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What’s New In Social Media?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  March 5, 2012 08:00 AM

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I know of at least a few HR traditionalists who were secretly hoping that the social media frenzy would quickly go the way of the mimeograph machine and typewriter, becoming obsolete and fading away. In fact, the opposite is happening. According to a comScore report, social networking accounts for one of every six minutes spent online. It’s growing exponentially and has a significant and dynamic impact on business. Having a social media “presence” isn’t enough any more. Organizations that don’t have a concentrated, encompassing social media strategy are being left behind.

While social media’s early adopters may have been the ubertechies and middle-schoolers, it isn’t just the realm of teens, tweens, and geeks anymore. Believe it or not, according to a 2011 Pew Internet and American Life study, the average age of Facebook users is 38! Social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Pinterst, and Twitter, are being utilized by millions of Americans for professional endeavors. Here’s what you need to know and do to be a social media star:

Accept it –Social media is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. It isn’t just “fun” or “interesting,” but is quickly emerging as a powerful tool for HR and other business areas. Once you accept this fact, you can figure out how it can (and will) impact your organization. If you can learn how to harness it you, can get out in front of it.

Change your perceptions (and those of leaders) —There is an erroneous perception that social media is for the slacker generation. But it isn’t just for people who like to while away hours on the computer playing silly games or those who are too socially awkward to connect face-to-face and have to resort to hiding behind a computer screen. Social media is a viable business tool. It isn’t just for the marketing team or IT department. Used the correct way, it can drive business, attract customers and employees, and help to build a brand. HR professionals may have to work within the organization to change these perceptions. Those whose job it is to take the lead on social media strategies cannot be deemed as having a less important—or more frivolous—job than others in the company.

Educate yourself –If you think a Tweet is a sound a bird makes and Pinterst is a typo, it is time to learn about social media. You may have a personal understanding of social media (hey, you’re on Facebook!) or a peripheral knowledge of how the technology works, but you need to build your business-based knowledge. How can you drive business, attract customers and clients, and recruit new employees? How are job seekers using it? Customers? Competitors? You can educate yourself, take a seminar, or enlist an expert at your organization to become your social media mentor.

Get a person (or a team) —Have a designated person to work on social media strategies. If you’re in a large organization, you may need a team or a department. Social media is fluid. It changes everyday. You can’t just put a plan in place and follow it. The plan could be obsolete within a week! You will fall behind if you don’t have that person to update and implement your plan.

Have a strategy —It is possible to waste your time on Facebook or Pinterest (face it, we’ve all done it). While it’s okay to waste a few hours on a Saturday morning, it shouldn’t be done on business time. Have a policy of “who” and “what”—who should be using the technology and how. What is expected of people in different positions? At many companies, middle managers aren‘t even on LinkedIn. They may think they “don’t have time” or that time spent on social media won’t be valued. Management also needs to be educated about how social media can help the organization, not to mention how it can help them reach their own department (customers, sales, referrals, retention) goals.

Take the lead —Where do the social media conversations happen? Who is involved in making decisions? It should be done at the leadership level. These aren’t backroom conversations in the IT department. Social media can reach active and passive job seekers. It can also be a valuable retention tool and help to build brand and company awareness and loyalty. It can touch almost every aspect of business so it needs to be given credence by company leaders. Not too long ago company leaders were wondering if every employee should have a computer. Leaders should be having these same conversations about social media.

Despite your secret wishful thinking, social media is here to stay—and it is changing at lightning fast speed. Instead of lamenting it, get out in front of it. It is time to embrace social media before you miss out on a tremendous business tool.

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.