How 25 Years of the Internet Has Re-Shaped HR

Mar 20, 2014
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

The Internet is celebrating its 25th birthday this week. 1989 was also the year the Berlin Wall came down, protests rocked China’s Tiananmen Square, “The Simpsons” debuted on TV … and HR was changed forever.

The Internet has transformed employer branding, internal communications, and talent acquisition in ways we hardly imagined in 1989. Many of the changes — even the beneficial ones — were disruptive, forcing HR professionals to alter how they operated. In honor of the Internet’s silver anniversary, I thought I’d look at the challenges brought about by two-way computer revolution — and how HR has adapted.

Employer Branding

Before the Internet, employers could brand themselves pretty much however they wanted. If a company wanted to portray itself as, say, “a culture of innovation,” it only had to put those words on a brochure. Job-seekers, employees, and alumni might think otherwise, but what were they going to do about it?  Send a letter?

The Internet took much of that power away from employers. Sites like Glassdoor and JobeeHive let current and former employees anonymously describe the real perks and pitfalls of their workplace. Last month, when a disgruntled Apple contractor quit what had been his dream company, he arguably undid decades of carefully maintained employer branding. These days, if an employer brand doesn’t match the reality, the public will know about it. And people will see the company as disingenuous at worst and oblivious at best.

Luckily, HR has adapted to this new reality. Smart talent acquisition managers read the anonymous reviews and enlist agencies to discover what employees, executives, and customers really think about a company, using honest insights to create an employer brand that’s transparent and genuine.

Internal Communications

Before the Internet, internal communications was relatively simple. There was a weekly or monthly newsletter, delivered to on-site mailboxes or employees’ homes. Events could also be announced on bulletin boards around the workplace. Want to join the company softball league? Find the sign-up sheet.

The internet allowed for much more interactive communications — for better or worse. Suddenly, the internal communications department was charged with creating an intranet, which required design and content and continuous maintenance. HR professionals couldn’t wait a month between updates. Paper newsletters became emails, which a single employee could leak to the world with one click.

But you can’t keep a good department down. Employers of choice have created beautiful, informative intranets, or outsourced to applications like Yammer, letting employees collaborate and converse in ways better than email. We’ve found that employees are far more informed and engaged than they were during the monthly newsletter days.

Talent Acquisition

Pre-Internet, recruiters placed job ads in the newspaper (often costing as much as a new car for one ad, on one Sunday,) and job-seekers mailed or faxed paper resumés and then waited by the phone. That was pretty much the extent of the interaction until the recruiter called a candidate in for an interview. Then it was back to silence after the interview was over.

The internet opened up the communication on both ends. Now, recruiters can proactively pursue top talent on LinkedIn. They can also let candidates know their status through dynamic career portals that update information as the candidate moves through the process. On the other end, job-seekers now look up potential employers on other social sites. They expect answers to their questions and the ability to apply from their mobile device.

That means forward-thinking companies must have a robust social presence, whether it’s GE on Facebook, Taco Bell on Twitter, or Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest on Pinterest. Talent acquisition departments now need a dedicated social media manager with the power to respond to questions and complaints quickly, lest the employer brand suffer (as described above). Some companies draw back the curtain on the hiring process by giving recruiters their own individual social channels, letting job-seekers get to know them before they write a single word of their cover letter.

No headcount for social recruiting? Check out my ERE article.

Looking back at the world of 1989 shows how much the internet has changed virtually every HR interaction. Each HR professional must now cultivate an eye for talent, a nose for content, and an ear for questions. While they come with their own perils, these challenges have only made the department stronger and crucial to the success of a company.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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