Social Media Stovepipes

On June 8, 2011, in HRExaminer, More2Know, by John Sumser

Social Media Stove Pipes - HRExaminer
For all of the noise, Social Technology is slow to enter the HR Marketplace. After all, LinkedIn is nearly a decade old; Facebook is 7; and Twitter is 5. While there are legions of trainers who purport to show how to use collaborative communications tools in organizational settings, there is little real progress in standardization. Armed with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS Feeds, Slideshare and a host of other accounts, most of the news is the heavy breathing of early adopters.

From an enterprise perspective, Social Media is still in its earliest R&D phases. The simple technologies that will ultimately become the backbone of organizational tech stacks is still shaping up. We know what it does but are still learning how to turn it into useful applications.

In the first era of software, technology moved from big buyers (like the military and huge companies) ‘down’ to street level users. PCs were not possible until the NASA space programs. Spreadsheets and other user level tools evolved from project planning tools in industry. Inventory management and manufacturing operations software has its roots in military planning tools.

Today, the consumer market is driving technology adoption. As big companies and the government reduced their investments in R&D, gaming companies, software giants and venture capitalists became the funders of R&D projects. For nearly 20 years, the consumer marketplace has driven the evolution of technology.

Technologies move from consumer usage to enterprise applications in the same way that ingredients move into meals. The core technologies are gathered together to solve a specific business problem just like flour, sugar, salt and eggs are assembled to make a cake. In this article, the raw technologies are those found in consumer settings. Applications are the way they are organized to create HR specific value.

The raw social technologies include:

  • Short Messaging (Twitter, Yammer, Facebook)
  • Network Development (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook)
  • Network Visualization (Social Network Analysis, LinkedIn)
  • Community Formation and Administration (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Ning)
  • Communications Targeting (Salesforce, ConstantContact etc)
  • Community Ranking and Rating (Yelp, Netflix, Amazon)
  • Virtual Meetings (Webex, GoToMetting)
  • Knowledge Assembly (Wiki, Forums)
  • Knowledge Distribution (Digg, Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Delicious, RSS)
  • Video Creation and Distribution (YouTube)
  • Democratic Publishing (Blogging, Ning, Fan Pages)
  • Knowledge Marking (SEO, Tagging)
  • Real Time Video (Skype, GoToMeeting (beta)
  • Mobile Platforms (Tablets, Smartphones)
  • Gaming (Particularly multi player games like World of Warcraft)

The list is overwhelming and the possibilities endless. We will be watching the impact of this technology wave on HR and the entire business for the rest of the decade.

The second layer of R&D is application oriented. It answers the question ‘how do you use this particular technology in this particular setting’? As the various social technologies begin to enter the enterprise (including all sizes of business), vendors are working to apply social technologies to the fundamental problems in HR and the rest of the organization.

A technology “stovepipe” is an application that is not tightly coupled with an overall enterprise operations system. Generally, the stovepipes are developed and then integrated into a larger platform. Today, we are witnessing a minor flurry of integration spurred on by the LinkedIn IPO.

Here are the most observable “stovepipes” of social technology today.

  • Knowledge Management and Distribution

    This is really the wild west of experimentation. All of the traditional elements of the training department (and other knowledge management operations) are up for grabs. Wikis are being used to expedite onboarding, distribute policy, identify centers of information, publish shared vocabularies. Forums are being used to corral customer facing information, deliver benefits information, supplement orientation and expedite new group integration. Stored video, in smaller, less formal snippets, is being shipped around the organization to solve problems and deliver just-in-time tracing that s task specific.

  • Resume Acquisition

    Although there is a good deal of fuss about the impending ‘death of the resume’, the largest part of
    social technology implementation is focused on collecting data about prospective employees. This is LinkedIn’s business. There are an entire ecosystem of small companies who acquire and deliver chunks of information that help recruiters identify and screen prospective employees.

  • Job Ad Distribution

    The major social media websites have become the new newspaper. While it is it’s earliest stages, the delivery of ads targeted directly at certain types of candidate is taking shape as the new classified advertising industry.

  • Background Verification and Checking

    Data from social media websites (and available elsewhere online) is fast becoming a standard source for background checking. Smart companies are developing hybrid background checking models that combine online data with physical access to paper legal documents.

  • Network Information Leverage

    This is the arena that is often described as “Referrals”. Small companies are helping their customers mine employee networks on the major social media sites. Similar companies help job hunters discover their connections in target companies

  • Participative Community

    This is the oldest social technology, dating back into the 1980s.
    To date, few companies have really mastered the complexities of using community for internal operations. The work continues to evolve with interesting applications in Alumni organizations and special interest subsets. The Recruiting universe often claims to be using community.

  • List Management and Development

    CRM systems are taking root in employee communications, employment branding and recruitment outreach. Being able to target messaging and maintain accurate subscriber lists with detailed recipient information allows HR data to be repurposed for other business uses.

  • Social Network Analysis, Network Visualization, Shared Analytics

    Ultimately, HR’s job is to optimize the network that is the organization.
    Tools that help manage and measure the network and its performance will take some time to develop but are the holy grail. There are interesting starts at network visualization for performance management and organizational realignment.

Innovation moves faster in some segments of HR than others. With its external focus, the Talent Acquisition process (Recruiting, Sourcing, Employment Branding, Screening, Talent Pools, Background Checking) is more likely to look and feel like external social technology operations. The competitive nature of the Labor Market forces the use of more competitive agility in technology deployment. As social technology enters the HR department, it will do so first in Recruiting.


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