Moving into an age of digital communication, everybody must adapt not only to new technologies, but also to changing values within society. Being involved in human resource (HR) involves understanding and fostering people, whether it’s on an operational or executive level.

To do this effectively in the coming years, HR professionals will have to embrace new modes of communication and discussion, particularly those of online-based social media.

Why? Because social media has become the dominant channel through which people communicate — meaning that if you are to better engage with recruiters, employees and alumni of your businesses, you must also engage with the technologies and values that underpin these channels.

As a tool uniquely sensitive to the needs of the HR profession, social media is only slowly revealing its true potential. For sure, the prevalence of social media is not just a fad.

It is also not homogenous: It encompasses everything from social networks like Twitter and LinkedIN, which allow users to share information and personal values with unprecedented speed and reach, to the thriving communities of bulletin boards and forums which have sustained the Internet since its early days.

Top companies are already demonstrating how social media can help HR professionals gain, retain and sustain employees. But there is much more that can be done.

What traits define social media? It involves many people coming together in acts of collaboration, dialogue and collective intelligence. Despite this, social media focuses on individuals — their tastes, interests and ambitions — but as part of a vast network.

HR professionals can no longer think of the talent pool as a “mass audience”. To build and maximise the human capital that sustains all businesses, you must recognise this and act accordingly, talking with, rather than at or even to, those you seek to foster.

This entails a radical shift in the mindset of the HR industry. In many ways, it goes against traditional corporate logic. By doing so, however, you stand to gain more cohesive and enduring organisations, communities of shared values rather than factories that start at nine and end at five.

Hiring talent

Social media can help you gain, retain and sustain employees. These are the three key stages of any HR professional’s work. First, you must gain talented individuals and convince them to work with you.

You must then retain them by helping them reach their full potential within the business, a process that can take many years. Finally, you must sustain them, making sure their time with you enriches rather than starves them of enjoyment and meaning. All good HR professionals do this, no matter what business they operate within.

To accomplish this in the current working environment, you have to redefine what you mean by “work”. For today’s workforce, work is not just a job, but a part of one’s identity. It’s something you do, not something you go to.

Connecting people

HR professionals must re-evaluate what matters to this workforce — not just money or ambition, but creation, co-creation and connection. At the heart of it, employees are people who want to be part of something big. Social media is one way in which they can belong.

Top companies have already started to harness this capacity. In doing so, they haven’t reinvented the wheel, but rather observed and played to existing trends and habits people have. For example, people like sharing funny or unusual content through social media — that’s arguably why videos of cats are so popular nowadays.

You can apply the same principles to HR operations. You can gain the best employees by making the job selection process into something people want to share online, as Google does with its web-based test — thus involving a far broader range of talent than traditional channels could ever reach.

You can create networks of “value-added” content — anything from employee-made videos to real-time customer service via Twitter — bringing your businesses into conversation with customers and employees alike.

Recruitment companies are aligning job searching with everyday channels too. Their Facebook page allows easy access to relevant job listings and its potential for social sharing means these opportunities extend beyond the usual job hunters.

Currently, active candidates make up only 10 per cent of the job seeker market, but platforms such as Facebook revolutionise the way people look for jobs, through sharing.

Using social media is simple, more so than many businesses may think. Although it requires you to learn a new “grammar” of etiquette and communication, you can adjust easily if you draw upon your own personal experiences of Facebook, Twitter and other such platforms.

Moreover, you have to remember that taking up a job is no longer simply a question of pay and perks, but also of social responsibility, a healthy workplace environment, and an ability to make a recognisably, meaningful contribution.

If  you are to gain, retain and sustain talent, you must embrace social media as a channel for every part of the HR process.