Friday, 15 August 2008

Web 2.0, HR and the Long Tail

I've just come back from the Academy of Management (AOM) annual conference in Disney's 'smile factory' at Anaheim convinced of a couple of contradictory thoughts about that conference and Web 2.0. Now being something of a regular (this was my seventh stint in the last nine years) at what is the world's premier academic management event, I'm more convinced than ever that practitioners, consultants and non-attending academics in HR would benefit greatly from coming along. There is no doubt that the standard of papers and presentation of evidence-based HR (and any other topic on management) is higher than at any other academic or practitioner event I've attended; yet, there is a certain anti-intellectual bias, not in the sense of there being a lack of strong academic rigour but because there is too much focus on academic/scientific specialisation at the expense of big or innovative ideas and engagement of practitioners.

Nevertheless, if you can past the formulaic hypotheses testing, numerous discussions of regression and structural equation modelling, etc., by young academics looking to hit the top tier journals, most of whom have had few connections with practitioners, you can pick up many real chunks of insights that other conferences just won't give you.

One such paper dealt with the role of social network sites in hiring. Written by two not so young American academics, Donald Kluemper from Louisanna State University and Peter Rosen from Evansville University, this work was both rigorous and relevant. They argued that the use of social networking websites, like Facebook, has become extremely popular, particularly with
high school and college students in the US (interestingly more than half of the academics in the room had facebook sites). As a consequence, employers have begun to use the personal information available on social networking websites not only for recruitment, which we all know about, but also to make hiring decisions. Using ratings from 274 Facebook websites of students, this study assessed the validity of using Facebook to predict self-rated and other-rated
personality. Their data showed that Facebook ratings of Big-5 personality traits were correlated with each of the self-ratings of the Big-5 personality factors often used to predict performance at work: correlations ranged from .23 for neuroticism to .45 for extroversion, which in selection studies would be seen high. In a follow-up study of 54 employees, Facebook ratings were also shown to predict supervisor rated job performance and to show additional validity beyond self-rated personality in predicting supervisor ratings of job performance. In summary, Facebook entries can do a reasonable job of predicting the important personality characterisitics employers seek from potential employees without having to bring them in for assessment.

This study led to an interesting discussion of why this should be so, what employers can use Facebook and other sites for beyong recruitment and what happens when people wise up to the potential uses by employers of social networking, e.g. faking, impression management through competing over friends, etc. It also raised the issue of whether or not people will be left behind if they don't have a social networking site as recruiters week passive rather than active candidates.

So, here we have a paper that provided evidence on an important social phenomenon in a useful way, but will probably be read by only a few interested academics because practitioners don't tend to read academic journals (for good reason). So it was left to a guru to give me further food for thought and to provide some genuinely intellectual argument that will be read. On the journey back I picked up the new addition of Chris Anderson's recent reworking of 'The Longer, Long Tail' with a new chapter on marketing. Although we have used his ideas from the earlier book in our discussion paper for the CIPD, re-reading this book and the new material, showed the power of genuine insight and engagement with practitioners to present innovative issues in a rigorous fashion. His discussion of how the the the long tail of employees in Microsoft changed the way in which that company does business, despite the worries of lawyers and the brand police, showed the power of letting employee blogging rip. As he argues, ...Microsoft is a less monolithic company run by two titans, and more a collection of thousands of people pretty much like us. Whatever, Microsoft product you use..., there is an engineer or product manager carrying on a conversation in public about it.' (p 241). He also makes the point that Microsoft's customer and employer brand is now controlled by employee bloggers, and, what is more, they are relatively happy about this.

There is no doubt in my mind that social media will be more and more used by employees to give voice to their thoughts about their employers in ways that shed much more light on what matters to them than than through conventional attitude surveys. Some firms are beginning to recognise this, for example, IBM, which is one of our CIPD case study companies; perhaps others should begin to think about how the surface employee voice more innovatively.

If you want to participate in our CIPD study on Web 2.0, please go to CIPD website and look up the discussion under 'Helping People Learn'; if you are not a member, you can repond to this entry by going into the discussion listed on the side-bar.

Because there was so much at this conference of interest to readers of this blog, I'll take up a few more of the HR themes, such as the impact of HR and innovation and performance in forthcoming entries. I'll also examine the growing practitioner and academic interest on employer branding and corporate reputations, which was the subject of my paper.


Charles said...
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Charles said...

On the example of Microsoft using employee's use of social media as a tool for marketing the company, I wonder where those tools sit withing the employer branding arsenal of a truly extraordinary brand like Google?

This week I am going to profile five inspirational employer brands on the FreshMinds Talent Blog, starting with the fastest growing company on the planet.

If you would like to find out how Google has managed to engage 20,000-odd employees and the millions of people who dream of joining them, read more at

Thanks as ever to Graeme for getting to the root of the latest trends in HR and employer/employee relations.


Graeme's HR Blog said...

Many thanks. I'm ging to check put your post