Mixing Your Messages: Getting People on Social Networks Interested in Jobs

Quick, what’s the last ad you saw on Facebook? Don’t start thinking — just say it. Can’t think of one? Well then, what’s the most interesting post you read in the last week? The one that made you click on “like.” I’ll bet you remember that.

There’s an object lesson on the reality of social networks. Just before the Facebook IPO last week, GM announced that it was stopping all ads on Facebook, citing poor results; in other words, sales. What wasn’t mentioned is that GM is just the most recent company to abandon Facebook, following the lead of Gamestop, J.C. Penney, The Gap, Nordstrom, and Banana Republic. That’s not very surprising. The social media ad platform company Mediabrix estimates that the click through rate for ads on Facebook is just 0.05%. It’s a little better on Twitter — the company’s estimates are that retweets of commercial messages are about 3% – 5%, but of course that’s among a much smaller user base than Facebook.

Many companies are finding that advertising and social media don’t mix well. While it’s still early, the evidence so far suggests that social media users respond more to engagement than commercial messages.

But engagement isn’t easy either. It requires having to develop a conversation with people in your network in order to get your message across, and that can be a lot of work. In a BusinessWeek interview a GM executive said that Twitter ads during the Super Bowl nearly doubled the company’s followers, but added that maintaining such a campaign was far too resource-intensive for the company because a company tweet “can’t look like it came from some corporate thing” in order to be effective. It’s very labor intensive and it can’t be automated.

Product Placement

If you’re going to try and sell people on social networks, then it should be like product placement in the movies — subtle, not intrusive. There’s a scene in Ironman where Robert Downey, Jr., after returning from captivity, asks for a cheeseburger and he’s handed a bag from Burger King. They didn’t stop the movie to show an ad for whoppers. People on social networks don’t want to be marketed to — they don’t want to see job postings. A Forrester Research analyst described such efforts as “like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.” If people wanted to see job postings, they’d go to Monster, not Facebook.

Engagement requires a soft touch, not a hard sell. A company that does a great job of this is Dell, which has developed a customer service strategy rooted in engagement on Facebook. Any employer looking to attract candidates through social media can learn a lot from the Dell page. In one sense it’s a very simple formula — you have to make it interesting. Start a conversation by picking a topic that’s relevant to the audience. Keep it going by including others that can contribute to it. Make the brand noticeable but not dominant.

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This is what builds a talent community. If you’re going to start talking about jobs, then the pitch has to be woven into the conversation. Trouble is that this is a low-yield strategy that takes time and effort. The people in such communities are there because of the community — not the jobs. The ones who were interested in your jobs have likely already applied for them.

Use the Social Aspect of Social Networks

People have long relied on social networks to help them find jobs — from well before the term existed. They are real social networks — offline — consisting of friends and relatives.

Social networks have merely moved the process online. In a recent survey of some 1,800 candidates about half the respondents claimed that they found their last job through connections made through social networks, mainly by tapping friends and relatives. Interestingly, a majority of those that found jobs in this manner also reported higher levels of satisfaction with their jobs. The likely reason is that they had more and better insights into the job than they would have otherwise. This is not a huge survey, but it does suggest that candidates use social networks to benefit from their social connections — not because of job postings.

For an employer wanting to tap social networks the approach should be to draw people into conversations much like the kind they have with others –professional conversations, not personal ones, but conversations all the same. Introducing jobs into these can result in the jobs being referred to others they know or perhaps the candidates considering the jobs themselves. But just posting jobs on social networks may not produce much of a return on the investment.

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.


9 Comments on “Mixing Your Messages: Getting People on Social Networks Interested in Jobs

  1. Great insights, Raghav. Our work on career development within organizations supports your comments that social networks–the face to face kind that foster communication and connections–are what current employees are looking for in career development programs, too. We think that building career communities will allow those professional conversations to spark interest in finding jobs and other careers in place. Supports workforce planning efforts, too. What works for candidates and companies with positions to fill also works for current employees’ career exploration.

  2. I agree. At Brandemix, we’ve found that job-seekers don’t sign up just for a barrage of job listings. They want a resource where they can learn about résumés, interview techniques, and benefits, along with employment news in their area.

    In this way, employer branding is the same as consumer branding. People don’t follow Pepsi on Facebook just to receive Pepsi ads. They want quizzes, polls, fun facts, contests, and user-generated content like photos and videos.

    Job-seekers also use social media to learn about the culture of a company. What’s the brand voice? How quickly does HR respond to questions on Twitter or Facebook? What are other applicants asking, and what are employees themselves saying on the social sites?

    Social media isn’t a “marketing channel,” it’s a “communication space.” Start a few conversations and, soon enough, job-seekers will start their own.

