Web 2.0 is helping people to interact on a wider scale but is that a good thing? Louise Druce looks at how HR can embrace these tools to get the most out of the company.
Love or hate social networking sites, they are among the so-called Web 2.0 applications here to stay. So for those of you who would rather poke your eyes out than spend hours poking friends, perhaps it's time to rethink how these tools can be embraced positively to promote your company.
The main bone of contention with social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace is the amount of time employees spend logging in and chatting to their friends during work hours. It has led to some companies banning access to sites altogether.
On the other hand, a growing number of savvy companies are turning these interactive tools to their advantage by creating their own pages to promote their brand and attract potential new recruits. And with 78 per cent of UK residents who use the internet regularly using social networks, according to statistics from Comscore, it's not an insignificant audience.
Simon Lythgoe, marketing director, Spring Group
For recruiters, LinkedIn in particular is gaining popularity but has yet to exploit its true potential. For those not familiar with the site, it is an online network of over 17 million professionals and allows you to create a personal employment profile. You can find or be found by former colleagues, clients and partners and create an ever-expanding network.
"The traditional CV database model may at some point be usurped," says Simon Lythgoe, marketing director at recruitment firm Spring Group, who has used the site extensively himself. "If a candidate provides a LinkedIn profile with their CV, we can get greater information on that candidate. You can see recommendations and more granulation in terms of their experience. You can also set up a company alumni on there, which is great for staying in touch with ex-employees and provides long-term relationships with people who may now be in a position for you to utilise their service or recommend people.
"Referrals are a very good way to get candidates or even entice a person back to the company if they now have more experience and didn't leave under a cloud. It's also a great way to put emphasis on branding and show the company cares by being prepared to follow a candidate or ex-employee throughout their career."
It's what you know and who you know
Someone who knows all about the power of recommendations is Andrew Fawcett-Wolf, founder of consultancy Thrive Digital and a self-confessed LinkedIn addict who visits the site several times a day. "I discovered LinkedIn after someone had contacted a friend with a particular requirement who told them to talk to me," he says. "When I asked them how they found me, they said they had been speaking to my friend via LinkedIn."
- Windows Live Spaces
- BBC h2g2
- Club Penguin
- Friends Reunited UK
- Yahoo! Groups
Source: Hitwise (total internet visits, November 2007)
After four years using the site, Fawcett-Wolf claims that 20 per cent of his business is now generated using the website, which he describes as his "primary source of marketing activity". He also believes the site can help people work out who are competitors and who are the potential business opportunities. It's something that could prove invaluable when HR and marketing are collaborating during the recruitment process.
RSS feeds are another way to frequently update content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts that give viewers more of an insight into the company. For example, a 'day-in-the-life' video on the site is a great way for potential candidates to take a tour around the company from the perspective of someone in the role they are applying for to see if they really are suitable for the job.
"It puts a human face on things, rather than people just seeing and responding to an advert," says Lythgoe. In the same way, blogs can be a great endorsement for the company. "It's not the point of having a blog, it's what you say on it," he continues. "You can't lie, it has to be about the company. But if your company is doing a great job and people have good things to say about it, you'll stand out on level of service and that is made available to everybody. If you also give people a forum to comment and they say great things about you, there is no better endorsement."
Get another life
Away from recruitment, Web 2.0 has other distinct advantages. Law firm Simpson Millar is currently experimenting with holding online training sessions in 3D virtual world Second Life.
The firm's operations director, Craig Jones, admits the site is still in its infancy in terms of take-up but believes it can have some very real benefits. For example, companies with global offices can come together online without having to spend out on travel, something that also has environmental benefits. However, he also acknowledges its flaws. "There is still a large body of people who still see it as a game," he says. "When you look at the screen, you see visual indicators that you are in a meeting or presentation. After a while, you are still sat at the computer but realise you're at a real presentation with proper people behind the avatars."
Craig Jones, operations director, Simpson Millar
Security is also an area that needs improvement. While eavesdropping on any online activity is possible, verifying that the person behind the avatar is the person they say they are could prove problematic.
However, Jones has already spotted another area in the legal profession where Second Life could also be useful. Simpson Millar deals predominantly with personal injuries claims, which have involved people who have become seriously disabled. The company is looking at how Second Life could make the company more accessible for those people who find it difficult to attend meetings or even for clients who would initially prefer to be anonymous when enquiring about its services.
Despite participating in a virtual world, it's not as impersonal as you might think. "I have been to a couple of presentations where, afterwards, the feedback from employees was that in addition to convenience, there was more of a human aspect to the training because they didn't feel as intimidated as they would if they were in a room full of people," says Jones.
"The speaker might be a high-powered person but it's a great leveller because all you have in front of you is a character. You can get more out of people."