More Net than Work

A lot of employers that have started using social media are doing so without fully understanding the opportunities and challenges associated with it. The tendency is to treat social media as a mechanism to broadcast jobs; in other words, as an advertising medium.

This reminds me of an interview I heard some months ago, with someone in Fargo, preparing for flooding of the Red River.

The man was building a barrier with sandbags, though he admitted that in five out of six previous floods this solution had not prevented his house from being flooded. It may appear that our friend is missing a few fries from his happy meal, but the point isn’t to be insulting. Regardless of whether he’s a few pickles short of a Whopper, he was doing what he knew, having seen it work at least once.

The Ad Mentality

This is how many employers approach social media. A lot of social media programs are based on what has been done before. Recruiting is a largely transactional process, so the tendency is to keep doing things that are transactional. Which would be running an ad, or posting jobs on Facebook, and waiting for someone to apply. And why not, after all it’s worked in the past. But this does not tap the potential of social media. Advertising, whatever the medium, is a one-way street. It’s us shouting at them. Social media is a two-way street; it’s about having a conversation and creating relationships. And that is not natural for a recruiter. It’s time consuming and takes a lot of effort. Plus, you have to have something to say that the other party finds interesting enough to engage in the conversation.

Talent communities are supposed to be a good way to use social media. But the way many employers have implemented these shows is an Illustration of the ad mentality. I’ve joined a few talent communities and I regularly get solicitations for jobs that are not even remotely related to anything in my profile. I frequently get a list of jobs of all types the company has open. How this qualifies as being social is hard to understand.

It’s unrealistic for any employer to expect that their recruiters can engage in conversations with candidates they are trying to hire. What could they possibly have to say to the vast majority of candidates? To get the most from social media, a recruiter should be encouraging other employees to blog, network, and connect with other to promote their employer. Success can come from relying on the “net,” not so much by doing the “work.”

It’s the Network

Success in recruiting with social media means having something to contribute that invites others to enter into a relationship. Think of any engaging conversation you’ve had. How long would it have lasted if the other party kept talking about themselves? (A long time if you’re in a bar and trying to pick up the other party, but that’s the exception).

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This is where it gets difficult. There are not a lot of interesting conversations a recruiter can have with people with a different skill set. What’s needed is to use their organization’s network — get the right employees to start and keep up those conversations. Organizations that think that this encourages time-wasting have their heads in the sand because it isn’t like these conversations aren’t already happening. Might as well use them to your own benefit. They can’t be controlled — only channeled. The genie is already out of the bottle and it’s not going back in.

Prospective candidates cannot become friends with a company, but they can benefit from relationships with employees. That is, they can be engaged, and possibly hired at some point. That can be a long-term process. The best practice in this regard is setting up talent communities that consist of networks of employees and prospects, sharing (preferably professional) interests. Over time, relationships between employees and prospects can allow a company to develop relationships and determine if there’s a match between prospective candidates and open jobs. It also allows candidates to know more about the employer than they would expect to learn in the typical interview process.

There’s a line of thinking that suggests that this approach will lead to better hires with less likelihood of turnover because candidates have a better appreciation of what they are getting into. That sounds logical, but at this time it’s completely speculative: there’s no proof of that, and there won’t be for years. A very long engagement doesn’t necessarily make for a successful marriage.

The key to success is to use the network. It isn’t so much about social media as it’s about social networks. The media is just a means to an end, but using it like a platform for ads is not how to benefit from it. Like our friend in Fargo, it may work on a few occasions, but much of the effort may be just a waste of time.

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.


11 Comments on “More Net than Work

  1. Raghav-
    I think you hit the nail right on the head here. All too often I see social media involvement portrayed as a commodity which can be acquired for a price, which misses the point completely. Only through engagement with and contribution to our networks can we expect to truly gain any value.

  2. Hi Raghav,

    I respectfully disagree with you on a number of points. While I understand and can appreciate your concern about social media engagement not being done right by many employers, simply because others are not doing it well doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand.

    I’d make the case that those employers who do it well have a competitive advantage over those who have yet to figure it out. The network is important, yes, but so is the medium within which the communication is taking place. Marshall McLuhan, stated “The medium is the message” and I strongly believe that is certainly the case with all new media, especially social media and mobile. The social media for recruitment campaigns we have deployed were closely quantified and tracked to show tangible results. They have been put through critical review by Forrester Research, the Mobile Marketing Association and HCI. The data clearly show the differences in candidate behavior among various media (not necessarily influenced by networks) and the deeper level of candidate engagement by using the preferred medium.


  3. Hey Raghav- I enJOY your article/s… Highly intelligent with a hint of sarcasm… brilliant!

    Social Media is LEVERAGE tool, and expands your “reach” of the QUALITY and QUANTITY of your relationships…

    Best to ALL on this glorious day (In Sunny Southern, CA)


  4. Great post. Your statement “Social Media is a two-way street” stood out to me as I see so many cases of shouting to an audience. Twitter seems to be used in that fashion by a lot of people. Networks have great value and to the extent we can use social media to build and improve our network it can be extremely powerful.

  5. Social Networking- another tool in the hardware store that is the “Corporate Hype-osphere.” If you expect to only hire sourced or employee referred candidates, you don’t have to worry about being attractive/develop relationships to the “Great Unwashed”, aka the general candidate pool. For the price of a Social Media Consultant/Specialist you could hire many fine virtual phone/internet sourcers to directly go after the people you need, instread of passively enticing them to come to you.

    Keith “Washed Today” Halperin

  6. This is a great point. The issue is that sometimes employers are looking for instant gratification, or a magical fix. The truth is, like most things, you get out what you put in. Leveraging social media is more effective if you approach your “advertising” indirectly and use it as a way to build relationships in order to enhance your brand.

    Mindy Fineout,

  7. Raghave has perfectly identified why social media doesn’t work for most recruiters in that they use it exactly like the ‘old media’ way of shouting at candidates and hope the ‘right’ ones take notice.

    A vast majority of recruiters have a transactional approach to recruitment and unless they change their thinking I would recommend they stay away from social media as it’s unlikely to provide a worthwhile dividend for their investment of time.

  8. I agree completely that the “ad mentality” is not an effective strategy for incorporating social media into the recruiting mix. Online media once focused on the individual, one-on-one marketing. That personal reach has now extended to entire online communities.

    But what’s also true is that all online media has become more interactive & companies are becoming more transparent as a result, for better or worse. Branding-building for trust & credibility isn’t something a company can do by itself anymore, when every employee, former employee, wannabee employee, vendor partner and consumer is an ambassador… or not.

    While the new media poses many challenges to recruiters, I think one big advantage is that social media makes it easier to identify “best fit” people for the company culture, and takes employee referrals to a whole new level. And referrals have always been the best, most cost effective source of candidates. I think we’re going to see more social recruiting campaigns based around the idea of referrals rather than advertising.

  9. Social Media Recruiting is on the ‘to do’ list of most recruiters and nearly 80% are saying that they recruit using social media. The question is “are you hiring through social media”?

    Creating a solid footprint in social media recruitment is labor intensive and intimidating if you haven’t really grasped the shortcuts and techniques that a minority are using effectively.

    The best way for you to grow your social media footprint, to Raghav’s point, is through your employees. If they tap into their social networks on behalf of an organization, sending leads through the pipeline, then your social media footprint grows exponentially without ever logging into a single platform.

    A wonderful practice, in my opinion, is to effectively mobilize your workforce to send qualified leads into your organization by tapping into their social rolodex.

    Is it the only way? Of course not. But it is effective and helps unite your entire company behind this important movement.

    Again, my opinion. Nice post, Raghav.

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