I've got 400 friends, sorry 'contacts', on Linkedin!

Recently I’ve been spending some time on Linkedin and I oddly feel quite proud that I have crossed the 400 plus connections mark (not friends I remind myself, friends are reserved for Facebook). I wonder perhaps if that is because as ‘social animals’ we feel some security in people validating us? This links in (drum roll...) with a conversation I had last week with a fascinating lady called Clare Robinson from Green Elephant Coaching who talked about how much basic human behaviour impacts on our current behaviour at work. In my mind this is definitely reflected in our use of social media... 

But coming back to less primeval issues and Linkedin, a big concern at the moment from many employers and HR people, is around this increasingly popular social media tool. Following on from my previous blog, the crux of the concern seems to be around the issue of ‘control’. Pre social media times (ancient history to many of the students at Edinburgh Napier University), employees in commercial roles would put their business contacts in a big black book or some sort of customer management database. When employees finished their employment with the company, those business contacts would remain with the company and the MD of that company would sleep well knowing that those hard earned contacts weren’t going to a competitor! However since the rise of the internet and social media we now have those same employees putting their contacts on Linkedin! How dare they!

A very practical example would be the recruitment industry and the recruitment consultants who work for recruitment agencies. Recruitment consultants often connect with their candidates and clients on Linkedin. These are all interactions they have had in the course of their business so there is a good argument to say they are the intellectual property of the company they work for. 

Now the concern normally arises when the consultant leaves the business. Who owns their contacts? The MD of the business might well say “They’re Mine”!! As already said this would seem plausible but what’s the solution? It is after all in the recruitment agencies interest for their clients to be on Linkedin in the first place. We also have to consider where the line in increasingly shifting sands actually is. Linkedin has been with us for a few years so it is increasingly unlikely experienced professionals will have started with the recruitment company having no contacts – in fact many people are hired partly on the strength of their contacts.

I had this discussion with one of my clients, Michael Young from MBN Recruitment Solutions in Glasgow .  Whilst he wants his business protected as best he can, he also advocates using Linkedin to build his brand and service. I agree completely. Channel your energy into using social media to build your brand as a business. In order to achieve this it is about engaging with your employees so they can really use Linkedin to maximum effect. Rather than seeking to place excessive controls, train and empower them to extract maximum leverage from a great tool. Do this and they are far more likely to promote your company in the best light. Yes, put in some sensible rules so employees know basic do’s and do not’s and put in some sensible legal clauses in their contracts. But don’t go overboard with the do not’s because you can’t fight the internet – more powerful Middle Eastern Dictators than you have tried and failed. And besides who really wins from legal action?

Take the fore mentioned positive actions and back it up by becoming known for great customer service, great products, great recruitment – or whatever it is you do and people will feel a sense of loyalty to your brand regardless of who leaves your organisation. Command and control? Not much place for it anymore I’m afraid...


Social Media, Work and 700 friends on Facebook...

This week has been a social media week for me. Now I’m not a natural social media person but nor am I complete social media dunce...I like to think I sit somewhere in the middle. For instance I use facebook and thanks to my smart phone, I probably check it more than I should – Mark Zuckerberg has really gotten a grip of me. I’m also reasonably well versed on Linkedin and as you can see from this blog, I’m now getting into blogging. I’ve also been getting some help from the very knowledgeable blogger, Sam McFarlane from Edinburgh Napier’s Bright Red Triangle.
If I’m honest I’ll never be as technically hot on social media as Sam. What interests me more than the technical aspect of using Social Media, is the implications it has for work and how people work.
So yesterday, I met an interesting social media professional, Jason King and Iater that day, I also attended the CIPD employment Law Update presented by Toni McAlindin a well known Employment Barrister. Two very different people, but there was a common theme and that was social media. Both people came at it from different angles, Jason from a marketing perspective and Toni from an employment law one.
What I sensed at the CIPD conference however, and with greatest respect to the speaker, was a lack of awareness about how people are using social media, particularly around Facebook. Certainly when I chatted with a middle aged (I’m sorry but I think the middle aged part is relevant albeit in a generalising sort of way...) HR person afterwards, she lamented “why are people so careless on social media?”
In my part time teaching capacity at the university, I recently asked 2nd year undergraduate students how many friends they have on Facebook (It’s not a question of if they’re on the facebook!). The answers which came back were numbers in the mid to high hundreds and even above a thousand!  That’s right, they are connected with a 1000 plus people – what a network! Most of these students are 19 so they have quite literally grown up with social media, firstly Bebo and now Facebook. They’ve gone through their teenage years on facebook and quite simply, having 700 friends plus isn’t about being careless - it’s how they live their lives. On many issues they simply appear to be much more open and in a way which would scare people a generation or two older. Many HR types fret about the wrongs of Facebook, the legal risks and the importance of ‘educating’ people to be more aware so as to control it. Some businesses will also try to ignore Facebook and hope it goes away.
However social media is about much, much more than employment law. A Communication professional I know talks about using employees as ‘brand ambassadors’ i.e. in a way which promotes the company. This throws up a number of key issues. A policy is certainly important but your HR policy must tie in with your communication strategy and if you’re taking it to the next level, your employer brand (I mean if someone has 1000 contacts shouldn’t you be trying to tap into that as a business!?). Above all, it should be realistic and empowering - you’re not going to stop people from using social media! My feeling is social media is evolving very quickly and we don’t quite know the implications for work, particularly with generation ‘Y’ (which includes the group of students I mentioned earlier) so it is an issue to keep abreast of. I think businesses will need to accept social media, work with it and embrace it. Crucially, the old management philosophy of command and control will not work with social media where everyone is the commander and no one is the controller!