. Both internet penetration and social media use continues to rise, meaning current and future impacts must be understood.

Executives must set aside personal views of the value of social media and focus on educating business heads about the opportunities and risks of social media for which they are accountable.

Although there’s a lot of discussion about how to manage the disruptive impacts of technology and the emergence of non-traditional business models, the reality is that most companies still allocate accountability by business area.

Although the precise structure and names of C-suite positions vary, general areas of responsibility within most organisations are similar.

This is the first in a series of articles designed to support decision-makers with actionable insights on emerging social media issues in their area and to increase social media know-how across the board.

The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)

Social media impacts the employment life cycle from pre-employment to recruitment, training and dismissal and every tier of business strategy from product development, marketing, sales and customer service.

The chief human resources officer (CHRO) must have a strategic understanding of how social media is being used through the whole life cycle of employment including:

  1. Pre-employment
  2. Recruitment
  3. Employee social media use
  4. Enterprise social media

This isn’t just because digitally savvy Millenials will form 50% of the global workplace by 2020 but because social media is being used by professionals of all ages right now to make themselves searchable, form relationships with prospective employers, find jobs, engage with industry influencers and build personal brand.


Social media is a treasure trove of information on prospective employees and many employers are using ‘search’ to find out more about the people who want to work for them.

As James Mattson says in Social Media and the Law (Lexis Nexis), in Australia there are no laws that explicitly prevent employers searching the internet and social media for insight into a candidate’s social activities.

There are, however, many complexities that need to be considered.

When using social media, including gathering business intelligence, employers must be aware of employment laws and industry regulations.

For example, information collected in social media that refers to the protected attributes under laws that cover racial, age, disability and sex discrimination or the Fair Work Act could be unlawful.

Employers covered by privacy legislation also have to comply with privacy requirements, although prospective employees should remember that social media is by nature a public communication and they should manage posts with this in mind.

While most people using social media are genuine it can be used to deliberately create a false impression, making authentication critical.

It’s also important to view social information in a proper context. Few people post photos of themselves working studiously at a desk even if this is their usual behavior, not only because they’re too busy working but also because this kind of photo is unlikely to get engagement.

On the other hand a random photo of a wild party may have little to do with a person’s technical skills or even normal professional conduct. Professionals need to understand legislative frameworks but also use common sense when deciding what information they want to gather from social media and how to use it.

CHROs also need to think about creating the right workplace culture that establishes trust and a respect for privacy from the get-go, unlikely if a company develops a reputation for crossing the line in pre-employment screening.

Key CHRO questions:

  • Do you have a pre-employment search policy?
  • Is your HR team trained in how to properly gather social media information without breaching workplace laws?
  • How do you authenticate information found in social media?


Social media is being used directly by businesses and recruitment agencies to identify and compete for the best talent.

LinkedIn, for example, boasts almost 347 million professionals across 200 countries, five million in Australia alone.

People looking for work need to understand how to optimise their LinkedIn profiles to highlight key skills area and make them searchable and use it to build a credible professional reputation.

LinkedIn provides a premium service that allows companies or recruiters to access the network using powerful filters that build, track and manage talent.

Siemens, for example, uses LinkedIn for employer branding, proactive recruitment and securing entry-level talent.

According to a LinkedIn case study, 70 hard-to-fill technician positions in the UK were filled during a three-month long recruitment campaign.

The company also strategically manages university relations and has over 300 partnerships that have resulted in over 12,000 people with academic background being hired.

Nearly a million people follow the Siemens company page and over 30,000 the LinkedIn influencer blog of USA CEO Eric Spiegel, reinforcing its reputation as leading edge.

Innovative employers are also using tools like Twitter to identify and watch talent in action.

For example, HCL Technologies recently launched a global Twitter recruitment campaign during which they used Twitter not only to find but also interview candidates.

In his interview with CLO Media, CHRO Prithvi Shergill said HCL Technologies leveraged online channels to drive awareness and position the organisation as an employer of choice, in particular with the digital generation, whose skills are in hot demand.

Demand-led, just-in-time hiring has allowed the company to leverage social collaboration, mobility and cloud platforms.

