The Weiner Talent Community

Recruiting strategies around social media are evolving. We’re seeing more emphasis on talent communities and less on broadcasting jobs over social networks. But anyone who’s building a talent community would do well to learn from the recently departed Democratic congressman from New York.

The congressman created a large community — more than 82,000 followers on Twitter and about 34,000 on Facebook, mostly based on his antics on the House floor and his dyspeptic public pronouncements. This is a common approach to starting a talent community: set up the infrastructure (links on the careers section, easy registration) and generate buzz by whatever means possible — SEO, content broadcast as widely as possible, etc. The goal being to attract as many prospective candidates as possible. But as many have learned, when it comes to talent communities getting it up is easy, but then it gets hard.

This may be a good strategy for building a brand, but it’s no guarantee of hires. It gets your employment message in front of a lot of people, many of whom will be attracted to you (or at least give the impression that they are). But closing the deal — getting from an online relationship to a real one — can be dauting.

While attracting prospective candidates is easy, few become hires. Most talent communities produce a tiny fraction of an employer’s total hires.

Size Doesn’t Matter

The conventional wisdom behind talent communities is that bigger is better. But don’t confuse popularity with influence. Influence is what’s needed to convert members of a talent community into hires. And real engagement is only possible with prospects who are attracted to an employer for the right reasons — they have the skills needed and already have or can be encouraged to develop a passion for working there. These are necessary conditions for having a useful talent community. Lacking one or the other, you can have a community filled with lots of unqualified or marginally interested people — hardly the kind you want to hire.

The goal of any recruiting strategy should be to build a reliable, repeatable source of hires. Getting a lot of people in a talent community does not mean that most are either qualified or really suited for the openings you’re trying to fill. You may get lucky (unlike the Congressman) and get a few hires, but that success may not be easily duplicated.

The recruiting leader for a large consulting firm recently told me that two years after his company established talent communities, it had registered more than 200,000 members but fewer than 1% of its hires were coming from the community. Lacking the staff and resources to try and engage with the community meant that what they’d managed to produce was just a marketing database. Worse, the lack of engament has resulted in disillusionment and created very negative feelings toward the company, which they now have to overcome in future recruitment efforts. His advice: “build micro talent communities” and then only when you have the capability to engage with them.

The Shortest Distance Is Still a Straight Line

The challenge for most recruiters is having the time to engage with people in a community. Ideally, the number in a community should be a manageable amount of qualified and interested people. This means the community is designed to attract the right kinds of people, or prospective candidates are channeled into micro-communities based on criteria that group similar individuals together.

This is an easier way to build engagement, because it also gives members of the community the opportunity to interact with each other. That’s much more likely when they have a lot in common. One of the more successful examples of this is Sermo, a community of physicians grouped by speciality.

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Another solution to reduce the burden on recruiters is to use some form of social games. An example of this is TopCoder — a community where members compete for small prizes by solving problems. The point being that the community must offer something that keeps people coming back, without relying on recruiters to generate content.

That allows recruiters to focus on hiring without having to spend a lot of time on activities that, while essential, are not likely to show an immediate benefit.

Weiner on Talent

Representative Weiner long had something to offer to the talent acquisition community. He sponsored a bill to create a separate category of visas for fashion models. Regrettably it failed to pass.

We’d be wise to learn from his activities in social media. Many employers make this unnecessarily complicated. Focus on small communities of qualified, engaged people and converting them to hires won’t leave you feeling limp with the effort.

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.


10 Comments on “The Weiner Talent Community

  1. Raghav- Great article… What I have learned is LAZY people always lose… It is easy to build a list, but nurturing and follow up with that list (Community, Database, etc.) take work. The “action” associated with the list, community, database is the GOLD…

  2. Great article, I second Brian’s comment about lazy people losing, caring more, working harder, communicating better and more consistently goes a long way.

  3. Raghav – your article to coin a phrase from the dramatic Derby last night is a “home run!”

    Quite a few companies have built databases of contacts using SEO or key words that generate huge numbers of “members.” Others have taken their active job seeking applicants – some in the hundreds of thousands and dumped them into a “Community” and wonder why it doesn’t bear fruit. The best example are the FaceBook Pages or Linked In Groups with thousands of likes or connections made – yet group interaction is with the top 1-3% of group activists – keeping the numbers of potential hires extraordinarily low…(as Raghav points out it’s a good marketing tool – just not for employment).

    Most think like marketers that look to creating “brand impressions” in hopes that a percentage of them will “buy” or in our case “apply.” First, the difference between making a career choice v. the type of soap to shower with is obvious…but even bigger is that this type of decision, as Raghav so aptly puts it, needs to be influenced or at least guided through pertinent interaction and engagement. It is silly to think that you can engage with 10,000 let alone 500 people effectively. The example of micro-communities is a good one. For years at our firm we’ve called them “neighborhoods” where the size is limited to no more than 150 (the Dunbar Number limit of effective groups). If the interest is more than 150 people, we split the Community – not unlike sections of a grade school class – to limit the “neighborhood” size.

