HR Tech Goes Social

May 9, 2011

As more companies let employees tweet, follow and link for work, human resources software vendors are weaving those social media functions into the latest generation of their products.

Recruiting and applicant tracking software vendors kicked things off several years ago when they introduced products that plug into Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The trend has accelerated in the past six to nine months, extending to software for rewards and recognitions, work group collaboration, even employee benefits.

Next-generation applications have Facebook- and Twitter-style status updates and share buttons that let employees broadcast their accomplishments to the world. Other software mimics social networks but restricts activity to a company’s intranet.

Many organizations still are leery of social networks, given concerns over data security, bad publicity, increased legal liability and fears that access to Facebook and other sites will be so distracting it’ll lead to lower productivity.

Against this backdrop, it’s still early days for socially enabled HR tools. For now, more companies appear content to experiment with Facebook look-alikes inside the corporate firewall. Consider Toronto-based I Love Rewards, whose original rewards and recognition software lets workers publicize the kudos they receive on the job within a company’s intranet. Last September, the company introduced an upgrade that allows employees to make their achievements public on Facebook, but as of early April, a dozen customers were still only testing it, says Razor Suleman, I Love Rewards’ founder and CEO. It’s only a matter of time before social HR software breaks out, he says. “You aren’t going to stop social. HR can’t put up a fake firewall,” he says. “We say, embrace it. Your employees will feel aligned because you trust them and treat them like adults, and it will build your brand.”

It could be another three or four years before that happens. When it does, vendors early out of the gate could have the advantage, says Kris Dunn, owner of the RPO company Kinetix and the “HR Capitalist” blogger. Dunn has worked with I Love Rewards and publicly endorsed their software. “The tools people use now will be under increasing pressure to integrate a social system with what they do,” he says.

Here’s a look at some social HR software and how forward-thinking HR departments are using it:

Recruiting: Companies can use software from vendors such as Jobvite Inc. or Taleo Corp. to post job openings on Facebook and other social networks. Since launching a Web-based recruiting application in 2009, Jobvite’s user base has grown to more than 400 companies of all sizes, including 7-Eleven Inc., Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Groupon Inc., according to Jobvite CEO Dan Finnigan. One of them is Hara Software Inc., a 70-person San Mateo, California, energy management software startup. Hara’s human resources vice president Dianna Wilusz credits Jobvite for 100 percent of the firm’s new hires in the past year. “The system aligns with who we are as a company,” Wilusz says. “Using an online technology and social networking for much of our recruiting strategy helps minimize our resource use and environmental impact.”

Rewards and recognition: Now that people share their lives online, rewards and recognition software vendors hope they’ll share their work, too. Software from vendors such as I Love Rewards and Rideau Inc. lets employees share recognitions they get from a boss or coworker. To expand from its traditionally gifts-oriented rewards and recognitions business, Rideau recently licensed the Hive, peer-to-peer recognition software from PollStream Inc. Rideau is running several product tests, including one with a Canadian-based business with 75,000 employees, says Gord Green, Rideau’s chief strategy officer.

Toronto-based ConAgra Foods Canada Inc., which makes and sells the multinational food conglomerate’s brands throughout that country, uses I Love Rewards’ intranet-based recognition application to track how its 320 employees’ actions align with company objectives. When employees reach stated goals or go above and beyond, they get points redeemable for prizes and also notices that are posted to the division’s internal blog. Reid Lewis, the division’s human resources vice president, expects such internal recognitions to reach 2,000 a year by the end of 2011, a tenfold increase from when the company adopted the software two years ago. That has led to higher employee engagement and lower turnover, resulting in cost savings that has helped the HR department triple its budget for training and development, Lewis says. Going public with employees’ accomplishments on Facebook and LinkedIn “is probably our next step,” he says.

Communications and collaboration: Social network-based collaboration and communications tools such as Rypple, Yammer and Inc.’s Chatter weren’t built expressly as workforce management tools, but companies are using them that way. HR and other departments at ConAgra Foods Canada and at the corporation’s headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, recently began using Yammer, company spokesman Shelby Stoolman confirmed. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colorado, job-finding service, has used Yammer instead of email or instant messages for about a year to communicate with her 10-person team, which is scattered in seven cities across the country. When she’s hiring, Fell sets up private Yammer groups to get specific employees’ feedback on prospective candidates. “It’s definitely cultivated a better community feel for our team,” Fell says. And the price is right: Fell’s company is so small, the free version suits her needs.

Learning, wellness and more: New social HR software applications are appearing on a regular basis. One of the latest is Limeade, an online employee wellness product that lets co-workers publicly chart and share their progress toward company fitness goals. The Bellevue, Washington, company’s customers include Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Jamba Juice Co. and the state of Washington. Some promising applications have been snapped up by leading HR technology vendors. In March, for example, SuccessFactors Inc. said it was acquiring Jambok Inc., a San Francisco-area startup providing online learning and workforce collaboration tools that work with Facebook and YouTube.

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