What Is a Talent Community in 2013?

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 6.56.07 AMIn 2013, it seems everyone is talking about talent communities. Some people call their job alert system a talent community; some people refer to their CRM as a talent community; some people call their LinkedIn company group a talent community; and some job boards refer to their resume database as a talent community. And, it seems, there is a vendor solution for each flavor of talent community. These diverse opinions create interesting discussions and debate until it is time to seriously consider whether to invest in a community of talent; then the confusion sets in and creates the question — what is a talent community?

For me, defining a talent community is easy. 

I turn to social media thought leader Jeremiah Owyang. He defines community: “An online community is an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest.” If we extend that thinking to communities of talent, it follows that a talent community is an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest or affinity. For me, the “test of community” is whether or not a member can have a conversation with another member of the community. In other words, does the community allow for conversation?

Like many things, talent communities are also defined by how they are used in practice. While my “working definition” of community has remained consistent, my experience building communities has allowed for the consideration of a broader definition of talent community in practice. And to be honest, the definition of talent community by the recruiting industry has evolved over time.

Back in the day (circa 2007) when the idea of talent communities was just that — an idea — a Microsoft team that I was member of began to experiment with building talent communities (I must blame thought leader Kevin Wheeler for causing me to think about communities of talent). Our “Microsoft sandbox” was impacted by community pioneers at Jobster, the Career Connection Network, and by Jobs2Web. Along with Doug Berg (Jobs2Web founder) a strong influence on our thinking was Richard Nacht (Career Connection Network founder). As a side note: Richard was ahead of his time; what we are discussing today in terms of community — gamification, community managers, niche- and profession-based groups, and talent assessment — were all part of his platform.

The community-building work at Microsoft was summarized by two of my former colleagues, John Phillips and Heather Tinguely. They presented an overview of Microsoft’s talent community work at ERE’s Social Recruiting Summit 2010. In a very transparent case study that covered more than 200 communities on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, they showcased the success and failures their talent communities. The Microsoft communities were built on platforms that allowed for conversations by its members. They identified three types of communities that their employees developed. They were:

  1. Corporate promotional communities
  2. Interest-based groups
  3. “Jobs” groups

Moving forward to 2013, I notice four different types of communities that have evolved over the past six years:

  • Talent network
  • Company-branded community
  • Profession-based community
  • Hybrid (branded & profession-based) community

The “talent network” emerged with the Jobs2Web (now SuccessFactors) recruitment marketing platform and has been adopted by the other leading recruitment platforms such as Smashfly and TMP’s TalentBrew. The talent network is based on a job alert trigger system where a member selects the type of jobs they would be interested in with a company and are advised via email when such a position becomes available. While the talent network solution does not map to my definition of community, the simplicity and the effectiveness of this approach keeps it in the talent community discussion. One of the interesting aspects of the talent network is that become more effective as they age; recent data from SuccessFactors shows that their customer’s talent networks have become the third best source of hire.

The second method is the popular approach of build a following and community around a career at a company with the fans of its brand. This branded talent community showcases the organization’s employment value proposition, as well as what it like to be a member of the team. This approach to community works well if you are the market leader or rising star in a particular business segment. The very nature of this type of community requires a constant supply of new members, as interest in a job with a certain company is intermittent at best.

There are several vendor solutions that have been developed around this branded approach to community. They seek to bring together in a network the current, past, and future employees of an organization. Examples of this company branded approach to community include Ascendify, which transforms a traditional career site into a social recruiting platform. Its CEO, Matt Hendrickson, has quickly made an impact with the talent community conversation. Facebook partner Work4Labs offers a turnkey solution to engaging prospective talent on Facebook with its one billion members. Talent Circles, under the leadership of Marylene Delbourg-Delphis, has created a multi-faceted candidate engagement platform that has some very interesting community-building aspects.

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The third type of community is formed around a profession and seeks to bring valuable information to its members that relates to their shared calling. These communities do not focus on jobs, but rather focus on a career in the member’s vocation. The most successful of the profession-based communities are narrowly focused on a specific niche or a specific area of interest. For example, rather than build a community around software development, build the community around java developers or Apache Hadoop developers. Success in building a niched profession-based community is providing value to its members. For example, a new job is only occasionally valuable to this membership — but helping this affinity stay on top of what is happening in their profession is always appreciated.

A version of this approach is a special interest community that is built around a common purpose or share affinity. For example, many organizations offer specific communities aimed at transitioning military to assist our heroes in their return to civilian life. Two of my favorites are Military Connect and We Still Serve at Microsoft.

There are some interesting vendor solutions in this area. Dice has created a special interest community on ClearanceJobs that focuses on people who have specialized clearances that are required to work in certain defense industry jobs. BraveNewTalent, bolstered by the addition of thought leader Master Burnett, is creating communities around content and conversations that would be valued by a variety of target audiences. Based on the concept that each affinity and profession will want to keep up to date on their respective area of interest; this platform shows a lot of promise in community building.

