it’s not about social media, but it is about HR

Social media and HR. Two great things I saw working together fabulously. Seriously. Everyone I consider a peer uses social media in some form. I’d met and shared ideas with great people around the world and could see an interconnected network of smart, passionate folks come together. With a couple of clicks I was interacting with rock stars of the field – people I’d otherwise have no access to – and over time it built into something more. Information and thoughts flowed from one end of the internet to the other.

And then I went outside my little happy world and saw that they don’t always to go together. I knew some didn’t get it, but I has shocked at how many don’t. I don’t mean at the corporate level of using social media to recruit. (Robin Schooling (@robinschooling) over at HR Schoolhouse did a great post on this recently. You should go read it.) I mean at the personal level of individuals in the field of HR using social media as a networking, communication, and information gathering tool. Whythehellnot?

At the Louisiana State SHRM conference in early April there was a ton of buzz about social media. Any session with “Social Media” in the title was well attended, there was a Social Media Street to answer anyone’s questions and a team of social media volunteers to tweet in real time about the sessions, and both the conference and the speakers had been heavily promoted on social media. I was thrilled for the chance to meet many people in person whom I only had met and only knew via the internet. In fact, I found out about the conference and ended up presenting largely thanks to social media. In my mind, there was this enormous social media connection running throughout.

And then… and then I realized that the only people discussing the conference on Twitter were the presenters and the social media team. I don’t recall one mention by participants. Maybe I missed it. In his session on “Building Social HR Leadership”, Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) did a quick poll of the participants. If I remember correctly, roughly two-thirds claimed to be on LinkedIn, a smaller number admitted to Facebook or Pinterest, and Twitter trailed in popularity.

Huh? I assumed conference goers were there to network, to learn about new happenings in the field, and to get ideas to take back to their jobs. All things I’ve found social media to be brilliant for. I’m not a power user or social media evangelist and I don’t think everyone needs to be on every form of social media. I’m just surprised that the adoption rate was so low, particularly given that those I consider to be thought leaders in the field are so active in social media.

There has probably always been a gap between those actively building relationships, sharing ideas, learning from each other, trying to advance the field etc. and those just showing up for another day’s work, but I get the sense that social media is rapidly (radically?) widening this gap.

It’s not really about social media because social media is just a tool, just a means to an end. It’s really about HR and the bigger question is: What are you doing to learn, share ideas, build relationships, and move the field forward?




  1. Good post Broc – and from memory you’re right about the straw poll. I think you’re even more right about the fact that tools are just that – tools. I hope that after the straw poll – the cultural stuff we went on to discuss was deeper, and hopefully more fun and more interesting. However – I think you make a good point here about low adoption rates. Maybe the focus should be more tactical for now – and focusing on helping people to dive in and get going? Not sure – but as always you’ve given me food for thought and I hope to refine and improve in time for Illinois this August. Good stuff.


    1. Hmmm, not sure. Without the strategic level, the tactical makes less sense – why do I need this tool again? I do think people not familiar with social media tend to think of it as an end rather than a means. Or they think it’s about the # of connections/friends/followers/whatever instead of the quality of relationships and information shared. Like email, it’s not a replacement for real life, but has some great strengths for communication. Like any new tool, it doesn’t make sense until you use it (for example, I thought smart phones were gimmicky and silly, then someone showed me how I would benefit and I got one that weekend). I find personally, the more I use social media, the more useful it is to me. Last night I came across a great piece aimed right at some of these things: . Well worth the read.

      All that aside, if one doesn’t want to connect with and communicate and learn from others. Social media makes little sense.


  2. What was the median age present at the event Broc? I wonder if this could be a generational thing?

    For example, my elder brother (13 years older than I), brilliant and gifted journalist, uses a cellphone purely for voice, can scarcely text, and is nowhere near social media. I moderately dislike speaking on the phone, use email a lot, enjoy FB & Twitter, but loathe LinkedIn, and am baffled by everything else. My nephews meanwhile (13 years my junior) are connected to everything they can find and on a 24*7 basis, while regarding e-mail as retro and being only dimly aware that smartphones also, once upon a time, had this strange telephone/voice function!

    The generations are a changing!


    1. This post struck a nerve and I’m told it’s not isolated to HR – one reader in education found parallels to the challenges she faces. I don’t know if it’s generational or a mindset. I remember when email was new and novel and many resisted because it wasn’t seen as a serious way to communicate – if it’s important you’ll call or send a memo. I’m told there are still folks with this mindset…

      It is all just humans dealing with communication and adapting to New. I’m not a SoMe early adopter – I came reluctantly. I joined FB and LinkedIn in 2008 the day after I found out my job was eliminated (surprise!), but only joined twitter 2 or so years ago and only got serious in the past year. I love to connect, learn, and influence on the global scale and with FB and LinkedIn I was limited to people I knew, but through blogs and twitter, my world suddenly opened up –> which lead to an increase in the people I knew and connected with on FB and LinkedIn. I had resisted and resisted, and then discovered that SoMe provided so much I’d been seeking but didn’t know where to look. AND, in that time SoMe has evolved from a fun distraction to a serious connection and communication channel.

      Not everyone will see the same benefits I do and different people key in to different SoMe channels (I haven’t figured out google+ yet and was within 30 minutes of permanently deleting my FB account about 8 months ago), but it does surprise me how low the rates are of any adoption of SoMe. I suspect the generational thing is more simply that the younger typically have more time and desire to figure out different ways to connect with friends than the older generations do.


  3. Hi Broc,

    Interesting stuff. I share your opinion that perhaps take up hasn’t been as wide as the stats on social media suggest – although I don’t necessarily see that as an issue.

    I don’t see the advantage of getting everyone in HR and organisations on Twitter and communicating for the sake of it, instead of using email for example BUT I do think that the central tenets of social media – democracy, it’s public nature, the creativity it breeds – are things that HR have too long ignored the need for.

    It’s not about which tool you use but those ideas at the centre of social media are absolutely central to how we define work too. We don’t want a closed shop that doesn’t interact with our wider lives, we want fluid boundaries and a new way for organisations to speak to us. We shouldn’t be letting technological hang ups or a lack of knowledge get in the way of that but at the same time those ideas can exist offline with a bit of innovative, creative thinking.

    I’ve written a bit more on this theme yesterday, you might be interested to give your perspective on it –

    All the best


    1. Matthew, thanks for commenting. I’m in 100% agreement. It’s not about being on social media, but being connected with others, engaged, and inspired to learn and grow. My concern for those not embracing some form of social media is that they are not connected, engaged, etc. If they have another way – great, if not, they are missing out on some fantastic tools. Cheers! Broc


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