Social Media: the Most Powerful Recruiting Tool Since the Telephone

A common question raised these days by senior HR leaders and business journalists pertains to the reality of social media empowered recruiting. By asking if it is “real,” I presume they want to know if it is a fad or something that will dominate recruiting in five years. My answer is simple: using social media to support recruiting is not only not a fad, it is the most powerful tool added to the recruiter’s tool box since the invention of the telephone. Social media is a wildly complicated tool that requires much more strategy and skill to master than other tools, but presents organizations with unrivaled capabilities.

While what it enables is the primary driver of social media leverage quickly becoming a foundation activity, it doesn’t hurt that many of the possible uses come at no/low cost price points. It also doesn’t hurt that the majority of the people using social media are not there actively searching for a job, thus improving your chances of finding truly top talent that is gainfully employed. Make no mistake: using social media to support recruiting ranks second only to employee referrals in the hierarchy of powerful recruiting tools that should form the foundation of every corporate recruiting function.

Get off the Bandwagon and Focus on Results

There is currently a great deal of “get on the bandwagon” pressure to be active in social media. Recruiting functions are hurrying to get on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, just so they won’t be considered behind the times. However, it is not appropriate simply to declare a new approach as “real” or a fad, based on a gut feeling. You need an objective set of criteria to assess the relative power of any recruiting tool or approach.

Social media recruiting should be heavily funded and supported because it meets or exceeds so many of the key “power factors” that differentiate a dominant recruiting tool from an average one. These 10 key “power factors” include:

  1. Broad capability — social-media-empowered recruiting has the broadest array of capabilities of any existing recruiting tool, by a large margin. In addition to the obvious direct sourcing capability, social media has the capacity for multimedia messaging, brand communication, conducting market research and for building sustainable longer-term recruiting relationships. Social media sites allow you to go beyond the traditional resume and gather information that can be beneficial in accurate candidate assessment.
  2. A large audience of ideal prospects — any effective sourcing tool requires a global audience that includes a large number of qualified prospects, and social networks are both large and growing. In addition, the proper composition of the audience is also important. The majority of sourcing tools focus on the active job seeker, which generally makes up less than 25% of the people trained in any field. In contrast, the social media audience is quite broad and in fact is dominated by users who are currently employed and that are not actively looking for a new position. The ability to reach those that are “not actively looking” (in addition to actives) makes this a powerful recruiting tool.
  3. Leveraging employees — there is never enough “surplus time” for recruiters to do all of the sourcing and branding that needs to be done. As a result, an important power factor for rating any recruiting tool is the extent to which the recruiting workload can be shifted to others, especially employees. Advanced social media leaders use their recruiters primarily as coaches and educators, so that your firm’s employees can carry the bulk of the social media prospect identification and relationship building.
  4. Relationship building — most sourcing tools are really just “job posting tools,” and as a result, they do not support you building relationships. Social media provides numerous opportunities to build trust relationships based on common interests with individuals who simply wouldn’t respond to anything related to a new job opportunity. Building a relationship over time almost guarantees that you will have a high offer acceptance rate.
  5. Authentic messages — unlike e-mail and phone calls, which can include a high percentage of spam, most social media messages are permission based. In general, the messages received are treated by the receiver as more authentic than for example, a corporate website blurb. By using your employee population as your recruiting army, most of your messaging and communications will be sent by employees who work in the job every day, and be messages that are very likely to be read and considered as credible.
  6. Mobile access — with the widespread use of smart phones, almost all social media applications offer access to prospects and candidates anywhere in the world, 24/7.
  7. Multimedia messaging — social media offers tremendous flexibility when it comes to communicating because messages can be sent using a channel favored by your target. The message can be presented in multiple ways, including the traditional written word, text, voice, video, or photos.
  8. Low cost — in most cases, social media allows for no-cost messaging, job posting, and relationship building. There are some fees for some features that you may decide to pay, but overall, it is an extremely low-cost platform.
  9. Prioritized applications — many sourcing tools fail to produce superior results because the last step is formally applying for a position using the firm’s corporate website. A long tedious application is fine for active candidates, but it is not user friendly enough for non-jobseekers who have recently been convinced to consider a new position. Fortunately, well-designed social media strategies automatically route employee-generated contacts from social networks through the more “candidate friendly” employee referral program.
  10. It produces quality hires — the last one of the power factors to be calculated but the most important assessment factor of any sourcing tool is whether it produces candidate slates with a high percentage of high-quality candidates, and eventually, high-performing hires. Unfortunately, many early adopters have failed to measure quality of hire, but because of the stretched out relationship-building and assessment process, the chance for a major error is severely reduced.

Doing It Right Isn’t Easy

As with most things, the easy approach doesn’t produce the best results. While social-media-empowered recruiting is powerful, it is not the easiest thing to do right. Just like the initial use of Boolean search strings, you must first learn the rules if you are to avoid high error and frustration levels. The most important area of education for your employees and recruiters needs to center on the unwritten rules that govern online communities. Take some time to learn how to acquire friends, build relationships, and determine when it’s okay to explore employment opportunities.

A Definition of Strategic Social-media Enabled Recruiting

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There is no universally accepted definition of what is and what is not social media recruiting. I personally like to think of social media enabled recruiting as:

  • A longer-term, data-based, network centric, direct sourcing, market research, and employer-brand-influencing process…
  • Governed by the unwritten rules of online communities…
  • That leverages the networks of employee’s to source and influence “not looking” prospects (passives) who rarely if ever will voluntarily convert through online applications…
  • By establishing visibility within segmented groups and developing relationships based on common interests (learning, professional, personal)…
  • That holds off on introducing employment opportunities until trust and dialogue are established and offers a prioritized and streamlined application process (often via the employee referral program) when the time is right.