The forth type of community is a combination of profession and branded approaches. They show up as Xbox Jobs or Hardware Engineering at Google, or Software Engineering at Intuit, each showcasing an organization’s career opportunities while attempting to engage the visitors in a conversation a specific affinity. These communities usually focus on hard-to-fill types of professions that seem to be always in demand by the organization. Typically, they highlight a specialized profession or business and engage their target audiences on several social platforms simultaneously; for example, Facebook (Xbox Jobs), Twitter (Xbox Jobs), and LinkedIn (Xbox Jobs). Most of the previously mentioned vendor partners’ solutions can be adapted to this hybrid community.

What is next for talent communities? Will the recruiting industry settle on a definition of community? Will there be some clarity around talent community? All good questions, with answers best observed historically.

What is known is that early thinking about Web 3.0 is that we will move from transactions to engagement. In other words, we are moving from the macro to the micro approach. In the context of talent communities, that means that we are moving from mass approach to a more personalized approach. We are moving toward building online communities where talent is joined together by a common interest and affinity interact with each other around content, conversations, and communication that is valuable to the membership. Talent communities are not going away. We are just getting started.

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.


24 Comments on “What Is a Talent Community in 2013?

  1. Thank you, Marvin, for a thoughtful and thought provoking article.

    I’ve long questioned the use of the term “talent community” to describe what is essentially a database of resumes with communication taking place from recruiter-to-candidate, not candidate-to-recruiter, and not candidate-to-candidate. I understand that buzz is created around those who provide talent community services but buzz is far from reality. As a friend of mine from Texas says, many of these solutions are all hat and no cattle.

  2. Marvin…nice job. Th engineer in me has been educated – and via experience as well – to know that structure begets function. The process of building, managing, and stewarding a talent community is time-consuming – and there aren’t any shortcuts. As Rotherberg noted, the buzz is far from the the reality.

    I tweeted yesterday that merely saying you’re a Purple Squirrel hunter means absolutely nothing other than you’re long on marketing; it’s far better to say you actually know Purple Squirrels, can call them and they’ll actually speak with you. Even more, if you really have a talent community work crowing about, the Purple Squirrels seek YOU out.

    Right now, the phrase “Talent Community” carries as much weight as “Human Resources Business Partner”…

  3. You can call it what you want but it boils down to two words …sourcing and pipelining. Talent communities is about engagement which is not mentioned until the last paragraph of the post and listed under Web 3.0. if you aren’t engaging the communities you establish at the current time then you are already behind the curve. There are quite a few great tools out there that was not mentioned including Avature (www.avature.net)which is light years ahead of most companies mentioned above and have some of the major companies on their client list.

    Forget buzzwords -> source-recruit-engage-repeat cycle and you will be successful.

  4. Marvin, then by your definition, isn’t ERE a talent community? It’s a collection of content read by recruiters, written by recruiters, and we comment etc. On the side bar are some jobs we glance at, but we’re drawn to the content and people, right?

    Isn’t LinkedIn moving in this direction with Channels?


    Granted its early. But can I see the march toward the niche very quickly like you type about.

  5. Keith, do you mind commenting on your differences for the ERE community? Perhaps you should pen a quick blog for Todd?

  6. Steven; one of my favorite statements is “big hat, no cattle.” I find it describes a number of situations I find myself in. While I agree that databases are not communities, we do tend to expand definitions to be inclusive of similar things.

  7. Steve: it is nice to know other people look for purple squirrels. I must agree that building community is time consuming and may the chief reason that it has taken so long for folks to build communities of talent. Talent networks creation and management can be mostly automated; thus their popularity. As more data is shared around communities of talent where interested prospects do indeed reach out to you, then talent communities will move from the early adopter phase and “cross the chasm” into wider acceptance.

  8. Michael, thank you for your comment. Yes, there are other solutions that I did not mention (and I have heard from some of them). My article was not intended to be exhaustive but rather to discuss platforms that I am most familiar. Those platforms discussed are ones that fit into my story and experience in building communities of talent.

  9. Rob: thanks for your thoughtful question. Yes, ERE is a community and could function as a community of talent for someone looking for talent acquisition prospects. ERE’s has proved over time to be a trusted citizen of the recruiting community and its purpose for community is serving this segment with products and services. But perhaps the difference be a community of talent and ERE (or LinkedIn for that matter) is that their goal is not to bring together a segment of talent for the purpose of making the organization top of mind when a person is seeking a job change. But a very workable metaphor.

    In my opinion, LinkedIn Channels is still a Web 1.0 approach as opposed to Web 2.0 or Web 3.0. As I wrote on your great ERE post this morning– “If you look at some recent work of Richard Millington (author of Buzzing Communities): he suggests that gaining influence consists of be an expert, be likable and reciprocate. And the most important lesson of the social media revolution is to be social; being able to reciprocate might be the real test for LinkedIn channels. Right now, LinkedIn experts and authors are focusing on broadcasting content into the channels and not engaging their audiences in conversation (like we are doing on ERE).” Make sense?