  3. Raghav, another great post. Thanks for keeping the “Social Media recruiting myth” alive.

    I took some of Raghav’s information a bit further. Since Facebook boasts 900 Million members, I multiplied 900 Million x .05%. The result? 450,000. Which sounds like a lot but if you take 1 million and multiply by .05%, you get 500!! This puts the potential of Facebook into perspective and it is not pretty. If businesses continue to receive that kind of response rate, they would be out of business very fast. Hence, GM moving on. Smart business move.

    The very size of Facebook allows for a lot of smoke and mirrors in advertising, marketing, and recruiting. It is only a matter of time before it becomes the next Myspace and it will suffer that same fate. Sad to say, it is merely a novelty. A fun and entertaining one, but don’t expect much more from that, as the numbers show and the numbers don’t lie.

    Social media is merely a start. As any good recruiter knows, YOU have to work it and cultivate it; there is simply no magic bullet in recruiting!

    Thanks, Raghav

  4. @ Raghav: Thanks again. It just occurred to me that the techniques you and our Gentle Readers describe would be very good for creating, growing and/or revitalizing a professional association where one of the focuses my be on long-term career development. At the same time, it would be terribly slow and inefficient at getting people for current openings…

    I have a few questions for you “Talent Communitarians”:
    1) What percentage of your company’s talent community ever ends up getting hired for a position?
    2) For those that are hired, what is the median length of time between joining the community and start-date?
    3) Taking into account the costs of setting up and running the talent community (from an IT- and marketing- perspective; this ISN’T recruiting) what are your costs/hire for the people you’ve directly hired through the TC?


    Keith “*Spend Your Recruiting Dollars on Recruiting, Not Marketing” Halperin

    *Of course, if Marketing or some other department is paying for it all, go after every cent you can shake them down for, and make sure you have a 50-50 split in the results:
    The good things are due to Recruiting, the bad things are due to Marketing, or whoever…….

  5. Not sure why I gravitate to “c” words, but for me, it’s all about communication, conversation, connection and collaboration. Whether we are talking about face-to-face networks or technology supported social media communities, candidates and employees looking to explore other jobs/careers within an organization want to engage in dialogue. Not sure of the time to hire metric, Keith, but there have always been great word-of-mouth hires that were great fits because someone told someone else about an opportunity and they could discuss the company, industry, culture etc.

  6. Great article. The world is slowly waking up to the fact that there aren’t easy quick wins with using social media outlets to reach potential customers/candidates. You have to actually do the groundwork.

    At Bullhorn we’ve found that most recruiters using our Reach software have been sticking exclusively to LinkedIn; fewer are using Twitter and Facebook. The folks who use those networks as yet another broadcast channel, like another job board, don’t see much results — just as people using Facebook ads don’t see the return they do from their other ads. It’s the recruiters that bother to engage with their followers/friends/connections who are are seeing some success.

    Now the question is, will today’s recruiters reserve time in their hectic days to be on social media, engage and respond to their network, and build up an online reputation so that they can scale their reach much farther than they could have by email and phone alone? The ones who are, are getting ahead. Some commenters talked about employer brand — there’s such a thing as a recruiter’s personal brand, too!

  7. @ Elizabeth: I think we agree that employee referrals aka, “words of mouth” are very useful hires- I think far more effort should placed on using those as a proven, cost-effective source of hire, and if SM can help employees do that, all’s the better. So, have someone come up with an easy-to -use “How to Get Lots of ER Bonu$e$ with SM” and get it sent out to all the employees. Here’s where we disagree: if I may be even more crude and vulgar than usual, I don’t think potential employees are looking for an “engagement”- I think they are looking for a “hook-up”- get what they need/want to apply/get the job, then get going. I don’t think most potential employees have either the time or inclination to have long, drawn out relationships with a bunch of corporate pseudo-friends, they’d rather have relationships with real friends….

    @ Jeff: I think I’ll continue basing my reputation on putting quality butts in chairs quickly and affordably, and improving and streamlining recruiting processes. I don’t have time to cultivate long-term relationships with candidates or build talent communities. My managers want and get results NOW.

    @ Everybody: I think I’ll put this out as a challenge:
    If someone advocates using SM other than using LI to find immediate hires, they’d better have some very solid and specific numbers to show how well it works, and why it works better than other proven methods. Otherwise: do I smell the rancid stench of SNAKEOIL?

    Happy Long Weekend,

  8. I agree entirely that simply posting jobs on Facebook/twitter is not a social recruiting strategy and engagement is the key with a long term view of candidate attraction. The company I work for however has found a unique way of utilizing our member base (university students) that employers target for grad/intern/vac positions and running social media campaigns with the opportunity to win a 4 week paid internship. The results have been sensational.

  9. Thanks, Justin. I knew things were tough out there for recent grads, but I had no idea companies were running contests for paid internships. Sounds kinda like “the Apprentice”.


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