Tuesday, January 31, 2023

HR’s Social Media Responsibility

Consider swapping businesses with companies.

Social media—heavy emphasis on social, almost none on media—is a part of our lives. Yes, even the older generations who may not be active on any social platforms recognize the significance of person’s digital presence. However, they limit it to the maxim that social media is for personal use. That’s the easy out: keeping it on a personal level. It is for individuals to share their lives, not for businesses to waste time (and money) in some alternate domain of pictures of food and vacations. It’s not like it is called business media.

If it is called social media, why would a business want to be involved. Public relations, marketing, branding, and presence are the most common answers that come quickly to mind for the savvy business person. Again, these are not new concepts. In fact, this use of social media is merely business copying the model used on individual bases. While there is nothing wrong with this, it should not be the single way a business can effectively use social media.

When it comes to Human Resources, the perspective of social media should have a shift of 180 degrees from (not if it is used, but) how it is being used. While the sharp-dressed men and women of Marketing plot how to exploit the next post to gain traction for the company’s big product initiative, it should be the role of the lonely HR expert to consider the ways that post could accomplish the opposite of the intended effect and do harm the company. Of course it is PR’s role to craft the message that will achieve the company’s desired result, however HR can bring a knowledge and perspective to the process that PR would typically miss: identifying specific social risk.

Smart HR workers are already using social media to minimize risk. They seek out, and more importantly eliminate, potential employment candidates based on social profiles—this one has inappropriate pictures of illegal, but mostly harmless, actions; that one has a history of unacceptable tirades against specific groups; this one has strings of unbelievable likes in support of hate groups—but there is another level of danger that nearly every company today is ignoring when it comes to social media. It is the duty of every company to examine and voice concern of potential danger in the very posts the company puts out, but the current model is for any given company to do its best, and hope there is no public backlash. HR should step forward after PR has finalized the post, yet before it is sent, and be this preemptive voice warning of danger.

In recent years, how many athletes and famous personalities have been cancelled (the term for an outcry against, the removal of support, and public demand to destroy the offending party)? How many millions of dollars have been lost to those individuals as a direct result? As things sit on social media today, the only businesses that seem to have suffered, so far, from being canceled have been those associated with a single persona, or a brand built around an individual personality—often the founder. As far as other businesses not suffering similar fates, this has not been the result of design or intentional protection; it has been luck.

Luck is not a good business plan. Eventually, it runs out.

A good plan would be to actively vet all social media for any given company through HR. Every business leader who reads that last line will cringe in response. The view that HR is the department of claustrophobic compliance, rigid rules, and a no-fun allowed mentality is prevalent in the business world. This does not mean that HR’s involvement is foregone excluded. It does mean that HR has to come out of the back office and pull up a chair in those meetings where the face of the company is being discussed and decided.

HR does know the rules, and that is a good thing, especially when it comes to social media where the rules are changing daily. HR can (and should) prove its worth by identifying the potential pitfalls of the company’s social media presence, and projecting the real (probable and possible)reputational and financial losses.

Getting buy-in from the C Suite, and earning a seat in the next PR meeting, will not be easy. Nor will it be impossible.

As HR, be an active participant, not a nay-saying glorified hall monitor. Review the company’s past posts to analyze them against today’s sensibilities—with the speed at which the digital media world is changing, a post from a few months ago may be all that is needed for an example. Get some comparable examples of stars and those few companies that have suffered public backlash from posts perceived as unacceptable, and show the bottom line losses that resulted. Frame all of this in terms of risk to the company. There is no faster way to get attention in the boardroom than the topic of potential dollars gained or lost.

HR does not, and should not, craft the external image of the company. However, it should be involved as a safeguard against negative public reaction. At its foundation, HR is about protection, and the focus for decades has been protecting the company from internal risk. The time is ripe for HR to push the corporate envelope and expand its expertise and value to company by shifting a larger part of its attention to the external world. HR should have an active role in protecting the face and brand of the company in everything it does. The place to start this shift is in the realm of social media.