Why social listening is important for HR

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Social listening is unavoidable in today’s time as it acts as a powerful tool that fosters the brand equity of employers.

In the digital world, it doesn’t take much time or even effort to harm the reputation of an employer. Consider this case ofan individual who, as a counterfeit employee of ABP News Network, posted openings on behalf of the organisation on social media. While promising a job, he even went to the extent of asking for a non-refundable security deposit to be made in a bank account. As expected, several prospective candidates were lured into the trap. When the racket was noticed, the human resource (HR) department sprang to its feet and warned the gullible candidates to be circumspect. However, the damage had already been done.

As a function, listening is critical for HR and organisations encourage the practice through multiple mechanisms—town halls, one-on-one meetings or other means of conversation with employees to seek feedback and understand their sentiments towards the organisation.

In recent years, another mode of communication has been added to the conventional means of ‘listening’—the social media. Most companies tend to take the importance of social media ‘listening’ into account but don’t have a formal policy around it yet. Some also conduct a discreet social media background check on employees before hiring, to assess their cultural values and the causes that interest them because digital footprints can sometimes convey a lot.

An employee posted a series of tweets to express grievance over the way his settlement issue was handled by his organisation. The company later approached him and explained that his exit process was not duly completed and hence, his tweets were a little premature. The social media posts were later deleted but they portrayed the company in poor light, at least temporarily.

There are several touch points in employees’ lifecycle—from hiring to exit—where they can take to the social media at any point to express their delight or anguish for the company. While some may be a little discreet or suggestive while expressing their opinion, others may be outspoken. Keeping a tab on the outburst of employees on social media can, therefore, help understand the employees’ sentiments, which can be addressed.

Social outbursts of employees
Lately, the phenomenon of employees expressing their anguish on social media has gained currency. “Such instances may not be completely avoidable. However, rather than being defensive about it or attacking the concerned employees, the HR department must make sure they take home a productive lesson from such situations. One has to analyse the feedback, the message, the manner in which the problem can be solved and how such friction can be avoided in the future,” says Rajeev Bhardwaj VP-human resources, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre.

Bhardwaj recalls an instance where an employee posted a series of tweets to express grievance over the way his settlement issue was handled by his organisation. The company later approached him and explained that his exit process was not duly completed and hence, his tweets were a little premature. The social media posts were later deleted but they portrayed the company in poor light, at least temporarily.

However, the company didn’t remonstrate on social media but took the issue offline.

Reaction of organisations
The social media does not only cause harm to the organisations, but can prove to be a boon too, if the companies use it judiciously. For companies, it is quite important to communicate the big or small developments on social media as this fosters the brand equity and helps shape public opinions about the brand for prospective employees. “The reactions from employees and the public can work as an open feedback for organisations. It also helps us find prospective candidates with expertise, for the niche roles,” says Karan Makhania, CHRO, Reliance Health Insurance.

Rajeev Bhardwaj

Rather than being defensive about it or attacking the concerned employees, the HR department must make sure they take home a productive lesson from such situations. One has to analyse the feedback, the message, the manner in which the problem can be solved and how such friction can be avoided in the future

In the absence of any formal policy, most companies coach employees on the right way to view social media, and often advise the HR managers on escalation metrics, such as how to resolve grievances in an effective and speedy manner.

“We have clear guidelines, which are explicitly defined for employees, such as acceptable content that can be posted, content that will provide impetus to the employer brand and so on,” says Dinesh Ramamurthi, CHRO, OYO.

Dinesh Ramamurthy

The line between overall branding and employer’s brand is getting blurred in the social media. For instance, repeat customers can be our prospective employees as well. Hence, it is extremely critical for marketing and HR to work closely on social listening and find each other’s strength that can be leveraged to build a better brand.

At OYO, a bulk of the recruitment, and mostly mid- to senior-level, is done through social media channels, such as Linkedin. Ramamurthi recalls an incident where a candidate reached out to him through social media but didn’t hold the relevant qualification or experience required for the role. However, the fact that she was well acquainted with the brand and its products facilitated her way into the company.

Pro-activeness of employers
Globally, most companies have social media policies, and some even taken disciplinary action against employees who violate these policies.

Karan Makhania

The reactions from employees and the public can work as an open feedback for organisations. It also helps us find prospective candidates with expertise, for the niche roles.

A lot of social listening takes place internally at OYO, through chat bots where employees across locations share their pleasant as well as unpleasant experiences in the company. Employees can use this medium freely and anonymously to express views, with bots reaching out to them about various initiatives implemented. For the company it is a primary platform for listening—to get a feel of the pulse of the organisation.

These outlets within the organisation ensure that the employees don’t take recourse to social media.

“The line between overall branding and employer’s brand is getting blurred in the social media. For instance, repeat customers can be our prospective employees as well. Hence, it is extremely critical for marketing and HR to work closely on social listening and find each other’s strength that can be leveraged to build a better brand,” says Ramamurthi.

However, leaders also emphasise that privacy of employees needs to be respected and one cannot interfere unless their actions are inappropriate in the public domain. Having said this, one also cannot undermine the importance of social listening for HR in a hyper digital world!

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