Inside Washington DC: SHRM, Social Media and Fearmongering

Warning:  I am going to rant about Social Media and HR in this post.

I am going to rant about several things.

I am going to rant about:

  • human resources professionals who still practice plausible denial about their need to understand social media
  • lawyers who utilize fear-mongering tactics to create fear about social media at conferences
  • SHRM’s failure to provide a balanced view of the positives and negatives of using social media as a tool in the workplace

I promise I will write a more thoughtful followup later, but I have to catch a flight this morning,  and I wanted to get in the conversation that apparently has already started – thanks to Mary Ellen Slater and her call in appearance last night on HR Happy Hour. Mary Ellen had also weighed in earlier on twitter – live from the SHRM session on the risks of social media that was cleverly titled “To tweet or not to tweet – Are you asking the right questions?”

From Drop Box

The takes have aleady started spilling out from HR bloggers including Steve Boese and Mark Stelzner.  These are both good takes, but they are takes with a distant perspective.   My take is from the sessions, and here is what I have to say:

HR professionals are not asking the right questions about social media.

SHRM did not do a good job of ensuring that the point of view HR professionals are getting from them on this important topic was balanced and fair.

Busy HR professionals and their excuses

I had discussions at the conference with a lot of HR practitioners who admitted they were not regular users of social media.   Most of them made it very clear that they weren’t really that interested in being users either.   Apparently someone has been teaching a new mantra – the mantra for avoiding social media.  It sounds something like this (imagine eyes drifting up and to the left, body language indicative of discomfort and lack of engagement)

“I already spend a lot of time on my laptop an my blackberry.  I don’t have time for that social media stuff.  I have staff that takes care of that stuff for me.  I am just going to say la-la-la-la-la-la until it (and you, Mr. Social Media evangelist guy) goes away!  la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

How the hell do you understand the potential benefits of social media as a tool to put to work for your organization if you don’t even dip your toe in the water?   And if you are a traditional risk averse, litigation avoiding HR practitioner, how do you learn enough about social media to understand the risk?

SHRM and their scary lawyers

You turn to your industry professional organization, and you attend concurrent sessions that offer lawyers discussing those risks.   At this conference, that would be attorneys Michael Cohen and Cynthia Gibson.  Both gave competent presentations on the risk factors employers can face through from social media.  In my opinion, both presentations were designed to incite fear about social media and did very little to explore the potential benefits that social media can offer to companies as a tool.  Frankly, neither presentation did much of anything to put social media in a positive light.

If you were an HR practitioner who is already reluctant or ambivalent about social media, these sessions could easily provide another check point on the litany of excuses.    “Social media is too risky for us to use here at XYZ Company.  I heard it at SHRM!”

This is dangerous and unprofessional.   I really don’t care if HR people choose to ignore social media as a tool, and something which could enhance their overall skills.   Anyone who doesn’t understand social media and the risks and opportunities it offers is placing themselves at a professional disadvantage to me.    Go ahead and say lalalalalala…

But you are doing your company/employer a disservice.  How can you advise on policy or assess tools or develop strategies around something you don’t understand?

Listening to attorneys isn’t sufficient.

SHRM and Social Media

I bothers me to be writing this when it comes to SHRM.   The people at SHRM are trying to do good things with social media.  They aren’t getting tjhem all right, but at least they are paying attention and trying.    However, in my opinion, this was a fail. It is not that the content presented was awful.  It was just skewed and imbalanced.   I am also biased about social media, but damn, did no one even think about presenting some counter-balance for this conference?

SHRM, you can do better!

There are plenty of competent HR people out there (including me) who would be thrilled to present the positive side of social media at this conference.    It is not just a matter of fairness.  It is a must for our professional organization to be offering a balanced viewpoint on a topic that has such far reaching implications.

Disclosure:  SHRM provided me press credentials for this conference.  I am grateful for this.

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