Waiting for Godot: What to Do When Social Media Fails to Deliver on Its Promise

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 1.20.42 PMExpectations for what social media can deliver for recruiters have been a lot like the story of the play mentioned as the title for this post. The characters spend all their time getting excited about the arrival of Godot — a man or perhaps a deity. They can’t be sure if they’ve met Godot, if they’re waiting in the right place, if this is the right day, or even whether Godot is going to show up at all, but great things are supposed to happen when he does show up. Well, you can guess how this ends.

Gallup has just released a report titled “The Myth of Social Media,” based on a nationwide survey which shows that social media is not the powerful marketing force that many had hoped it would be. According to the Gallup report, 94 percent of those surveyed said that they use social media mainly to connect with friends and family and 62 percent said that marketing messages delivered on social networks have no influence on them. Company-sponsored Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have almost no persuasive power. The survey was about buying decisions driven by marketing, but the attitudes reflected readily transfer to recruiting messages on social media, which are also marketing.

The findings of this survey are not exactly groundbreaking. They merely confirm what has long been obvious to some and deliberately ignored by many. Social media is about being “social.” A marketing message, whether for soap or jobs, is anything but social.

“Social” means having a conversation — sharing and receiving. It’s a two-way street. The Gallup report underscores this – “Consumers are drawn to Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Tumblr, and similar sites because they want to take part in the conversation and make connections. Yet, many companies continue to treat social media as a one-way communication vehicle and are largely focused on how they can use these sites to push their marketing agendas.” This doesn’t work well. Even in industries that spend heavily on marketing such as retail, only 7 percent of people base their buying decisions on social media content.

It’s About Engagement

I had said this back in 2011 that success in recruiting via social media is all about engagement. And Gallup confirms this — “Customer engagement drives social engagement — the degree to which consumers will work for or against an organization within their social networks — not the other way around.” What engages people are one-on-one interactions, the type they have with friends and family, which also means they have some kind of an emotional connection. That is difficult, or near impossible to do, when trying to connect with large numbers of people through a typical social media site as corporate marketing departments like to do. The same is true for recruiters. You can only have a real connection with a very small number of people. This is why we use LinkedIn like a job board and pay a dollar to message strangers on Facebook.

Use Social Identity

So how does one engage with customers and/or candidates? Another report from consulting firm Altimeter Group, has some good suggestions. The report focuses on tapping “social identity” — the information about an individual available in social media, including profile data and ongoing social activity. Social identity helps create and maintain stronger relationships because instead of focusing on transactions, companies can focus on connecting with people at a deeper level. Social identity also recognizes that people’s interests and needs evolve and maintaining a relationship with them requires adapting to these changes. Of course, collecting and using that data is not easy, but then anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t quite grasped what it means to work with social media. A service like TalentBin can do much of the work needed to get started here.

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One company that has shown an excellent understanding of social media is BraveNewTalent. The company offers organizations a platform to build a community in the true sense. That is, the communities exist for people to join and interact with each other and share knowledge. Recruiting is de-emphasized, and the primary goal is to grow and maintain a tight-knit community. Organizations sponsor these communities, but members are not restricted to any single community. The platform enables individuals to discover one another, network, and collaborate around relevant professional topics across the entire network, which also reflects the reality of how people interact with social networks.

The result is a blend of curated content, social learning, and audience engagement that allows organizations to better communicate within their workforce and with external audiences. Recruiting is certainly possible, and having well-archived and searchable content gives sponsoring organizations useful metrics and great insights into the contributions of specific individuals. This takes time and requires a long-term view of the potential to make hires, but that’s how social networks work.

Social media is not the silver-bullet solution for recruiting that many had imagined it would be. One author (you know who you are) had written that sourcing would become irrelevant once social networks started to engage. The reality could never have lived up to the hype, yet like the characters in the play mentioned in the title to this post, many spent a lot of time getting excited about the arrival of something that was never going to happen. Now it’s time to acknowledge the reality and adapt social media recruiting strategies appropriately.

image from St. Cloud State

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.


1 Comment on “Waiting for Godot: What to Do When Social Media Fails to Deliver on Its Promise

  1. Raghav,

    Thanks for the positive reference.

    As an early adopter of social media and an ardent proponent of leveraging the science of community to reach, inform, educate and drive action among an audience, I would just add that people are way too quick toblame the technology. Anytime a new process or approach fails, it could be because the concept behind the process is flawed, the tools were flawed, or because the execution was flawed.

    While the research reports show that for most companies the results have been far less than expected, it doesn’t do a great job calling out
    that for some the results are nothing short of phenomenal. The primary difference between those that are successful and those that are not is exactly what you call out in this share,and understanding and respect for social engagement.

    In my former role as an adviser and in my current role as a customer strategist, I see the vast majority of recruiting organizations approaching social just as they approached display advertising in print media, i.e. generic, glossy, brand pieces that are broadcast to the masses offer
    little or no value to the audience.

    Those that are winning with social media understand a few things that make all the difference:

    1. Being truly social is about far more than being seen. Those winning leverage social throughout the engagement lifecycle. They use it drive awareness, to inform, to educate, to discuss, to call to action, and most importantly to support and nurture.

    2. Two major types of shares flow through social media, activity references and content. The first is mostly the realm of social, but a great candidate experience can produce an activity share. The latter is where the future of marketing and social sits…content. Content marketing is about sharing highly relevant, highly valuable content that informs, educates and nurtures a target audience along a desired path to conversion. TRUE CONTENT MARKETING REQUIRES PLANNING and EXECUTION, something sadly missing from most social recruiting efforts.

    3. The science of community. Communities form naturally and they have a highly structured order that is relatively easy to discern. Individuals are often members of multiple communities, the boundaries of which nest inside one another and overlap. Launching a successful social environment that is designed to engage and nurture an audience over a longer period of time requires planning a community that replicates natural order.

    To sum it all up, real social engagement doesn’t come from extending old, broken processes to new channels, it comes from hard work that
    respects the evolution of both society and technology.

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