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Book Review: Social Media at Work

By Theresa Minton-Eversole  5/9/2011
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These days, if you’re not into social media you’re just not “in.” Millions of people set up Facebook accounts to keep friends and families abreast of the details of their lives; they set up LinkedIn accounts to amass professional connections; and they tweet on Twitter accounts to note everything from daily minutiae to breaking news and follow others who do the same.

While some people opine that the increased use of social media has had the negative consequence of significantly decreasing the importance of and the instances of one-on-one face-to-face communication, it’s hard to overlook how such tools also have increased our overall connectedness among more diverse communities of people with whom we may never have interacted with previously.

There are numerous advantages to organizations that embrace social media as a business strategy, too. Many of these advantages are highlighted in the book Social Media at Work: How Networking Tools Propel Organizational Performance (2010).

“If leaders are committed to gaining and sustaining competitive advantage, they will need to rely on engaged and committed employees and partners,” wrote authors Arthur L. Jue, Jackie Alcalde Marr and Mary Ellen Kassotakis, who are also directors of organizational and talent development for Oracle Corporation. "The emerging phenomenon of social media can create an extraordinary opportunity for leaders and organizations to achieve this advantage. These tools are accelerating and enhancing employee innovation, engagement and performance.”

Social media is about participation, most often through the use of tools like social networking profiles, wikis and forums, which help to ensure individuals and groups previously left out of collaborative processes, can now fully share their ideas and experiences.

“Leaders everywhere should seize the opportunity to incorporate social media into their organizations to improve performance and to build highly energized teams and positive cultures. The advantages also include increased organizational learning, enhanced change readiness and stronger relationships. As leaders learn to leverage social media inside their organizations just as individuals do outside their organizations, a tremendous boost of agility and vitality is unleashed.”

Throughout the book, the authors share numerous examples of how companies use social media strategies that help employees communicate more effectively, access information they need faster and collaborate with more people within wider global networks. They also share examples of how social media can play a key role in speeding up the adoption of corporate cultures and values.

They describe how health care benefits insurance company Humana is using social media to facilitate its succession planning and relationship building among its various constituents under the direction of the company’s Chief Human Resource Officer, Bonnie Hathcock, and Davis Woodbury, its director of succession planning management. Specifically the company is using social media to:

  • Bridge the gap between tenured employees and its new leadership.
  • Forge relationships with constituents to improve health and wellness among its customer populations.

Further, Humana’s social networking plans are used to show senior leaders the value of greater collaboration among employees and to improve the process of selecting key talent.

How is it being done?

Humana had already built online profiles of employees to use in their performance review process and built a database of leaders’ profiles. But the company realized the “power to be gained if employees were able to view each other’s profiles and search for particular expertise,” explain the authors.

So Woodbury established an internal social networking site similar to Facebook and LinkedIn with a strong built-in search function. He also envisioned employees having their own blogs to share their expertise, thereby stimulating ideas and discussions.

Humana is also trying out social networking analysis software to identify specific communications patterns and people within the company who have strong influence and who are hubs for information.

One of the most interesting uses of the company’s social networks, however, is through technology-enabled online simulations. With this software, employees can participate in scenario planning and discuss the business impact of decisions tied to each scenario.

Initially the company’s leaders were the only ones to use it, but now the company has plans to expand its use with a variety of other stakeholders for the purpose of bringing forth and sharing different viewpoints of government agencies and consumer representatives in order to bring health care solutions to fruition.

The authors write: “Humana believes that enabling employees and leaders to see each other more clearly through the company’s social networking site will improve its ability to find quality successors for its leadership. In addition, as employees are able to see each other’s strengths and experience, they will be better able to leverage the knowledge that resides throughout their networks.”

Bringing People Together

In a study of Oracle’s senior leadership, the executives cited three challenges they face when trying to bring employees together:

  • Being able to effectively connect with virtual team members across time zones.
  • Building collaboration, teamwork.
  • Operating effectively across geographies, functions.

Like all social interactions, there are people who initiate, others who respond, and still others who observe, wrote the authors, and employees from each of the four generations comprising the workforce are participating in their own ways. While a majority of older workers may prove to be more observers or periodic users of social media, younger workers of the Generation X and Millennial generations are more tech savvy; they don’t just use social media but demand such tools to do their jobs.

The authors present Dow as a company that is focusing its social media efforts on increasing “engagement with the overall Dow family—current and former employees.” In December 2007 the company launched My Dow Network “to cultivate four Dow communities: retirees, alumni, current employees and women.” According to the official press statement, the closed, online community allows users to expand their professional networks, to renew old friendships, to learn the latest Dow information, and to explore new job opportunities. It also keeps Dow connected to a larger talent pool, fuels collaboration and innovation, and facilitates a diverse and inclusive work environment.

There are many more examples of how companies are using social media to support their business strategies, all offering food for thought about how they might be applied in your own organization. But just as important for readers to remember: There is no one-size-fits-all formula for using social media to recruit, retain and develop a company’s workforce. The ability to use these tools is only as limited as corporate leaders’ imaginations.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Social Media at Work: How Networking Tools Propel Organizational Performance

By Arthur L. Jue, Jackie Alcalde Marr and Mary Ellen Kassotakis

Jossey-Bass, 222 pp.

Discuss this book or recommend others to your colleagues on SHRM Connect. Visit HR Magazine’s “Books in Brief” archives.

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