The Social Media Bubble

Lately there have been a lot of keystrokes generated about the social media bubble, starting with a blog post on Harvard Business Review. A bubble suggests that something has greatly inflated value, e.g., the housing bubble, or the dot-com bubble. The original post claims that social media cheapens relationships, giving people the illusion of having many relationships when in reality they have few.

“During the subprime bubble, banks and brokers sold one another bad debt — debt that couldn’t be made good on. Today, ‘social’ media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.”

When disillusionment sets in on a large scale, this bubble will burst because “The promise of the Internet wasn’t merely to inflate relationships, without adding depth, resonance, and meaning. It was to fundamentally rewire people, communities, civil society, business, and the state — through thicker, stronger, more meaningful relationships.”

I don’t know where he got that idea — given how things have turned out it’s obvious that the promise of the Internet since the beginning was to make adult entertainment accessible in the workplace.

But reasonable people can differ.

The Promised Land

It’s not that the value of social media is overstated, it’s that the investment required for getting value out of social media that is understated. This is what’s relevant to recruiting: social media can be a powerful tool for finding candidates, but a) it is just a tool, one of many, not some silver bullet solution, and b) it takes substantial effort to get results.

As recruiters, we need to connect with people, and networks are a great way to do it. It makes little difference for recruiting programs that the quality of relationships spawned by social networks is low. Most people already know that, and they aren’t about to delete their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts because all those connections haven’t fundamentally changed their lives and they’ve become disillusioned. People like to connect with others — the average Facebook user has 130 friends — but they don’t do much with those friends (the average user on Facebook spends just over 12 minutes per day on the site). That may change in the future, but we’re talking about the here and now. The fact remains that it’s physically impossible to have meaningful relationships with more than a few people: 7 to 10 at best. You still only have 24 hours in a day, and no technology can change that. The vast majority of so-called friends on any social network are just a collection of casual acquaintances.

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This is where the bubble has developed: there is a lot of space between the hype and the reality of social networks. Despite all the activity on social networks, people are not as involved with social media as some would like to believe. Despite all the resources we have available to connect with others, where people spend most of their time is in front of a conventional TV. The amount of time spent watching TV exceeds that spent on the Internet by a factor of eight, and very little of that time goes to watching TV online.

The goal is to have a reliable, repeatable recruiting program that produces consistent results. Getting a hire or two on occasion doesn’t make something a reliable source for hires, since it’s impossible to know if an effort of X will produce Y hires. I read plenty of accounts of someone who got a few hires because they posted some jobs on a social network or someone read it on Twitter. That’s great, but for most recruiting managers, that’s not a solution they can rely on. This is the bubble; they’re being told things like “sourcing will become irrelevant once social networks start to engage,” but the reality isn’t quite that simple. It’s still a long ways to the Promised Land.

It Takes a Village

So what’s a recruiter to do? For starters, try getting employees to promote your jobs rather than using a company page to do it. Research shows that Facebook users are twice as likely to read items on profile pages than on company home pages. Users pay more attention to page updates in their News Feed Wall rather than ads. Building talent communities is another approach, but attracting the right candidates to a community is best done by soliciting the help others. Research also shows that people are much more likely to join a community if they have friends who are in the community who know each other. So again success requires involving multiple people to help source candidates. It’s all very doable, but it’s going to take effort.

Companies that have successful social media programs like Deluxe and Sodexho have made big investments in these efforts, and it has taken years for the programs to start paying off. Have no illusions that this is easy. Social media is about engagement, which takes time and effort. Another employer I know of started using social media because it originally thought it was free — but getting hires has required having five full-time recruiters dedicated to working with social networks. It doesn’t run ads, but no one calls it free anymore. If you haven’t got the time to do all that, then it’s best to just pay an SEO provider to raise the visibility of your jobs and run ads on Facebook. That’s an ad strategy, not a social media strategy, but you can claim that you’re using social media. Burst that bubble and you can get back to appreciating the promise of the Internet.

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.


15 Comments on “The Social Media Bubble

  1. Nice job of keeping it real, Raghav. As you point out, using social media is not silver bullet. It takes a strategy, investment of time and resources, and the right circumstances for the organization attempting this relatively new medium for recruiting.

