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?



sorry LinkedIn, I’m just not that special

There is a quirk to human nature where we want to fit in with everyone else and simultaneously stand out. We want to be just like everyone only more special so we find all sorts of ways of being better and validating our uniqueness.

As much of a rare and special purple unicorn snowflake I like to think I am, I know there are many others like me. Mathematically, if I’m in the top 1% in any category, there are roughly 70 million others on this planet who are at least as good. Heck, there are 3 million in the US alone.

Social media has done a great job of leveraging this psychological need: You have a new follower! (Can you believe it – someone likes me?!) Someone retweeted one of your tweets! (Holy cow, I must be special – they really like me and they think I’m a supergenius). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that someone else thinks that my thoughts might be useful – please keep following, retweeting, etc. – I’m just not convinced that it’s always an exclamation point kind of moment.

I, like many others, recently received notice from LinkedIn that my profile was in the top 10% of those visited. My thoughts rapidly went from Huh, that’s kind of cool to Are they sure? Really? to Man, they’re screwed if I’m top 10%.

Why are they screwed?

I don’t have that many connections. Not really, not at all. I’m pretty sure any mediocre sales person, recruiter, or social butterfly has more connections than me.

I’m not looking for a job so it’s not as if I’m doing anything to attract people to my profile.

No recruiters are calling me so it’s not like people are seeking me out.

Uhhhh, so if I have such little activity, why am I in the top 10%? AND if I’m top 10% where do all those poor folks who are trying to use LinkedIn to find work rate?

AND if I’m hitting the top 10% what meaning could this measure possibly have? What outcomes are happening as a result of my extraordinary accomplishment?

AND if I’m so unspecially special, where is LinkedIn making its money and who isn’t getting a return on their investment?

Oh wait!

Hang on, top 10% of 200 million users is 20 million. Yep, not that special.

What thinks you?



social media leap of faith

Social media seems to simultaneously intrigue and terrify a lot of businesses. They love the idea of their message and brand going viral and being cheerfully spread throughout the land by their adoring customers (at no incremental cost to the company). The problem is, they also want to control 100% of the message and when they find out they can’t control the message, they don’t want to play.

It’s a silly argument that is perpetual, redundant, cliché, and not going away: What if people say bad things about us? What if they hurt our brand? The response is just as obvious, cliché, and not going away: People are already saying bad things. And they are saying good things. The leaders of these companies are scared because they can’t control the conversation. They can’t control what others are saying.

What they aren’t seeing is that social media is not all or nothing. It’s not “we control the message or we won’t play at all.” The conversation is happening regardless. Pretending it doesn’t exist does nothing to stop the damage; does nothing to build the brand; does nothing to create strong relationships with customers.

That’s the key, isn’t it? In the past, the business / customer relationship was one-way. We used simplemindedly archaic terms like “customer loyalty” as though our customers owed the business something. It’s not a top down relationship like from commander to the troops or from dictator to the masses. It’s a relationship of peers and equals. Both parties have something the other party wants and values. Both parties can benefit from or be hurt by the relationship.

In Richard Bach’s book Illusions there is a story of an underwater society that clings to the bottom of a river so they won’t get battered by the current. One day, one of them, against all traditional wisdom, let go. He was initially tumbled and bruised as he was forced along by the current. But then, after this painful start, his journey smoothed out and we was swept along with, rather than against, the river. Suddenly, there was a freedom never experienced before. (I’m going solely from memory, but that’s the gist that stuck with me.)

I suspect that letting go of the idea that we must control the conversation is a very similar leap of faith. We have to let go and stop pretending that the conversation is always one-sided and people don’t say things about us. When we first listen, learn, and seek out what is being said it probably feels like we’re being hit with the full force of the current. Painful, chaotic, out of control. It’s a leap of faith.

But then, if we realize the tremendous power in actual two-way conversation, where we can respond and influence, instead of duck, cover, and retaliate, it smooths out. We shift from controlling very narrow messages to expanding and influencing and flowing with much larger discussions and conversations. The relationship changes and becomes much more potent for it.

Ultimately, I believe that influence is much more powerful than control. Control contracts. We can only control so much. Influence is expansive. We can influence far more people, messages, and relationships than we can control.

It’s a leap of faith though to shift from control to influence. When you are used to telling the customer what to think it’s a huge jump to welcoming discussion and conversation with the customer. It’s a shift from controlling the message to being transparent. This transparency shows confidence, vulnerability, and authenticity. It creates real interactions. It changes the conversation.

The thing is, it’s impossible to do a leap of faith half way. You can’t “sorta” do it. Are you willing to make that leap as a company? As a department? As an individual?