    In the Engagement Economy, if you are not providing interesting engaging content for Members to interact with and learn from – as in Raghav’s example – you may be doing more harm than good. As someone that has been building Talent Communities for the last decade, I can attest to their incredible effectiveness of building a strategic talent acquisition program, but I would recommend to anyone considering this approach to get some expert help before plunging in…No question to us that it is the future of employment – but like anything it needs to be carefully implemented to get the huge benefit a Talent Community can provide…

  4. I think everyone can agree that raw numbers/size of the talent community is only a part of the puzzle. Ongoing engagement is key to a successful talent community. We’ve been working with one of our clients to build a Talent Community for the last year. They currently have well over 1,000,000 candidates registered. But it isn’t just raw numbers. By segregating the community into demographic-based groups (by job type/category and location), the community members are getting relevant data that pertains to them, which keeps them reading (monthly newsletters, SMS messaging, twitter updates, etc).

    Furthermore, there are a number of contests and games rolled out every month to keep them engaged (with iPads and other prizes too).

    The other key piece of this puzzle is that joining the Talent Community has become the only gateway to be considered as a candidate; and this is a company that hires several thousand people per year. So, every job fair, website, mobile ap, brochure, etc. are all driving the candidates to register. And every hiring manager in the company knows to go to the Talent Community database as their first step when they have a new position to fill.

    The end result is that the Talent Community is in the top 10 sources of hires every month; this is out of over 350 different media outlets that the company is utilizing. This article makes it sound like success rates are really low for talent communities, but there are certainly some shining examples from which we can all learn.

    There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from this and other best practices that others are seeing. This article is only pointing out the fact that there *is* an iceberg, it doesn’t necessarily begin to map out the true size and scope of the iceberg itself. This is a topic that could go much, much deeper.

  5. @Raghav:
    Thank you for the interesting article. I caught at least some of your double entendres/puns….

    @Brian: Brian Kevin, Michael:
    I learned a long time ago that if your plan on making money requires that people be hard-working, altruistic, and intelligent- it’s doomed to failure. On the other hand, if you can make money assuming they’re lazy, greedy, and stupid- you might have a chance. After all, lazy people have created the vast majority of all the inventions and improvements in human history, so who can say?

    I’d be really interested in talking offline about how you create the successful Dunbar-compliant micro-communities (Technically they should be “deca-communities” [tens of people], but that’s my inner nerd speaking.)

    I’m glad for you and your firm that your client has so much money it can pay your company lots and lots of it to set up this mega-community, and presumably has the large numbers of staff dedicated to keep it going. It must be an “employer of choice” for so many people to be willing to go through online hoops and act like trained monkeys doing tricks for the chance to get jobs. As an applicant, I don’t want to “form a relationship” and “be part of a community”- I want to quickly and easily apply for real jobs that I have a reasonable chance of getting, and in the process be treated as if I matter to some degree. I also think there are many millions/tens of millions of people out there who feel the same way.



  6. Keith – you may want to review this a brief review of Dunbar effects and research…there is nothing compliant – we just try to keep the human social element to a positive vibe… if you have ever experienced a Tweet Chat on Twitter with a few hundred participants v. one with 30-50, you would see immediately the difference in what a group social dynamic can tolerate for effective interaction.

    It’s vitally important to match members to the appropriate Community – based on their motivation. People that want a job today go to one group where they can apply and have a chance to win an IPad as a career consolation prize, and folks serious about investing in career building will go to another where they can learn about challenges and career leveraging activity.

    Andrew – the Community you describe does not seem like what I refer to as a Talent Community – seems like an ATS with content sharing capability…(pretty sure some of the ATS firms also provide this functionality). An applicant database kept interested with a monthly newsletter and a chance to win a prize is a fine thing, but how different is it from the thousands of ATS systems in use today. Obviously the people that applied are interested in a job with the company or they wouldn’t apply in the first place…I think that if I got an email about a company that didn’t want me, didn’t really interact with me and told once a month about someone else that got the job or won an IPad – I personally wouldn’t be very thrilled with that experience…

    Talent Communities can be anything you want them to be, but to me they should be a place where you can interact with company employees, learn about the company “vibe” ot see if you would fit in, and have a chance to show what makes you tick – while having a good time with folks of like career interests.

  7. Raghav – terrific article. I believe that in our new world of social recruiting and talent community development, small is the new big. It’s far more important to matter a lot to your target audience than to matter little or nothing at all to the masses.

    Thanks for shining a light on it with your post.

    -Jon Bryant

  8. Raghav – I loved your post, great read! Not only the spot on content, but also the manner in which you weaved in the humor. Well done and thanks for sharing your views.

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