    At Deluxe, we feel we have the right combination and a supportive business, so we are giving talent communities a try. We look forward to sharing our results as we start to engage in the strategy. Much more to come …..

    Steve Lewis
    Executive Director, Talent Acquisition
    Deluxe Corp.

  2. Raghav, thanks for the balanced look at how social media is evolving and the challanges we face to make it a productive resource.

    Citing data, such as the number of connections and time spent in social media activities are interesting commentary on the role these virtual communities play in our life. When Shally Steckerl found the upper limit of LinkedIn via connection mania, the superficial side of digital relationships was exposed.

    Fact is, recruiters are sourcing candidates from these pools and companies are making hiring decisions. Like Steve Lewis mentions in his comment on Raghav’s article, he is taking Deluxe into new space and hopes to share his results. He is waiting for his data to come in.

    Well it has been happening long enough to evaluate on-the-job performance of those social media hires. Those data are starting to tell the rest of the story.

    We did some social media – quality of hire analytics with one client and found some interesting results regarding yield and quality of hire scores by competency, by source. To learn more check out our summary here.

  3. Joseph, great to see that you are collecting data on Quality of Hire associated with the Social Media source of hire. It is very interesting results, showing poorer quality through this medium. A hypothesis that we are working with at Deluxe is that by building a robust and effective talent community, we should actually see beter quality in our hires from this source.

    Of course this is still just a hypothesis yet to be proven out. The theory is that if you execute the talent community strategy well – having a truly engaging community, providing relevant content and connections with the targeted segment for which a need is identified – you should see those individuals who have an affinity and interest in your company, projects, roles, culture, etc. that will lead to better talent fit and higher quality.

    Of course the key here is effective execution. As Deluxe moves forward with this strategy, we will be sure to track quality, conversion and cost. In the meantime, let’s keep up the discussion ……….

  4. Since Day-One I’ve questioned the moniker “social” media. I couldn’t figure out how something so obviously anti-social captured such a friendly and meaningful sounding moniker. But then, ‘casual intimacy’ and ‘free love’ were already taken.

  5. Good relevant article. SM is not a cure all and doesn’t cover up poor sales, marketing, ,and networking skills. Sure, Social Media is overhyped but isn’t every recruiting tool ever marketed to us? Most ATS systems don’t deliver but we work with them anyways. Recruiters have always had to maximize the value out of flawed tools.
    Check SM usage against the falling usage rates of traditional media. I do have to question those usage stats cited for SM usage as they seem to be those of the baby boomers and not the 25 -35 age group. They are online at a much higher rate. Hence, we must go where the people are. Really, does it matter where you find that great candidate as long as you find that great candidate:)

  6. Thanks, Raghav. I believe it’s been said implicitly, but I’d like to say it explicitly:
    SM is probably better at creating candidate pipelines and aiding with employee referrals than filling immediate needs.
    In addition, ISTM that if it WERE used to source for immediate fills, SM would best be relegated to $11.00/hr virtual sourcers.



  7. Great Discussion – wish it came during a week with more people around to chime in – as the world seems to be at the beach this week!

    Anyway, we have been building Talent Communities (TC) for over 8 years and of course that means we started years before Facebook and the Social Web was available (with hundreds of new hires made by our TC clients through the years). The key is not to look at how laborious Social Marketing can be, but to make use of these connections to develop a TC enabling you to learn more about your Community members and how their interests, motivations and capabilities fit in with a company culture and a specific opening. With the help of companies like Clean Journey – it’s much easier than you think (OK, shameless plug – but the shoe fits too well…).

    In addition, it is very important to remember – TC’s are NOT for making scores of friends – but for making scores of interested acquaintances that you want to cultivate into 15-20 good friends of which you may hire at some point to help grow your business. It’s also important to note that you really want to keep the number of people you attract to your TC at a focused and targeted number. Building a 1,000 member Linked In Group or Facebook Fan Page is really best suited for target marketing (job advertising) – not for TC management.

    I can assure anyone reading this that TC’s absolutely increase new hire quality over hires made through advertisements – it’s a slam dunk. Although as a vendor we were unable to track hiring quality metrics, more than 95% of hires made through one of our TC’s stayed more than 2 years with that employer.

