Using Social Networks to Communicate and Engage: The Future of Your Talent Acquisition Strategy

crl_mastheadThe growth, adoption, and momentum of social networking over the past 18 months brings another round of significant change for recruiting departments. The first question that needs to be answered is whether or not you believe social networking is all hype or if it will result in lasting change. Then you can answer the question, “If social networking is here to stay, is it right for our organization?”

Some look at the social networking trend and say that it’s all a bunch of hype. Some look at it and feel the need to, and will try to, be everywhere. Some will consciously decide to be nowhere — we have the phone and that works very well, thank you. Many are feeling overwhelmed by what’s happening, the pace of change, and the fears about transparency. In most cases you don’t need to be and shouldn’t be everywhere. And, you may decide to be nowhere, but make sure that’s a conscious decision and not just resistance to inevitable change.

As for fear of social networking, the pace of change and transparency, think of it this way — whether you engage your brand in the discussion or not, the conversation moves on — nothing stands still, except that eventually people may just not care about your brand at all, and, well, at that point you won’t need to recruit anyways. If you want to influence the conversation about your brand and if you want to engage people in your brand story, then social networking has a lot to offer. The complete article featured in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership October issue, will delve further into that, but here are my more brief thoughts for the time being.

Social Media and Social Networking: Strategy or Tactics

The underlying premise of this article is that social networking is not a passing fad and that it deserves significant positioning in your talent attraction and management strategy.

Let me begin my differentiating, for the purposes of this article, the difference between social media and social networking. The terms are often used interchangeably, but I see an important distinction, especially for recruiting. Social networking is the application of social media, which provides the tools to share content and information, engage in conversations, and build networks. The key difference is what you choose to do after sharing your information. Social networking is pursued with the underlying intention of dialogue, engagement, and interest. It also results in a more sustainable talent strategy that differentiates your brand and brings forward many other business benefits. If you are simply pushing jobs out to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, you are socializing job postings by using social media, but not necessarily engaging in social networking. If you’re engaging prospective talent in discussions and building active communities, you are pursuing a social networking strategy.

There’s also a significant difference between the two that influences how you design an effective strategy and how you define your desired outcome. Social media is in part strategic but mostly tactical and is really saying: “Hey, these are new channels through which we can reach people and we should broadcast our jobs.”

That may be fine, but it limits the value and doesn’t fully realize the potential or move you toward a sustainable solution. Also, and most importantly, when you use social media there is an expectation for networking! If you push a job out on Twitter and someone reaches out to you, they expect a response. When you don’t respond, the brand can be viewed unfavorably and over time this type of behavior will dilute the brand reputation and value.

This is similar to what job seekers expected with the introduction of corporate recruitment websites. They wanted a way to reach and connect with someone in a company they were interested in joining. Remember all the discussions about the “black hole of recruiting”? Well, in a social world, the expectations and consequences are higher. And, while today’s job market may be in favor of the employer, the cycle will turn again and the strategy that you develop and implement today will absolutely impact future talent attraction effectiveness — positively or negatively. If you want to develop a sustainable talent acquisition strategy and actively invest in the longevity of your brand, then it’s time to engage.

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They Really Are Interested in You — Really!

The evolution of technology, social tools, and ease of access are driving rapid advancements in communication. People like to play, create, share, and comment about your company and brand. The fear you may be feeling about letting people “in” to your brand, so to speak, can be looked at one of two ways. You can either be fearful of what they may do to your brand, which “they” will do anyways, or, you can celebrate that people are interested in your brand, products, and services. Listen to what they have to say. You may learn something. Engage them in your business challenges; they may solve them for you. Yes, they want to hang out with you — if, that is, you have something interesting to say! A UK student who found his job through Twitter shared this with me:

Personally, the companies that I’ve been most interested in have been the ones that are blogging and therefore appear to be knowledgeable industry leaders … also, some companies have begun posting jobs on blogs, which I think is better than on a recruitment website or in a newspaper, because the candidates applying have read the blog and are interested in the company.

Now, that’s something to think about. Does silence imply your company has nothing interesting to say? That you’re not knowledgeable about your industry? Pursuing a social strategy isn’t just a way to attract and engage talent. It can also be a way to expand the innovative capacity of your organization — perhaps something we should consider as the talent function evolves.

Clearly the impact of “social” is still emerging and the potential is just beginning to be understood — although it’s already profound. We are still at the edge of what the social media wave will bring. The potential for sweeping change is enormous. We will certainly see the future impacted and unfolding before our eyes.

Look for the complete article in the October edition of the ERE Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership. Visit me online at and follow me on Twitter @TalentSynch.

Susan Burns is the Chief Talent Strategist of Talent Synchronicity. She also serves as executive director for the Future of Talent Institute. Susan leverages corporate leadership experience in recruitment functions and general management to provide companies with adaptive talent acquisition strategies. Visit her online at or check out her ERE blog.