For online roles, many recruiters will check indicators such as Klout or Kred for ‘social proof’ of the person’s online influence.

The author of The 2020 WorkplaceJeanne Meister, says that over the next decade people will be hired and promoted based on reputation capital and that while a 2011 Washington poll showed 50% of readers said that job applicants should “absolutely not” include a Klout score on their resumes, forward-thinking employers recognised social media was the platform of the future.

Australian digital marketing director for ‪@FirebrandTalent ‪@vitamin talent & ‪@Aquent,Carolyn Hyams, says that having a high influence score when recruiting for an online role is imperative, and according to Electric Dog MD Thomas Power (who boasts a enviable Klout Score of 81), people wanting to work in Silicon Valley need to achieve a Klout of 70 minimum.

Key CHRO questions:

  • Do you know the key online influence measures?
  • Do you have a LinkedIn recruitment strategy?
  • Do you have a LinkedIn company page?
  • Do you have a LinkedIn influencer strategy for key subject matter experts?
  • Do you know how what the key social media channels that are being used for recruitment are?

Social media at work

Employees already use social media at work but the open and extended nature of social networks blurs the distinction between private and public life and means once personal conversations can become public.

What is said on social media is a public statement and can have legal consequences, for example, for defamation.

In 2014, Australia’s first Twitter defamation case went to a full trial in the NSW District Court where a teacher was awarded $105,000 in damages because a former student made false allegations about her.

While employees need to understand that what’s said on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook, employers also need a clear policy on what kinds of statements warrant disciplinary action. Surveillance is not a synonym for governance.

There have also been a number of cases of unfair dismissal, including for failure to obey social media policy, and yet remarkably, many companies do not yet have a social media policy.

That said just having a social media policy is not enough. A social media policy must be enforceable and should be considered when developing contractual terms and with respect to induction and training.

Mattson points out that in Potter v WorkCover Corp the Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission observed that breaching a policy will not automatically provide a valid reason for termination but that the “policy in question must be lawful and reasonable”.

According to Business Law Today, a quick reference guide is not enough to manage social media risks. The ‘Independent review of an incident involving Queensland Fire and Emergency Services employees‘ found a social media quick reference guide was not an authoritative document and uncertainty surrounded how this document was made known to staff.

Cyber-bullying is another issue that must be managed.

CHROs also need to work with other areas of the business to establish who owns social media accounts. (As Des Walsh pointed out in a comment on this article, establishing an account for a role as distinct from a person on LinkedIn is a breach of terms of the user agreement, which explicitly says you cannot “Create a Member profile for anyone other than a natural person”.)

Social media is a personal and business asset and ownership is best worked out contractually at the start of the employment.

Key CHRO questions:

  • Do you have a social media strategy?
  • Is your social media strategy enforceable?
  • How do you monitor employee-related social media conduct?
  • Do your workplace conduct policies, including the management of bullying policy, take social media into account?

Enterprise social media

A recent Grant Thornton study showed around 40% of employees would like their organisation to embrace social media.

McKinsey has touted social media as delivering potential productivity benefits of 20-25 % by helping people search for and locate information, currently a huge time-waster.

Yet it’s not clear that managers understand the links between social engagement and productivity, and it has been cited as contributing to a time-wasting culture, when I believe social media can have productivity benefits.

Founder and CEO of Icreon Tech, Himanshu Sareen, says that enterprise social networks are changing the way we work, and that while they may not entirely replace email, could change how workers collaborate and share ideas.

Companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, and VMware have already implemented enterprise social networks and there were also rumours last year Facebook was developing a platform for Facebook@Work, something I see as further evidence of social media maturity.

Gartner Inc says that while social networks will become primary channels for work-related decisions, 80% of social business efforts may not achieve the intended benefits due to inadequate leadership.

CHROs are part of the leadership solution and must drive awareness of the potential benefits of social media and ensure the right governance is in place to manage impacts and risks.

Key CHRO questions: 


  • Do you have a strategy for implementing enterprise social media?
  • Have you considered what improper or excessive use looks like in your business?

(Note this article does not constitute legal or governance advice.)

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