    I had to chuckle when I read Raghav’s point about how difficult and time consuming it is to make use of Social Media for recruitment. I think sometimes we forget how easy we really have it today. In the old days, we had to call every single person on the phone inviting them to join a company targeted TC, and I assure you they weren’t waiting by the phone! The cost was in the neighborhood of $20,000. Now using the same TC development techniques (targeting passive and casual career minded folks) with Social Web resources, our paths to member recruitment is so much easier that we have been able to cut our costs by almost 80% (about $4K)!

    It’s terrific to see the stories of companies beginning to explore Talent Communities, but TC’s are not new and if you stay to the basics of TC development – Social Media will only make your job easier. Then again, if you can barely keep up with what’s on your plate and want to take advantage of the huge benefits a TC can provide – there are now very affordable third party options to explore (see shameless plug above :).

  8. Great comparison of television viewing to time on the Internet, putting the online habits of the overall population into perspective.

    Thanks for the reminder of the power of employee referral and its importance in the social media plan. Analytics affirm that employee participation in posting open positions on their pages yields referrals and strengthens engagement.

    In this article we are again reminded of strategy as a key word. Social media is best executed from a plan, it is one piece of the recruiting strategy.

  9. Very interesting conversation. I believe the diversity of perspective is healthy and is represents the options that are available to us when using social media recruiting. That said, I would like to offer my point of view:

    Raghav: You make some great points and I appreciate your insights. While I agree that our relationships on the respective social media platforms lead to many superficial relationships. But I am not certain that is a problem. My point of view stems from the fact that as a headhunter for 20+ years, my “network” was comprised of many superficial relationships. The value of my network was to know where people were when I needed to have a deeper relationship and potentially recruit them to my client company. At the very least, they part of an industry talent segment and could point me in the right direction. I believe that is what social media is doing for us; we are creating segmented groups, communities, and networks of talent that we can approach when we need them for a key role.

    Steve: I am a big fan of your innovation at Deluxe and appreciate you sharing your results. The work that your team has done in talent communities is quite remarkable and am anxious to learn more about your success.

    Joseph: It sounds like some interesting research is taking place. At first glance the research you cite seems to suggest that “social recruiting” results in poorer quality. Your research concludes:
    “For the mid-level managerial job, candidates sourced via social media performed above average on the pre-employment assessment, but had a below average conversation rate. This candidate pool for the mid-level job was obviously lacking along other criteria in spite of performing well on the pre-employment test. Taken together, these results suggest that social media isn’t generating the quality of candidates that this company is looking for.”

    I think the result in a “below average conversation rate” has nothing to do with the quality of the candidate, rather the degree of passivity that of the target audience. One to the appeals of using social media and talent communities is the ability to tap into the casual and passive job seekers. Since they are not demonstrating web behaviors that mirror an active job seeker, we need to find a way to get our opportunities in front of them. Social media can do that. To the extent the person is not really interested in another job, could be reflected in the prospects lack of commitment to being “converted.”

    Based on our work with talent communities and the hires we are making, this survey’s results and counterintuitive. We measure quality of hire based on job performance, not on pre-employment assessment. We have a high bar and the candidates from blogs, talent communities (Facebook, LinkedIn, & Twitter) and the Jobs2Web talent network are being hired. We have not seen any issues with the quality of hire (but a more exhaustive analysis is being constructed).

    As an early participant in social recruiting, I am excited to see research, benchmarking, and conversation (and even debate) around this topic. The conversation will make us all better at recruiting and that makes discussion worthwhile.

  10. Well Raghav, you did it again, you jumped in to a topic with penetrating questions and observations and it challenged the the community to respond with solid observations and data of their own. Thanks for opening this subject to some solid scrutiny; such as, Joe M. Thanks for the data and sharing the results of many hours of work, Steve your comments and Marvin your history with SM. I have found that SM and in particular, LinkedIn; provides an entree to meet/engage people I otherwise would have never connected with and….they introduce me to their warm market, their primary friends, associates and established relationships. It is still about: relationships, candidate qualification process including interviewing 2nd and 3rd tier references and prequalification matrices. The basics cannot be abandoned to the easy, breezy connections in SM. It still takes diligent, conscientious work on the part of a recruiter (inside or third party). There is still “sweat equity” in a good hire. Thanks again, Raghav for open this Pandora’s box. Looking forward to the next one.

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