Mar 9 2011   9:32PM GMT

Using social media and networking to spy on, er, understand employees

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci


Businesses so know they need to track what customers are saying about them on social media and networking sites. Tracking customer sentiment online can contain, if not prevent, the damage inflicted by the misbegotten ad campaign that strikes a sour note, or a passenger’s musical rant that goes viral on YouTube. As a result, CIOs have been asked to provide analytics tools to help CMOs keep up with the chatter.

Don’t be surprised if HR comes knocking on your door next.

“This same technology that we have introduced from a market perspective now, all of a sudden has found another home with the HR teams,” said Andy Warzecha, vice president of strategy for information management at IBM, and a featured speaker at the recent Fusion 2011 CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis.

Human resources managers have discovered that “lo and behold, there is a bunch of stuff that employees are saying about the workplace,” Warzecha said.

HR traditionally has taken the temperature of the organization by putting out surveys, Warzecha said. But surveys tend to be “point-in-time instruments” relegated to a small percentage of people and influenced by what’s happening at the moment they’re being taken. Correlating an employee’s communications on both external and internal social media and networking platforms provides a much more holistic view of employee sentiment.

“There is a new way to be able to understand what is happening in our enterprise,” Warzecha said. “We now have a means to be able to understand and become attuned to the employee population inside the organization — and not only by the good stuff that may be going on inside the organization, but also what’s happening in emails, in the documents being written, and in what they are posting or tweeting outside the organization as well.”

IBM, for one, is “drinking its own champagne” by putting its social consumer-insight products in the hands of HR, Warzecha said. Big Brother Blue’s analytics are sucking information from email, from the Lotus Connections platform that hosts wikis and blogs, from Socialtext and Jive software used inside IBM, and from SharePoint or Exchange to help HR take the pulse of IBM employees.

“Job postings seem to be one of the largest things that employees are talking about,” Warzecha informed his Fusion conference audience. Compensation is a hot topic. Now that IBM is shrinking its campus, another biggie is where people are actually going to work.

As displayed on a nifty slide, the IBM products catalog not only what is being said by employees, but also who is doing the posting. “If you are looking for people who are self-promoting, there is a highlight here,” Warzecha said, pointing to one Louis V****, who appeared to be spending an inordinate amount of time talking about topics that might prompt HR to ask if he was really doing his day job.

“The point being is that a lot of this technology that is being developed for outwardly facing marketing has another use … [that] is actually providing very significant value from an HR perspective,” Warzecha said.

Holy Brave New World!

Warzecha put a benign spin on it: “If we can understand disgruntled employees and understand and catch employees before they leave our organization, it is a huge savings to us, as opposed to hiring and training someone else,” he said.

One of the CXOs in the room, to my relief, asked the obvious questions: “Does your workforce know that HR has these analytics? Is there a feeling that Big Brother is watching everything that I do?”

“We’ve talked a little bit about how we are beginning to introduce these tools,” Warzecha said, rightly pointing out that most companies already monitor which Web sites employees go to. “What I think you’re seeing is a move toward more and more of that being established from an HR perspective, and the policies and procedures in employee contracts are going to start to reflect that.”

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  • RoasterBoy
    It seems odd that IBM is doing so much to encourage employee engagement in social networking, only to have its HR department slapping people for doing too much. If done well, these efforts could, however, be beneficial. As you note, HR can use this wisely by addressing issues before they roll on too far. Do you know if HR engages in semi-public discussions with employees, such that the solution as well as the problem becomes visible?
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