Death, Taxes, and Talent Communities

The Internet makes talent communities inevitable

In recent weeks we’ve seen a lot of outpouring of grief over the now dead SOPA legislation. The law’s critics claim that, if passed, the law would end the Internet as we know it, threaten our way of life, and confirm the Mayans were right. We periodically experience this type of mass hysteria, whenever something seems to threaten the “promise of the Internet” — the last time was over net neutrality. That so-called promise has to do with the perceived “free” flow of information: articles, stories, videos, songs, or content. What’s gotten lost in this noise is that that nothing is free. The current business model of the Internet has simply shifted dollars from content creators to content aggregators. Advertisers sponsor content so users can pretend it is “free.”

A long time ago, about the time the last ice age ended, there was something called AOL. It seems like eons have passed, but those who remember that era may recall that after we returned from foraging for food we would turn on our dial-up modems and connect to AOL, having paid a monthly fee for access to all the content that was available, the forums, the news, etc. Connection speeds were 1,200 bits per minute — you could almost count those bits coming in. Now we do the same with Facebook and Google, which we experience as free. Perceptually, we ignore the ads — targeted ads based on all the information collected by the sites — ads tailored to our habits, our behavior, and interactions. AOL charged a fee and had no ads; Facebook doesn’t charge a fee but has ads. There is no free lunch.

So now we have a business model on the Internet favoring networks that can attract members and keep them there. That requires having content that attracts users, however it may be generated. Initially, sites like YouTube and Facebook, with their user-generated content, left us wondering why they existed. But, they have been enormously successful and it is clear that communities naturally form where content gets developed and shared. The better the content a community brings to its members, the more of them it gets and the more engaged they are.

Big Brother is Watching You — and That’s OK

What we know now is that people prefer content they don’t have to pay for directly. We’re apparently willing to share substantial personal information with advertisers in exchange for “free” content. Just how much intrusiveness we’re willing to enable remains to be seen, but the boundaries are constantly being pushed — Google’s new privacy policy being only the latest example. The company will now offer a new “benefit” for users — it will track you across multiple services including Google+, YouTube, Gmail, and any other property they own, including Android phones. I wrote this on Google Docs, so what I wrote was likely being indexed as it was written. Big Brother was an amateur.

Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

While users are opposed to paying for content (whether it is legally or illegally obtained), there’s an opportunity for employers. Any employer can create forums where content is produced targeting interests that are relevant to specific groups of people –- creating talent communities — thereby aggregating candidates they may eventually want to hire. This is the only way to create talent communities, built around a topic that candidates (or people that might become candidates) are passionate about: chemical engineering, pediatrics, Java, nursing, recruiting, etc. A place online where people congregate to share their interests and interact with each other. Anything else is not a community.

But this opportunity comes at a cost. Relying on Facebook or Google+ to create talent communities means accepting their terms of doing business. That is, giving them access to data that can be analyzed and sold to third-parties. That’s the price of “free” content. There’s really no getting away from it — the money to support Facebook has to come from somewhere. Although this model prevails today, there are other forces at work that will change the game. The exchange of personal information is at odds with our natural desire for privacy. So, as we continue to explore how much privacy we’re willing to exchange for “free” content on sites like Facebook, a desire for alternative models will grow. Other forms of sponsorship, where advertising is less apparent, will naturally appeal to those concerned with privacy, and may even serve to encourage community members to share more in a community with restricted membership.

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Communities don’t have to be built entirely on Facebook’s terms. It is possible to create somewhat private communities. In fact, it is prudent to create communities on one’s own terms, rather than be at the mercy of a third party whose interests diverge from ours.

Employer-sponsored talent communities should be private domains for members that represent a group desired by the employer as employees. The basic formula for success is simple: develop or support the creation of content and make it available for free and accessible, and drive people to it. However, putting this into practice is a lot of work.

First, it requires having interesting content, which means that it needs to be material that is original, relevant to a particular group, and prompts controversy. Then there needs to be a critical mass of members in the community that gets engaged in robust discussion. That is what creates a community, it’s not just a repository of content. A community is one where people congregate to share their views and learn from each other. That’s the “social” part of social media, a fact that often gets forgotten in the zeal to build a lot of communities which are nothing more than databases.

This is what employers need to be doing today. There is no other way to create talent communities. But do it now, because who knows what’s coming that may make it difficult to create communities.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


6 Comments on “Death, Taxes, and Talent Communities

  1. Raghav
    Well said.
    Exceptional point here – “A community is one where people congregate to share their views and learn from each other. That’s the “social” part of social media, a fact that often gets forgotten in the zeal to build a lot of communities which are nothing more than databases.”

    I am not a number

  2. Raghav, this is an excellent post. I’m surprised more people haven’t commented. As I’m reading it I was starting to think of the main point you try to convey about building communities. Yes talent communities need to be something that is more private to a company or person if you don’t want “big brother” watching everything you do. But of course creating content is hard and not everyone is cut out for it. The best strategy I know of right now is using things like WordPress to host your own blog or internal site where you control everything. Then things like social media become more of an advertising/outreach channel instead of the platform used for the talent community itself.

    Oh, and speaking of WordPress, THAT is a great example of what comes out of the internet when it is “Free & Open”. People doing things because they can and because they want to share, not just to make a profit or steal our data.

  3. Thanks, Raghav. I think the whole concept of privacy is rapidly evolving- much of what would (until recently) were extremely private matters for most people are now quite openly discussed/viewed online, and this is the direction I believe the trend is going. Furthermore, there is a whole new “can of worms” opening up: our biometric data- who owns it?

    In addition, the whole idea of attracting loosely-affiliated,
    potential-employee “tire-kickers” seems to be a massive waste of time and resources. Instead, companies should do deep sourcing and data-mining to find a smaller but much more relevant group of potential employees, and then create a community around them, because they already know they might want to hire these people some day. The difference is between sending out a very wide posting that you’re having a party, and carefully determining everyone you’d want to attend (this or future parties) and going after only them.


    Keith “To Know Everything About Everyone Is Our Job” Halperin

  4. well said:

    a community, it’s not just a repository of content. A community is one where people congregate to share their views and learn from each other. That’s the “social” part of social media, a fact that often gets forgotten in the zeal to build a lot of communities which are nothing more than databases.

  5. Great article, Raghav. You are right on with your points. Until companies realize the value of creating talent communities as various segments of talent (digital analytics, interactive marketing, java, etc.) become harder and harder to recruit, I think we will experience organizations dipping their toes in the water around this topic. It does take a dedicated strategy, resources, and/or partnerships with outside parties to build, and more importantly, engage with talent communities.

  6. @ Steve: Most companies have neither the “vision,” the resources (time, money, people, etc.) nor the real inclination to do this.


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