How can social media help HR decision makers?

Written by
Changeboard Team

31 May 2010

31 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Where do HR decision makers put their trust?

When it comes to placing your trust in a supplier, reputation still rules. Communications Management asked 257 HR decision makers, the most commonly referenced buyers of workplace services, which factors most influence the level of trust they feel in a potential supplier of goods and services.

With less time for face-to-face networking in a downturn, the amplification of a suppliers reputation in the media is becoming an increasingly important factor in driving trust for HR decision makers. The question is - which media?

Online media - vital for building reputation

This bar chart shows that offline media in all its forms will continue to play a very important part in building reputation, and our survey confirms this for both national and trade press. But our survey shows not only strength but depth of various forms of online media in developing trust between client and supplier.

Of greater significance is that five of the top eleven media channels listed come straight through to us on our desktops, laptops or mobiles via the internet. The rise of online directories, online social networking, blogging, podcasts and vodcasts has become a significant part of the reputation mix in building corporate reputation.

HR looking to alternatives in wake of recession

Our research suggests that the trend towards online media has accelerated rapidly. During the recession, corporate budgets for more traditional networking were slashed. Senior HR staff, it seems, remain rooted to their desks in large numbers dealing with mitigating the risks of an uncertain trading environment.

At first sight, we have a paradox here. HR decision makers clearly want to see a track record of Results in sourcing a supplier. They also want the comfort of being told by peers that the people with whom they may be dealing are reliable and trustworthy, but dont seem to be finding time for face-to-face networking to establish the latter. But if they arent getting out and about, where are they getting informal word-of-mouth evidence and formal recommendations from?

HR embracing social media tools for networking

Of particular interest in this context is the rapid rise in the popularity of online social media. But what exactly are HR decision makers doing in their online communities? Our survey shows that there has been a significant shift towards online networking among HR decision makers, with over 8 out of ten belonging to online communities or networking sites.

Many of these senior decision makers believe, as do we, that nothing beats face-to-face meetings and personal relationships for doing business - it's difficult to see how it can ever be superseded. But we also know that online social networking is becoming dramatically popular among these same professionals. So, inevitably, we wanted to establish the extent to which this popularity is due to a desire to source suppliers of workplace goods and services.

Social media - not just for 'social' purposes

Of those who now belong to an online 'club', there is an even split at present between those active in voicing their opinions and observers and those who tend more to watch rather than take part. Observers of course are not adding to the debate but are looking with some purpose - theyre picking up information recommendations and advice in exactly the same way as their more active fellow professionals.

We were surprised to find how useful active and passive participants in social media have found the experience. What we discovered is that online social networking is being used for clearly focused and commercial purposes. Around one in three decision makers surveyed (32.3%) have already asked for supplier recommendations through social networking, and more than one in a quarter (25.7%) have become aware of a supplier this way. Nearly one in five (16.3%) have vetted a supplier and finally, one in seven (14.8%) have already found a new supplier through online social networking.

HR becoming more savvy in social media space

So when they go online in this way, senior decision makers are being refreshingly savvy in how they spend their time. In sharing and seeking information, sourcing, recommending and vetting suppliers, our respondents are showing a pragmatic, focused and commercial streak not commonly associated with the HR profession.

This thirst for a positive reputation for a supplier is undimmed - but the medium for so doing has tipped dramatically in favour of online social networking. We now know that in large numbers they are getting these recommendations in a new form - without having to leave the office.

The future: a mix of online & offline for HR?

Now that the recovery has come (we think) will the trend to online social networking be reversed among HR decision makers? In a word: No. But what is already clear is that the recession has had a massive impact on the way we go about our working lives.

Offline networking will always have a key place in building business relationships for obvious 'human' reasons, but the future looks set to consist of a far more nimble, fleet-of-foot and flexible approach to networking, encompassing the best of offline and online activity.