HR Execs Atwitter at Social Media Roundtable

July 29, 2011

The social media boom has gone viral throughout human resource policies and practices among large companies, according to attendees of HR Policy’s Social Media Roundtable this week.  “I think this may be one of the most current and unique issues that the Association has ever undertaken, and it is one that will be increasingly relevant over the next 10 years,” said HR Policy Chairman, Randy McDonald, Senior Vice President, Human Resources of IBM Corporation, who hosted the conference.  Companies providing panelists for the meeting included McDonald's, Best Buy, Northwestern Mutual, The Home Depot and Cardinal Health.  It was clear from the presentations that social media often blurs the line between marketing and HR, as many companies are finding that use by their employees often furthers their business strategies.  Meanwhile, chief human resource officers are increasingly finding innovative communications solutions to drive recruitment, retention and collaboration.  “Many companies go through a trial by fire with social media,” said one panelist, "but most come out stronger for it."  In addition to using public channels like Facebook or LinkedIn, which play an increasingly important role in recruitment, speakers also noted the growth of internal corporate networks and their value in HR.  Yet there are still uncertainties about the legal implications of corporate social media use, not least of which are labor relations concerns.  Addressing the conference, National Labor Relations Board Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon warned that companies with policies that are “overbroad” in restricting the use of social media by their employees when they are engaged in legally protected “concerted activity” have been the subject of enforcement activity by the Board, though the law has yet to be clarified.  While Solomon freely admitted, “I don’t know what a microblog is” he stated that his review of social media cases “has been a fascinating intellectual journey” that had changed his perspective, and he acknowledged that not all employee posts on social media constitute protected activity.  Solomon announced that his office would soon be issuing a report analyzing the dozens of charges that his office has considered that involve social media.  Despite this and other potential legal pitfalls, the mood at the summit was one of general optimism, with companies experimenting with social media but finding that old policies often still apply.  As one company’s social media policy puts it: “be smart, be respectful, and be human.”