  10. Keith, I am looking forward to our conversation. And as a follower of your writing over the years, I do appreciate that we have a difference of opinion. I think the different perspective will be great–that is how we learn. Like you, I spend time as a serial contract recruiter, so we may have some common areas of experience to compare. See you on Tuesday.

  11. @ Jeremy: There *might or might not be live webcasting and/or provision for tweeting/emailing questions from remote viewers.
    I can’t speak to that, though…

    @ Robert: Thanks. No spoilers here, but I have sent in a new article which mentions TCs and other topics in re: their use by recruiters.

    @ Marvin: Thank you.



    *If we don’t, that’s something to work toward, tech-oriented ERE Conference Organizers!

  12. Thanks for a thought-provoking article Marvin. One area that seems to be missed completely by employers with talent networks is listening. Most of the communication is one-way, and most of it is about jobs.

    An employer who treats a talent network as a one-way jobs communication should expect below-average to standard engagement levels. It’s a transactional approach to recruiting. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. The expectations should just be in line with the approach.

    Those employers who are able to listen and interact will open the door to improving processes, and enhancing their brand overall.

  13. Jason: Well stated. Most enterprise sized companies have moved to social listening to see how their brand is doing in the respective markets. That said, listening is under valued.

    I appreciate your comment about a talent network not being a bad thing. The numbers still amaze me with respect to a talent network; in spite of being one way, the ongoing job alert prompting seems destine to become the leading source of hire with organizations that have a recruitment marketing platform.

  14. @ Jason: “One area that seems to be missed completely by employers with talent networks is listening.”
    You are quite correct. In a high-un(der)employment job market, if a company isn’t an “Employer of Choice” (EOC), it doesn’t have to listen to anybody except perhaps “the Fabulous 5%” people and some other-in-demand-skills folks. If it is an EOC, the company doesn’t have to listen to anybody but the politically well-connected “Fab 5”, etc. It comes down to power: if you have power (and hiring companies do), you don’t really have to listen to anybody you don’t want to who doesn’t have power, and the vast majority of applicants (and employees) DON’T.

    No Cheers,

  15. Marvin you did a great job at capturing the evolution of this space and few in the world have been as close to it as you, so your insight is very beneficial.

    What few people realize is that Communities, like brands exist all around the organization whether you leverage them or not. Some communities are online, some are offline. Some are brand centric, some are support centric, but the vast majority are topical in nature. Communities of practice and communities of knowledge exist both inside and outside an organizations walls.

    Today conversations by talented professionals about an organization, its work, its people, its customers, etc. are happening. Historically those conversations have been incredibly fragmented, limiting their discovery/reach and minimizing their potential impact. Recruiters have long looked at such discussions as excellent sourcing channels.

    Next generation talent communities are not about building yet another database of talent to broadcast generic employment centric messaging to, they are about UNITING all of the fragmented populations and conversations that already exist around an organization in a way that produces more holistic visibility into the talent ecosystem.

    The workforce of today is different than the workforce of 20 years ago, and the workforce of tomorrow will be even more different than that of today. Twenty years ago the composition of your workforce was pretty simple to characterize, but today it is an ever evolving mix of employees, contractors, consultants, outsourced service providers, alternative labor types, and hard to classify stakeholders that execute work on your behalf. Our communications and admin systems were not designed to support that diversity. Communities have evolved in nature when the environment presented challenges far beyond the scope of any one individual to solve.

    Today’s modern organizations are complex communities with really crappy infrastructure. Talent communities are a new breed of infrastructure designed to support the real organization. They are not solely sourcing or recruiting solutions, communications or marketing solutions, training or workforce development solutions, collaboration or productivity enhancement solutions, but rather all of them in one.

    Today’s leading CRM platforms offer far greater functionality than their historical predecessors, but they do little to impact the talent experience, provide real-time insight into talent populations or more importantly LEVERAGE the natural community behavior that already envelopes an organization.

  16. @Master Thanks for the great post. I really appreciate the reminder that communities exist (and have existed) for centuries. It is recent years that we are attempting to colonize talent for talent acquisition strategies. Talent communities take advantage of natural affinities and build on them in order that organizations can be part of the talent career discussion.

    I really liked your description of uniting the fragmented conversation. Great job.

  17. Great write up Marvin, and excellent conversation from everyone.

    As a Talent Community Manager, I view my target segments of the overall talent pool as my communities, and CRM/social/etc. as engagement methods. For example, there’s an existing community of Mobile developers out there, and I manage my relationship/presence with that community via some/all of the channels Marvin describes.

    On a related note, my team is growing, so if you are looking, check out this video: http://www.linkedin.com/nhome/updates?topic=5738665674989924352

  18. @Jason Webster – I totally agree with you. In a true community, members speak and listen. I have not seen one true Talent Community out there. I’d call them Talent Networks, but not true communities. So many companies set up a CRM, upload people to it(or, if they are more advanced, also provide the option for candidates to join) and then spit out job postings (which may or may not be relevant) at their members. This is not a community.

    @Marvin – Overall, great article, though I have a slightly different definition of community. Thank you for sharing.

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