The advent of the current technological revolution has instigated a plethora of changes across all spheres of life. The pace of technological advancement has gathered unprecedented momentum in the last decade than was witnessed in the preceding fifty years or so (Papacharissi et al. 2013). Today, it is easier to communicate, travel, work, and accomplish some complex tasks that seemed insurmountable only a few years back (Minhyung and Young-Gul 2010).
Time and space are no longer barriers to human endeavours. These changes have revolutionised the manner in which organisations are structured and run (Cromity, 2012). These technological developments, especially in the information and communication realm, occasioned the emergence of what came to be known as social media. According to Boyd and Ellison (2007:211), social media are internet-based services that make it possible for individuals to build personal profiles that allow them to connect and share extensively with like-minded individuals from across the world. Asur and Huberman (2010: 493) contend that social media enable people to develop content, share it, and connect at prodigious rates.
The ability of social media to facilitate widespread discourse within differing contexts of time and space has made it a potent tool for revolutionising organisational activities (Cromity 2012:25). Numerous organisations across the globe have adopted social media to varying degrees to facilitate their day-to-day operations. In light of this background, this essay critically evaluates the role of social media in contemporary organisations, especially from an HR perspective.
Overview of Social Media
Going by the definition provided by Boyd and Ellison (2007:211), social media emerged in the final three years of the twentieth century. The first major online platform that exhibited the attributes of a social network site or a social medium was SixDegrees.com, which was launched in 1997 (Boyd and Ellison 2007:211). Thereafter, several others followed. The currently dominant social media such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn were launched later in the 2000s, each with its own area of focus.
As already noted, the main reason behind the emergence of social media was the need to connect and share with acquaintances beyond the confines of time and space (Ellison and Boyd 2007). The main areas of focus of the extant social media vary, but the idea behind their operation is similar. In all of them, a user establishes a personal profile that becomes visible to their contacts (Ellison and Boyd 2007). The friends also need to be subscribers in the system to enjoy the full functionality of its features.
Social media boast of a number of benefits to their users, both individual and corporate. Collin et al. (2011:12) outline several benefits that accrue from the use of social media. These include media literacy, creativity, self-expression, and stronger interpersonal relationships, among others (Julia Ying-Chao et al. 2012). Within the organisational context, these media help facilitate faster knowledge management, greater collaboration among employees, and improved marketing, among others (Martin and van Bavel 2013: 10).
Although they also have the potential to expose individuals and organisations to security risks, the benefits of social media seem to outweigh the possible risks. As such, they have been widely adopted by organisations. For example, Martin and van Bavel (2013: 10) notes that as of 2010, each of the Fortune 500 companies had adopted at least two social media platforms.
Implications of Social Media Adoption for HR Departments
Social media form part of the new technologies that have been brought about by the technological revolution that has swept the world in the last decade (Cromity 2012). Social media have revolutionised the way organisations operate. They have enhanced employee-to-employee interaction, an organisation to customer discourses, as well as management and employee contact. These changes have far-reaching implications for human resource departments. Sambhi (2011: par. 5) opines that social media serve purposes that go beyond communication. They are tools that can facilitate many other functions besides communication.
Sambhi (2011: par. 6) observes that HR departments can use social media for a myriad of applications both within and outside an organisation. To begin with, social media can help minimise the costs associated with advertising for employment since they provide a platform that is cheaper to use compared to traditional media. Further, the viral nature of campaigns on social media enables them to reach a large audience (Ferreira and Du Plessis 2009). Consequently, an organisation ends up with a diverse talent pool from which to select the best candidate.
Additionally, a platform such as LinkedIn enables organisations to know exactly what they are up against since they are able to view the professional profiles of employees that work for competing organisations. In turn, when recruiting their own staff, organisations can use such information to ensure they get similar or better employees to beat their competition (Ferreira and Du Plessis 2009). Alternatively, they can examine competitors’ employees for weakness and avoid similar pitfalls.
Facebook can facilitate the improvement of organisational effectiveness through enhancing employee productivity. It provides a platform that can be used by HR to run mentoring programmes that transcend the confines of time and space (Keng-Lin and Ming-Jung 2011). This attribute is especially beneficial to multinational organisations that operate on a centralised structure. Additionally, internal networks that emulate the popular social media such as Yammer provides the staff of an organisation with room to collaborate and innovate (Keng-Lin and Ming-Jung 2011).