16 Comments on “Using Social Networks to Communicate and Engage: The Future of Your Talent Acquisition Strategy

  1. Susan…I liked the article so much…. I bookmarked it on Delicious, Digg, and Twitter…

    I am 200+ hire 3rd party search recruiter (Track record of ONLY using tools that work), and have had to “painfully” adopt Web 2.0/3.0, twitter, youtube, facebook, blogging, etc. into my recruiting process (These are tools NOT guaranteed results/you MUST know how to recruit/sell/close/retain), and it WORKS and I LOVE it, and if you miss this boat, your sadly going to go away…

    Great article Susan, what a blessing to start my day!


  2. Susan – Good stuff, but Brian alludes to an important point that is, in my opinion, an almost completely ignored part of these recruiting tools. You still need the SOCIAL part of what is laughingly mis-identified as “social” networking. Electronic communication is about as non-social a methodology as there is. There isn’t a scintilla of “social” in writing and reading all by yourself. Literacy skills notwithstanding, this is the embodiment of quantity versus quality. Add up your tweets lately?

    Now that that’s off my chest, finding the “best” candidate is a volume and distribution issue guided by industry-involved thinkers with good gut feelings, a reasonably efficient filtering and recording mechanism, and a penchant for action. Automated, mass electronic communication fits this model perfectly. But “social”, it ain’t.

  3. A great article, Susan. Thank you for pointing out that “when you use social media there is an expectation for networking.” Too many companies are settling on a social networking “strategy” that involves hiring a third-party to automatically push job postings out to sites like Twitter. Employing social media is not for every company. And it’s not going to work for every position, either. Companies need to wake up and stop trying to fool themselves into thinking that have gone “social” in their recruitment just because they have their jobs wrapped to Twitter.

    You can’t just stick your feet in the water. You either dive in or sit on the side. That’s not to say that you need to dedicate hours every day to these networking channels, but you certainly can’t get away with hiring someone else to do the work for you. You’re right on point with this being a brand reputation issue. I am sure we’ll see a big result of this in years to come if companies don’t figure it out quickly.

  4. Susan,your point is well made that social media/networking is here to stay. You are right that a company needs a strategy that will drive the tactics that will support the ultimate goal. What you are saying also is that if an organization chooses to not participate it will be detrimental to its survival. Knowing the target market in this case the candidate marketplace, segmenting that market, creating the right employment brand, and choosing the right channels for each segment is going to ensure the success of the social media strategy. Sustainability is also critical because as you mentioned, social networking is ongoing and requires a lot of time/effort. When the strategy is right and the methods match, the organization will reap long term rewards and a strong brand that reflects authentically the mission/goals of the organization.

  5. Susan,

    Thank you for your article. I work for a company called AutoSearch. AutoSearch ( is a web-based recruiting tool that searches numerous professional and social networking sites simultaneously for names of people to recruit. We’ve automated the search string process so that the amount of time spent finding the information you want on social media sites is cut drastically.

    At AutoSearch we have been aligning ourselves with progressive minded corporations looking to use social media in their recruitment practices.

    Our business demand clearly supports your thoughts regarding the future of social media in talent acquisition.


  6. Thank you all for your comments and interest in this article. I hope you’ll be as enthusiastic about the entire article coming out in the October Journal. I’m also working on the write-up for my session at the Social Recruiting Summit and hope your considering attending. The session will continue to build off of many of the thoughts in the article.

    Brian – congrats for diving in, having fun with it and getting results. Sounds like your enjoying navigating the social world.

    Dave – I wholeheartedly agree with you about the social component. For companies to execute on social networking effectively it needs to not only be operationalized into the recruiting process but building relationships needs to be part of the company’s talent philosophy. Many still see it as a transaction.

    Marguerite – Yes, it may not be appropriate for every company. Knowing your market and your competition, whether in your industry or not, is key. For some companies its less important than others but is it just a matter of time before its the norm. If we think back to the reaction / response to corporate career sites and the Internet in general, many of the same decision had to be made (early or late adopters) and hurdles had to be crossed. For many, its understanding the landscape, the risk and the ROI.

    Thanks Sarah – I’ll take a look at your company. Does the tool also facilitate communications or is it focused more on lead generation?

    Bob – thanks for the link. Love Seth Godin and look forward to reading his post.

    Cheers to great talent and new connections!

  7. Interesting thread on a hot topic. Last wk there were two articles of interest circulating on the twitter-sphere:

    Discriminatory Twist in Networking Sites Puts Recruiters in Peril

    and the counter-argument… Recruiting via Social Networks = Discriminatory Hiring Practices. Oh Really?

    Reminds me of the government agencies & employers wrestling with the definition of an applicant for EEO compliance in the earlier stages of internet recruiting.

    But cutting through all the hype: Social media is still media. Therefore all the same rules apply; use of any media whether you’re selling cars or posting employment opportunities is still about finding the appropriate media mix for your overall strategy.

  8. Susan,

    I completely agree that there is a misunderstanding of many people the difference between social media and social networking. If companies want to recruit via the tools – they have to do more than just push jobs to them!

    Look forward to the session at Social Recruiting conference!

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