Realizing the Power of Facebook

Many employers are eager to tap the potential of social networks as sources of talent. The potential is huge, and facing difficult economic conditions, these can be a cheap source. But it’s easier said than done. Some employers have put up their own corporate pages on Facebook. But this accomplishes nothing more than to prove ignorance of online social media. What makes social media so popular is their, well, social nature. They enable people to meet social needs. This may seem as obvious as the nose on your face, but it’s amazing how many employers don’t get it.

The word “social” has many definitions, but some of the more appropriate ones are 1) pertaining to friendly companionship or relation; 2) Seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; and 3) living or disposed to live-in companionship with others rather than in isolation. The point being that people use social media as a two-way street and to get a sense of community. To belong to a community one has to have something to contribute and be accepted as a member. A community is people interacting with each other. It requires free flow of ideas and thoughts. None of that is delivered by a corporate web page, which is essentially static. People do not invite companies to be their friends. The same is true for recruiters wanting to get hires off Facebook. Creating and cultivating a network to the point where one actually has a hire can take a long time, and the ROI can be impossible or very difficult to justify. It’s not possible to say that X number of hours spent networking will result in Y number of hires and it is not a replicable model.

The Amway Model

There is a very successful and proven approach to tapping the potential of social networks. This has been around for decades before there was Facebook. Companies that operate using network marketing — such as Amway, Avon, and Mannatech — build and work their networks by providing a little structure and the messages they want delivered along with incentives to get the results they desire. They know that their networks exist and thrive where they become communities. They are not clubs where anyone can buy a membership and get the benefits. The people that succeed at network marketing emphasize the social component. The same is true of Facebook. Active members have built their networks to form communities they want to be part of. It’s a two-way street, with lots of interaction, dialog, and sharing — elements that have been true of communities since there have been communities.

Employers wanting to tap social media for talent need to recognize and respect these realities. It’s not about putting up a web page — it’s about what you have to contribute. Therefore it’s easier to tap the networks that already exist — those of employees. Employees can be encouraged to write about their employer, their experiences at work, things the company is doing that may be interesting to others, and so on. Some ERP systems now offer functionality that allows an employee to directly post jobs to their Facebook page. But this requires flexibility and giving up control over what gets put on those Facebook pages along with the job postings. Many employers are accustomed to having all communication beyond the firewall restricted to the boring drivel put out by the PR department. The idea that employees can be writing, blogging, and putting out stories about their employer without review can give many an HR manager an acute case of dyspepsia.

I had one such experience where a company I worked with was so shaken by a blog posting I wrote that was critical of someone, that they created an entirely new corporate policy requiring all employees to have everything they wanted to put on a blog, a website, or any other medium approved or risk termination. Of course, not everyone is as paranoid or PC as this bunch — they would be uncomfortable about any writing that was critical of Bin Laden, on the outside chance he’s really a nice guy who’s been framed or badly misunderstood.

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Don’t Kill the Goose

Succeeding at tapping social networks as a source of talent requires participating or contributing to what makes them popular. Many recruiters have limited time to create their own networks or spend time blogging. But in either case what employees do will be far more effective and, more importantly, far more credible and therefore better received than any hype that marketing can spin about the paradise that exists inside the corporate walls. This isn’t exactly a new idea — some employers have long allowed candidates to talk to current employees without any monitoring of the conversation to get a true sense of what it’s like to work there.

Trying to control or restrict that is an exercise in futility, better described as tilting at windmills. Of course that never stopped employers and others from trying. Employers tried for years to restrict their employees’ use of the web out of the fear that they would just waste their time, before finally giving in, by which time mobile devices had made the restrictions irrelevant anyway. The same will be true of social networks — the desire to control the lives of others is deeply ingrained and anything having to do with the web seems to turbocharge it — just look at China and most of the Middle East. Of course, as all that try it have discovered — such actions result in equally forceful opposition.

By embracing social networks and encouraging employees to talk up their employers, warts and all, any employer can turn their workforce into a big referral program that will dwarf any effort the recruiting organization can manage on their own. The key is to recognize that social networks exists first and foremost for the benefit of their members — to provide them a sense of community and meet their social needs. To reiterate — the value provided by a social network is that it is social. An employer that can’t understand this simple concept should best stay away from trying to tap social media.

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.

