In-House Connections

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Human resource professionals are adapting social media tools for internal use. These tools foster more-efficient communication with dispersed workers, have self-service features that free up HR staff members to focus on strategic issues, and allow employees to swap tips and experiences around topics such as wellness or 401(k) investments.

Here are some innovative ways internal social networks are being applied by HR:

Build ties that bind. AT&T Corp. has three initiatives employing social networking tools. The first, a You Matter tool, creates a platform for employees to share ideas and blog on wellness and money management, for instance. “We monitor blogs to ensure people are following guidelines and often add information,” explains Marty Webb, vice president of benefits.

The second initiative, tSpace, is a LinkedIn-like feature where employees create profiles and engage in online discussions with people from like-minded communities on topics such as talent management.

In addition, TOP—for Talent Optimization—is a new AT&T initiative that will use social networking tools to match internal talent with open positions. Each manager will have a “talent profile” added to his or her account on the tSpace network. “TOP will allow people to search enterprisewide for employees with specific needed skill sets,” says Scott Smith, vice president of staffing.

Ask and you shall receive. Hitachi Data Systems uses Microsoft’s SharePoint software to create a central Ask HR feature that enables employees to pose questions and get answers to common questions, says Levent Arabaci, Hitachi’s vice president of human resources. The system forwards complex questions to dedicated staff.

“Because we don’t have local HR staff in each of our countries, we used to get questions sent to an HR e-mail alias and perhaps 70 people would then scramble to figure out who should respond,” Arabaci says. “Now, we have a more structured system with greatly improved response times.”

Let’s discuss. Best Buy Corp., the electronics retailer, launched an online Watercooler discussion forum four years ago—its own version of the microblogging tool Yammer—that HR professionals use to communicate worldwide during benefits enrollment. Employees can post benefits questions anonymously and get quick responses. When posted, the exchanges free up HR professionals “for more high-touch conversations,” says Jennifer Rock, director of employee communications.

This blog’s for you. More HR teams are using blogs to communicate with the workforce, but there is an art to such use, says Kris Dunn, chief human resources officer at Kinetix, a recruitment process outsourcing firm. Dunn has written the external HR Capitalist blog since 2006.

Dunn says the most effective HR blogs provide access to internal and external audiences. “There is a form of transparency that makes the internal communication blog also serve as an employment branding tool,” Dunn says. Of course, if your blog will share documents or proprietary information, you’ll want to keep it behind a firewall.