Great Expectations: The Reality of Finding Talent on Facebook

As Facebook went public came two interesting pieces of news. The first was a CNBC poll that shows that about half of all Americans consider Facebook to be a fad that will fade away as new things come along. The second was an announcement from GM that it plans to stop advertising on the social network.

The auto manufacturer says it no longer believes that the ads produce much in the way of sales. This seems to be supported by the CNBC survey in which 8 out of 10 respondents said they hardly ever or never click on online advertising or sponsored content when using the site.

This has some implications for recruiters using social media as a sourcing channel. With users essentially ignoring ads, job postings are not likely to be effective. Even employers that have accumulated large numbers of fans for the Facebook pages are likely to reach only a small portion of them with their job postings – one analysis found that the average page post only reaches 17 percent of the page’s fans. Five out of six of a page’s fans never see it, unless supported by new likes and comments for every new post. So even if you have built up a large fan base of prospective candidates, the vast majority of them will never see your jobs.

It’s About Engagement

GM is not severing all ties with Facebook. It will continue producing content for its Facebook pages, as a means of engaging with customers. When it comes to social media, success in selling a product or attracting candidates is all about engagement. Facebook’s popularity is entirely based on the content the 900 million (and counting) members create. The site itself is not particularly remarkable, but what keeps people coming back and spending hours on it is the engagement that results from content, much of it spontaneously created. Interesting conversations, often around interesting stories, is what makes it so addictive.

This is what GM has determined works. Just visit one of the GM pages — like Chevrolet — and see for yourself. They’re vibrant communities, full of stories, pictures from buyers, and rich in conversations. It’s real people talking about real things. Who needs boring ads when you can have so much more interesting material that people actually want to read?

Why would it be any different for job postings? We keep hearing about how much value branded career sites on Facebook can do for attracting candidates but there’s little evidence to show such an approach is likely to be successful. What’s likely to work is talent communities.

Talent Communities Done Right

A talent community is like any other community — offline or online — a place where people with shared interests gather to engage in conversations. Think about the communities you belong to and what keeps you going back, and it’s always the same thing: the level of engagement you have.

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Developing a talent community requires creating the conditions for engagement. Pick a category of jobs, identify a topic that prospective candidates will be interested in, and start developing conversations around that topic. Great content can kick start conversations. The jobs need to have a high degree of commonality — nurses, doctors, mining engineers, marketing analysts, recruiters. It helps if the prospective candidates like to share stories and learn from each other.

Most people who join a talent community are interested in the community first, and finding employment may be a very distant second. But that’s the precisely the type of candidate we want to attract — the truly passive. Some of them may become interested in a job or may be persuaded to consider one, but it could take a long time. This is a long-term investment, more of a pipeline than a ready source of talent.

The Medium Is Not the Message

One lesson from the CNBC survey is that people aren’t particularly attached to Facebook — as a platform. People like to talk, and Facebook makes it easy to do so, but if something better or different comes along then they may not stick with the site. Look at how fast users abandoned MySpace. There are plenty of contenders, starting with Google+, and Path, which limits users to 150 friends, or FamilyLeaf that’s intended for family members, or Pair that’s a network for two people. Coming soon: Solo, for those who really like themselves.

The point being that a recruiting strategy centered on Facebook may not be a good long-term solution. What’s more important is understanding how to use social media effectively — building engagement, rather than relying on any particular platform.

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.


18 Comments on “Great Expectations: The Reality of Finding Talent on Facebook

  1. Very insightful piece Raghav.

    It is also interesting to note that while LinkedIn recent revenue results were impressive. Their marketing revenue took a smaller percentage of gross sales compared to hiring solutions. Is Corporate America cooling to the hype regarding Social Media or just spreading it around to many outlets?

    I have not seen any definitive results from recruiters finding talent on Facebook either.

  2. “What’s more important is understanding how to use social media effectively — building engagement, rather than relying on any particular platform”.

    Raghav, you nailed it with this last paragraph. Recruiters and managers too often see Facebook and any social media site as the solution to their recruiting problems. It’s not the site, people; it’s building the engagement using the site!

    Great post, Raghav. Thanks.

  3. As usual, Raghav speaks the truth and cuts through the nonsense.

    How may hires will FB get you? Very few my friends, very few.

    To me, few things offer a greater chance and a smaller possibility then the lure of social media. Have fun with FB. Celebrate your birthday or show us an interesting link but to build your recruiting strategy utilizing BF as a serious proponent? Silly mistake.

  4. I find the CNBC survey interesting…the fact that over 50% of Americans believe that Facebook will one day become obsolete is somewhat surprising but also makes sense. We often forget that at one point many years ago, Facebook (and social media for that matter), was pretty much nonexistant. And staffing and recruiting was still a thriving industry, even in the absence of social media. I think that platforms like Facebook and Twitter should be used only as a supplement to “old school” recruiting methods.

    A few years ago when social media was just taking off, I wrote a blog post surrounding the topic and how best to leverage it for staffing and recruiting. Here’s the link if you’re interested:

  5. Maybe people arent seeing the ads because they are too busy on My Space or Second Life? Get it, Facebook has surpassed these venues and has managed to continue to thrive. But as Raghav says, not sure that jobs or commerce are really in line with its core purpose, to connect people. Certainly the ads are an important source of revenue, but the long haul data may not support the value of such investments and the market will decide if facebook goes the way of myspace or secondlife. At the end of the day, facebook will always have value because it has millions and millions of users who have shared their data. This is the real value of the site, as it is with any job board or online community. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

  6. Raghav: Your post is right on point as are the comments thus far.

    The president of the search firm I spent my first 9 years with always said, “Go back to basics” when anyone was having difficulty with their practice. It was solid advice. I have always believed that any tech should only be used as an adjunct to a process that’s already effective and works. Social media, ATS, and any other “panacea” should only be used with a great talent strategy. They are not effective alone.