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11 Comments on “Realizing the Power of Facebook

  1. This is one of the most insightful commentaries I have yet read regarding social networking. People who are attempting to turn social networking into a business platform have a long, tough road ahead of them and are probably going to destroy the true purpose of what social networking is about…

  2. The writer unfortunately destroys the credibility of an otherwise well-written essay by maintaining that business facebook pages and corporate websites have no part in the dynamics of social networking.

    He writes that “corporate pages on Facebook…prove ignorance of online social media”, but the reality as any 21-year-old can tell you is that with a facebook page a business instantly creates a hub for the conversation that employees, customers, and others participate in by posting photos, RSS feeds, comments and so on. That you can do all that for free and instantly and have a place that people can link to each other and propagate the network make it a no-brainer.

    He also writes that “corporate web pages” are “essentially static” and play no part in the social conversation. Nothing could be further from the truth! Witness the rise of the content management system as the platform for the website with the very purposes of creating a social network.

    Recruiters that fully integrate social media with their website and private talent pools will emerge as winners, and those that relegate it to anointed non-enterprise ‘social networks’ will lose.

    Gregg Dourgarian
    CEO, Tempworks Software
    blog: http://www.staffingtalk.com

  3. Gregg’s remarks, while interesting, miss the point of my article entirely.

    The corporate reaction to social media has been predictable – since it has something to do with web, let’s put up a website.

    If you visit the Facebook page of most employers, what you find is a community of believers – these people are, for the most part, already sold on that particular employer. As for the posts from the employer – it’s hard to distinguish those from the corporate website. You see the same press releases and other information. On many of these pages the discussions are virtually undistinguishable from the support forums related to their products.

    The point of using social networking for recruiting is to expand your sources beyond what are already accessible. You’re mistaking activity for community. What you have is the converted preaching to the converted. There may be some ripple effects but not much. The fact that someone is a fan of a particular company does not mean that their network of friends will automatically gravitate towards it or be favorably disposed to seek employment with that employer. I’m a fan of the Treo and participate forums about Palm’s technology but I don’t have any interest in working for Palm. Unless someone in my circle of friends makes the effort to evangelize working there I’m not likely to do so either.

    As for the content management systems – the amount of interest a content management system generates in an employer depends on the content being managed, not the system. Your faith in technology is remarkable.

    Incidentally, your remark about recruiters fully integrating social media with their website and private talent pools is rather simplistic. What exactly does “fully integrate” mean? Having a link to the website on the Facebook page and vice versa? How much time does a recruiter have to integrate social media into their recruiting efforts. As I mentioned in the article – you cannot show that X amount of time spent on Facebook generates Y number of hires. What is a recruiter supposed to share with their “friends” on facebook that will convince them to take a job with the their employer – assuming these friends are viable candidates in the first place?

    Online social media are just an extension of offline media, best taken advantage of by tapping other’s networks. In the pre-web days I used to frequent local technology forums. I didn’t have much success at recruiting anyone from there until I started asking the engineers that worked for us to start handing out my business cards to their friends. The fact that we have online networks now doesn’t change those fundamentals.

  4. Unless I were very young and/or naive, I would think that most information affiliated with a corporate website or corporate-sponsored user group regarding any but the most verifiable and or objective factual data is a mixture of relevant truth, irrelevant truth, wishful half-truth, and straight misinformation combined in unknown proportions. There is useful information there, but it’s hard to gather how much, An analogy would be fishing around in a vat of sewage, not knowing if there’s a penny or a diamond there….

    As far as non-anonymized employee-originated company information: I also believe there should be a “Miranda-type” warning:
    “Anything (interesting) you say, write, or show online can and will be used against you, now or anytime in the future, whenever you least expect it.”

    IMHO, it would be a better use of recruiters’ time and effort to operate under the belief that everyone you actually hire will need to be recruited.

    Cheers,

    Keith

    “What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies right to our faces.”-

    Despair.com

    “”

  5. Raghav
    I appreciate you taking the time to respond. You support your thesis that social networks are “best taken advantage of by tapping other networks” by lamenting the feeble attempts of employers to control it, but employers get smarter every day.

    Yesterday’s static webpage has become today’s dynamically changing content and de facto social network. Search engines index that content, and prospective candidates find it, forming a private talent pool. Those candidates have no use for recruiters who penetrate their social networks by doing the online equivalent of asking “the engineers that worked for [them to] hand out business cards to their friends.”

    Like Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain, employers delight in finding they already run a social network. Rather than interrupting people all day, they let the talent come to them.

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