As with all world-class recruiting approaches, social-media-enabled recruiting evaluates employee performance post hire and compares recent hire performance results to those of other sources.

Final Thoughts

If you have been wondering whether social media recruiting is a passing fad, you can let that motion pass. It is and will remain a powerful recruiting and employer-branding tool because of its wide audience and its many powerful features and capabilities. Unfortunately, the great potential of social media recruiting has yet to be reached because so many users are rushing to get on social networks without really understanding how they work, why they work, and when they are inappropriate — in other words, a strategy.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



18 Comments on “Social Media: the Most Powerful Recruiting Tool Since the Telephone

  1. The title of this post says it all, well maybe….

    Sure, SM has generated more buzz than the telephone, but at the end of the day, recruiting is still a sales/relationship game.
    With or without SM, it takes top recruiting talent to recruit top talent and top talent attracts more talent to an employer brand. Simply using SM tools to recruit is unsustainable without an existing demand for that employer brand. To create a demand for an employer brand, starts with actually recruiting top talent using traditional means.

    To be effective, a SM recruiting strategy should be designed around your recruitment success of being able to attract top talent to your employer brand.

  2. Dr Sullivan- Thanks again for a great article..

    “Low cost” is the key from my firm’s perspective..

    Having a strategy is also key… Just imagine purchasing a license to Zoominfo, and trusting your TOP hires start coming in (with all that information, parsed and pretty).. NO it does not work like that..

    I agree with Ken F. If you have no skills to “apply the knowledge or information/Social Media” the tools are useless…

    This is why to be totally honest, I keep making 30k TPR fees, because I invest my time in Sales/Relationship building activities, vs. “think thanks” “subject matter expert” events, and “Pie in the sky” thinking…

    Prove you care, earn the respect of your audience, and your world will change….

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  3. I would agree in the most part with this, Social Media can be an excellent tool for recruiters.

    But like 95% of similar articles on the subject it tells us everything about WHY recruiters should use it but nothing clear cut about HOW they should use it. Until more of that information is out in the public domain people are going to continue to question its use and scratch their head at the jargon.

  4. Here’s my take on how to use it.

    Put your best stuff out there for the advancement of others. If you do that some of it will ping back to you in the form of business.

    Trying to figger out mailing lists and influencers and all that stuff is just a waste of time. Build it slow – build it steady but the chief point is to keep building and showing up when others have fallen away (and most will fall away).

    Remember, Disney repackages all its old movies every five years for a whole new batch of kids. You can too.

  5. Let’s not paint with too broad a brush. LinkedIn is different from FB in terms of sourcing, presenting the brand, and reaching the passive candidate.

    Great source and to initiate a mutually beneficial conversation. But you still need to pick up the phone and talk and actively listen. Finally please understand the difference between a transactionual call and a mutually beneficial ongoing conversation.

    Things are clearly on the up swing. As a contract recruiter my phone is FINALLY ringing regularly. And just in time as my current assignment is winding down.

    Best of Luck to all. Make hay while the sun shines.


  6. I am an engineer, our firm has some openings, so I spread the word around on my social media, and I got some people who are interested. My firm finds good people, but I do not get a finders fee. (I dont care, just doing this to help some people). I think twitter/ etc. are terrific.

  7. Thank you again, Dr. Sullivan. If I understand you correctly, you may be conflating sourcing with recruiting.
    In both cases, SM can be a very useful tool. However, sourcing is increasingly a low-cost activity- most sourcing can be done very effectively using these and other tools for $11/hr or less (as my sourcer does). For the few folks that can’t be found for $11/hr, perhaps a SM Guru (of the same high caliber as Maureen in phone-sourcing, or as Shally, Glenn, and Irina in web-sourcing) will (or has already) come forth.

    SM can be an effective tool for developing relationships and closing: two high-value areas which are well worth the $30k fees that skilled professionals like Brian Kevin earn.

    It also seems to be a very effective way for hype-meisters to continue to lighten the corporate wallets of anxious recruiting folks at still-solvent companies looking for the “panacea du jour”.


    Keith “All Out of Recruiting Panaceas Today” Halperin

  8. We are avid users of LinkedIn and have been since its early days. Perhaps somewhat preciously we have never seen it as a social media tool but as a business networking site. It is only one sourcing channel and not the most productive for us, but has been great for specialist professionals like Six Sigma BB’s, SAP Consultants, Java Developers and Architects and a couple of similar roles. About the only downsides for us in recent times are that as more people have come within the sphere of our organisation it has taken more effort to find just the one we are looking for. Secondly we are starting to see a little push back from people who have been continuously sent inmails from recruiters. Several recruiters here in NZ swear by Facebook and Twitter – so far we have not used either for sourcing however my consultants do check profiles of candidates on Facebook and have sometimes been quite appalled with what candidates are showing the world. Finally, we are very aware that as the world’s talent goes online it is accessible globally and I would suggest that $11 per hour is probably at the top end of what sourcers are being paid within sourcing factories in some countries. The point of this is that if as recruiters if we don’t have strong relationships with our clients, we have very little that is defensible, and most good recruiters understand this intrinsically. I would suggest therefor that the telephone, if it has lost any cachet at all, has lost it to Skype and email, rather than social media.

  9. Social media recruiting is like fodder to recruiting which increases the efficiency of the recruitment campaign at a very low cost. Add it with an ATS or an applicant tracking system like which takes complete details of the candidate records in a hierarchal database , and you have the perfect recruitment activity going on with ease.

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