    Everyone wants an easier way to recruit. I may be wrong (though I don’t think so), but recruiters need to know the basics of recruiting and use them. I’ll never forget when the internet came on us in the 90’s and all the job sites popped up. I said then that they were nothing more than want ads made more accessible. I still believe that. The only people reading them are folks out of work or in need of a new job.

    When it comes to recruiting we need to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Solid search practices will always continue to be successful.

  7. As a third party recruiter, there are multiple parts to the job: Finding clients and candidates is one part; developing a rapport and their trust is another. Facebook excels at the latter and fails at the former. Even within the apps within FB that are recruiting apps, it fails at business development and candidate fulfillment. Why? Because for now, people don’t want to engage about work on Facebook except to complain about something. But that’s for now . . . just like initially, there were people who saw no value in job boards when almost everyone was engaged in newspaper advertising to fill jobs and create a brand. Obviously, there came a tipping point with the internet and things changed. The same may happen with social recruiting. Only time will tell if the tools develop.

  8. Thanks, Raghav. Well put. I think Social Networking Sourcing (as it should be called) is better for improving the finances of consultants who advocate that companies try it than for hiring people.

    In addition, (and here I think we may disagree) is that IMHO, the whole concept of setting up talent communities to hire people at some future time is weak and fuzzy. It is weak because thereis only a low probability that a given person who joins the community might be appropriate at some unknown future date. It is fuzzy because you are only trying to attract types of people as opposed to particular people. To make an Animal Planet analogy: you are trying to create a new waterhole with a webcam focused on it in the hopes of attracting a rare species of wildebeest that you can film. You (1) hope that the rare wildebeest goes to the waterhole, and then you (2) hope that it goes and stays in range of the camera long enough to film and broadcast. A lot of “ifs” there.



  9. Well stated Raghav;

    Perhaps a starting point for organizations is to actually discuss what “engagement” means to them??



  10. Raghav – two thoughts on your post. One – it seems that we recruiters have a tendency to jump on any new technology bandwagon that promises to deliver loads of candidates for our positions. Unfortunately this mentality has created an entire generation of recruiters that wouldn’t even know the true meaning of the “back to the basics” that Carol refers two.

    Two – Although believe there is some value on Talent network if done right, Keith has a strong point in his fuzzy comment about their use, implementation and success. The second part you mention is the idea of “passive candidates”. The age long battle of ‘active’ versus ‘passive’ candidates is not really relevant. There are no validated studies any longer that prove passive candidate produce more than active candidates. In fact, some studies hint towards the fact that sometimes active candidates produce more in a shorter period of time than passive candidates – even though passive candidates generally last longer.

    We get so caught up in the active vs passive argument that we forget the real picture. We want the best candidate, sourced from the WIDEST candidate pool available. Do we want just the best of the passive, or just the best of the active? I would venture a guess that we want the best – PERIOD. The trick is utilizing various tools and methods that get us to the right mix, not an either/or.

  11. Hitting the nail on the head, Raghav. As with most recruiting tools and strategies, it is not what you are using to find talent, but how! Talent Communities by definition are all about engagement.


    PS Personally, I can’t wait for Solo – I talk to myself all the time.

  12. I’ve been of the opinion for ages now that Facebook is a rubbish vehicle for recruitment. I don’t care that it has 900m members – China as a population of 1,338,299,512 that doesn’t mean I should look in China for my ideal candidate. It’s all about motives for being on there and what people want to get out of it. I don’t buy into the belief that anything other than a very small percentage of career minded business professionals want, or even expect to be recruited via Facebook. I even doubt that a lot of them have a particularly active Facebook account. And those that do may well not have filled in every field in their profile to give you a clear indication of what they do for a living. Nor do they want some random stranger barging in on the middle of a private chat with a friend. There are so many much better, tried, trusted and more targeted options where people are there for a purpose and one purpose only – to find a job. Facebook should be seen for what it is, a place where people can keep family and friends informed about whats going on, post pictures of children and pets and randomly like soft drinks, a chocolate bar or some other product advertiser who maybe has a competition on the go. It is not, nor ever will be a reliable, tried and trusted and universal recruitment vehicle. indeed, it will be flailing within the next few years just like Myspace before it as it continues to struggle for ways to monetise itself to the extent that any organisation with 900m members should. Advertisers are leaving it in droves and its share price is bombing – it’s frankly yesterday’s news. Over and above the possibility that Facebook might be good for filling low level jobs in bulk, i.e. shelf fillers for a store opening, if you want a job that is pitched a bit higher than that, forget Facebook and go to niche job boards and media driven career portals of which there are plenty – plus, they’re only inhabited by like minded jobseekers, not grannies, children or rednecks sitting at their PC in their underpants pretending to be 12.

  13. Perfectly said, Raghav.

    GM is right-on in their approach to Facebook. You can’t expect to spam your entire fan base and have that message be relevant for hundreds of people. We don’t like spam in our email inbox and we certainly don’t like it on our Facebook walls. Rather, you need to strategically reach out to select candidates that you’ve pre-identified them to be a good fit after engaging with them for a bit.

    At Ascendify, we follow these five best practices for building talent communities:
    1. Develop community managers who nurture relationships within the network, so that the community thrives
    2. Post news, facilitate conversations and pose questions
    3. Offer tips and share resume and interviewing advice
    4. Encourage employee participation, build advocates to tout your brand and essentially recruit on your behalf
    5. Enhance referral bonus programs with new incentives that encourage social media outreach

    Thanks for sharing.


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