It allows employees from different locations to share their knowledge and expertise, thereby breeding diversity of thought. Further, through the process of sharing information back and forth, it is possible to identify experts who can assist other employees whenever they encounter difficulties. This new mode of operation reduces costs and saves time since employees do not have to meet physically to discuss work-related matters (Malesky and Peters 2012). The necessary knowledge is easily transferable and sharable via social media.
Apparently, social media promise plenty of benefits to organisations that embrace them. Nonetheless, every phenomenon that promises benefits normally comes with its shortfalls as well. As such, social media have several acknowledged shortfalls that organisations that have embraced them grapple with.
One of the key concerns that organisations that adopt social media are forced to contend with is the issue of time management. Many perceive social media as a potential distraction to employees. The main idea behind this concern is that employees can use social media for personal purposes during working hours. Going by the addictive nature of social media and the internet as a whole, this concern is valid.
Kuikka and Akkinen (2011:3) observe that almost all organisations that have adopted social media have cautioned their employees against getting distracted by this new technology in their social media policy. Arguably, HR departments in organisations that have embraced social media have to work overtime to ensure that they maintain a firm grip over employees. When employees spend working time on social media, the employing organisation suffers economically due to lost productivity (Chapin and Byrne 2013).
In addition to the economic implications, social media also have attitudinal challenges for organisations. The information and communication technologies that support social media have had a history of resistance among employees (Ferreira and Du Plessis 2009). For instance, computers have been resisted in many organisations across the world due to a variety of phobias. To some employees, computers spell doom since they risk being rendered redundant by them (Shullich 2011).
To others, the need to shift from their traditional work methods to computer-aided working presents an almost insurmountable challenge. Incidentally, employees who welcome such technologies whole-heartedly end up resisting their employers’ attempts to restrict their use of social media (Ferreira and Du Plessis 2009). As such, getting employees to embrace these new technologies is often a challenge to HR departments.
Another key challenge that accompanies social media is that the technologies that support them also open the concerned organisations too numerous security risks (Malesky and Peters 2012). For instance, computer-aided thefts may be extremely difficult to unravel (Chapin and Byrne 2013). The increasing importance of information and communication technologies in the business arena has made it critical for HR departments to seek only technology-savvy candidates to fill up vacancies. Further, since social media play a major role in attracting and recruiting new employees, it is quite easy to recruit unscrupulous individuals who may commit untraceable crimes against their employing organisations using their expertise (Zhao and Kemp 2012).
Based on the benefits and challenges of social media outlined above, it is apparent that any organisation adopting them must be prepared for both. The socio-technical theory of change requires organisations that adopt new technologies to grapple with the difficulties that they may encounter in the process. As such, organisations that adopt social media are urged to adjust their structures and modes of operation to align them to the new dispensation since the adoption of social media often marks a new dispensation in the life of an organisation. More specifically, HR departments bear the brunt of this change since they are compelled to manage an increasingly fluid workforce under volatile circumstances.
The increased interest in social media explicitly indicates that they play a significant role in contemporary organisations. Nonetheless, any organisation that seeks to adopt them has to carry out extensive research prior to their adoption. Each of the extant social media has a specific area of focus. Consequently, an organisation has to spell out what it wants to achieve using social media before selecting the most appropriate. Similarly, HR departments have a myriad of tasks that they can accomplish using social media. Nonetheless, caution should be taken against treating social media as a panacea to all the woes of HR. While social media promise a wide a spectrum of benefits to those who embrace them, it must be remembered that they can also facilitate the most devastating incidents against an organisation.
Social media are revolutionising the way organisations attract, recruit, and manage their staff. Organisations also experience enhanced effectiveness and productivity courtesy of social media. Nonetheless, the same organisations also grapple with challenges of lost productivity and poor attitudes from employees due to social media. As such, the contemporary organisation has to strike a delicate balance between these opposing forces to draw the benefits of this new technology. The choice lies with the organisations. They can choose to focus on the benefits of social media and put in place every strategy that helps to accomplish the goal, or remain adamant as some organisations have done and lagged behind.
List of References
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