Social media and HR in China: a talk with Marco Polo Consulting

27 Feb 2014



Social media in China have exploded in the last years, and they are now also used to improve some of the most important HR processes, WeChat and Weibo in particular. Global companies such – as Marriot Hotels, picture below – already have their channels on Chinese social media dedicated to HR and job opportunities.


Marriott Careers Sina Weibo


We had a talk with Giorgia Madonno, Managing Director and Founder at Marco Polo Consulting. She’s been operating in the HR function for 15 years, adding growing responsibilities in the HR management, people and organisation development areas for international clients like The Nielsen Company, including major experiences in France and the US. 

In 2008 she moved to Shanghai, to start providing consultancy services for companies operating in China and Far East Asia. Here’s what she told us. 


– Hi Giorgia. Social and digital are two trendy concepts in the business community today. They have a huge and worldwide impact on marketing and sales, but how are they impacting a more traditional field like Human Resources management?

In China, where the usage of social media has exploded in the last years, they start to be used also to improve some of the most important HR processes and the more innovative companies are approaching it in a systematic way. Our company, Marco Polo consulting, is more and more intrigued by the opportunities offered by digital and we are introducing them in our scope of HR consulting services.

Based on our experience in Asia, social media and digital are used mainly for employer branding and recruitment, for internal communication, knowledge sharing and learning. They may be integrated with gamification approach. Let’s see them one by one.


– How can social media be integrated with employer branding and recruitment strategies?

Some years ago we have supported one of our clients – a global automotive brand – to design a Management Trainee Program in China. All the employer branding phase has been managed using social media. We collaborated with a partner company and they designed for us a logo and banner for the campaign.

We used key words and criteria to do a pre-screening of applications and we published on line a mini-website dedicated to the Program. This have been posted on the main social media and websites in China, like Wechat, Weibo, RenRen, Linkedin and others.


HR China 

Other applications of course are in the recruitment of more senior people. Recruitment managers publish regularly their search on their own social profile or on the company social profile and this is very effective. Linkedin is an amazing social media for international profiles in ChinaIt is less commonly used for lower level position where people are only Chinese speakers, in this case there are more powerful local social media options.

We are recently exploring a new option: an application which make possible to digitalize the traditional job referral and get connected with the social network of internal employees interested to the program. The application, using key words, matches the profile of your contacts with the profile of the job search and if one of your connections is hired you may receive an award.

A Head Hunting company decided to gamify their CV database update: they stimulated people to update their resumes proposing points, achievement and awards.


– How can WeChat be used for internal communication and knowledge sharing?

One of our clients extensively uses WeChat for internal communication with employees, and they have also built a internet/blog and wiki page where employees and company can post documents, have interaction, advert company activities, give room to people for information and knowledge sharing.

The system is user friendly, it has the possibility to define sub-groups of interests. At the beginning people had to be motivated to use it, managers organized small awards for pioneers in using it and sponsored it extensively, but now it has become a common end very effective practice. What we suggested in this case is to add in the engagement and performance survey (we helped them to develop it), some questions regarding the effectiveness of the channel.

The usage of company WeChat or intranet is more and more popular in the companies in China. They become forum of exchange or channels of “care” of employees well-being. I heard that in one company HR informs the employees about the forecasted weather for the day and suggests taking the umbrella in case of rain!


– What kind of impact can this have on culture and learning?

Currently we are developing a training project where we plan to have a cross-cultural workshop and create a WeChat group for the participants where they can interact together. The facilitator and the participants can offer reciprocal mentoring in challenging cross-cultural situations. They will have also the possibility to upload relevant documents, videos, pictures and we will gamify the system in order to engage them in posting materials.

We are exploring also the possibility to use algorithms to identify which are the more interesting posting for each of them and make an automatic selection (similar to what Amazon does when pre-selects for us some book titles and makes recommendations).

Another example is the digitalisation of a learning system. For another client we have designed a simple leadership learning system and learning path. We have upload in their intranet and then used the internal blogging and wiki system to launch thematic discussions (consistent with the training program sequence) on line and off-line.

The participants received documents and videos about the topic, could share ideas and then discuss in a physical leadership coffee conversation with top leaders and selected employees in order to co-create the leadership model of the company. The next step will be the gamification of participant posting and participation to the forum, blog and wiki.


social media HR China


– How can big data be part of this system?

Big data are an amazing opportunity. Imagine being able to connect all your available data about people who resigned this year and being able to predict who you have in the company which could leave because having a similar profile.

This possibility is given by the analysis of big data. The are already big company able to give this information but we are waiting for easy tech solution (our company “mantra”), for sure they will come. Social and digital media are powerful because the younger generation in China is very familiar with it; it may happen that they are even more open using these channels than face to face.

For sure there is a reflection to do about gamification. It is in an eterodirect engagement method, the risk is that people are not engaged because they are really interested about the topic (i.e. Leadership) but because of the funny approach. In my opinion this kind of approach has always to be combined with a more deep inside kind of involvement, but for sure it helps to give a momentum and move the machine, and this is a very good help.


– What is your final opinion on social in HR?

My opinion is that we will not be able to do without it, soon. Better to be ready and take advantage of it as soon as possible. One of the problems to make this happen is that the decision makers (top management) may not be so familiar with this language and not so open to explore and invest money on it.

Luckily, in China the age of top managers is younger that in other countries, and this facilitates a lot the diffusion of these channels. Our role in HR will be also to educate the older generation to appreciate and use these new methods.

– Thanks Giorgia!

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.


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