What President Obama’s Reelection Can Teach About the Importance of Talent Communities

Just weeks after I wrote a piece for ERE.net about talent communities, something happened on the Internet that excited much of the tech blogs and was acknowledged by many traditional press outlets; President Barack Obama held a 30-minute “ask-me-anything” session on the self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet” reddit.com. There is an important take away here for professional recruiters.

First things first.

Closer to the election, a day before in fact, the President took some time to once again drop in on redditors to ask for their votes. Contender Mitt Romney’s reddit.com appearances? Exactly two less than Mr. Obama’s.

The President invested some of his campaign time into a site like reddit because of its demographics.  Google’s Double Click Ad Planner reports that reddit traffic is overwhelmingly dominated by people under the age of 35. In addition to reddit, Team Obama also spent a lot of effort on getting content broadcast on Tumblr, another social site that hosts far more under-thirty-somethings than overs. And while it is not possible to determine specifically whether or not Mr. Obama’s reddit.com investment paid off, election results sure do look like the strategy of going where the youth vote was more than likely paid off.

Not only did the President dominate the youth vote nationally (see the graphic below, click to enlarge), more importantly in critical swing states he actually improved upon his 2008 performance in the youth vote (also see the figure below), something he was unable to do nationally.

The evidence suggests that the President’s investment to meet the key youth demographic where they were digitally clearly paid off.

Now to what it means to you.

The changing dynamic of the candidate marketplace now places higher value on connectivity with individuals over the raw numbers game of simply sourcing resume-qualified persons. Recruiters must make it a priority to invest time engaging the talent community, paying attention to their interests, skills, and career aspirations.

The challenge for recruiters is that making investments in genuinely connecting with a talent community is a time-consuming task. Just consider the fact that the President, in his reelection bid, invested a good deal of time being present to the “redditors” of the world. He didn’t send a spokesperson, or a surrogate; the campaign implied that the President himself manned the keyboard to answer incoming questions. In other words he engaged directly with this key segment of the electorate.

So the first question for recruiting departments and recruitment process outsourcing firms is, just how much is invested in direct connectivity with members of the talent communities that are critical to ensuring successful workforce strategies?

Ultimately the answer is not necessarily a matter of time or money, but of quality. Recruiters would do well by assessing their ability to produce quality engagement with their key targeted candidates.

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Provide Value: One-on-one candidate interaction is ultimately the responsibility of front-line sourcing and recruiting. But these interactions are significantly aided by having prepared information that will be highly valued by the talent community at large. This information should help members with key skills advance their careers. It could be insight into how contracted rates compare against salary rates for a specific skill set. This is information that active as well as passive candidates seek. The point is to meet them at the career phase they are currently occupying.

Make Value Remarkable: Remarkable refers to the likelihood that someone will see so much value in a piece of content that they want to share it. President Obama did this by intimately understanding what the 18-24 demographic is used to seeing and how it would like to consume information. Then, Obama made key facets of his campaign message digestible in this sort of format. The President’s Tumblr feed, for instance, contains the familiar retro sort of graphics that are abundant across the Internet today. These images, like the one at the top of this article, were well produced and easily shared — they were remarkable. Recruiting and sourcing professionals must ask themselves how they translate the value of the information that has been prepared for the candidate marketplace into bite-size, digestible pieces that will be willingly and easily shared with other members of the talent community.

Executing something like this requires acknowledgement that creative matters. There is an investment in time and money to produce remarkable representations of the value the organization delivers to the community.

Ignore Conventional Wisdom: The 2012 election results underscored the reality that conventional electoral politics no longer applied. Recruiters must have the same moment of clarity. While the foundational tactics of sourcing and recruiting are unlikely to completely disappear anytime soon, the reality is that candidates have the upper hand today. This advantage comes from better and quicker access to information, broader personal and professional networks that will provide an opinion on a potential opportunity, and multiple social broadcast platforms that amplify both the good and the bad of employment with a company.

Therefore the job of sourcing is far more expansive than simply increasing candidate count via job postings. This reality must be acknowledged and dealt with in order to help the company make the right investments that will increase candidate engagement and help a company contribute to the betterment of the talent community at large. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to a shrinking addressable candidate market.

Presidential politics often magnify the way communication is changing, and the 2012 election was no exception. The process and tactical methods of sourcing and moving a candidate through the employment process may not be shifting as dramatically as communications, but these tactics are certainly built on the way a company chooses to communicate with their targeted candidate market. So for better or worse communication ultimately decides the success or failure of recruiting, and there must be a high priority effort underway to ensure that candidate communication is well targeted and provides value to the talent community.


10 Comments on “What President Obama’s Reelection Can Teach About the Importance of Talent Communities

  1. Michael, no politics intended here at all but simply examining something that seems to have worked for one campaign and how we as recruiting professionals can learn and apply in order to improve our ability to serve the candidate marketplace and our clients.

  2. I agree – I don’t see politics here, I see interesting case study. Very intelligent use of user audience demographics to achieve a key advantage in a competitive market. Definite lessons to be learned for recruitment marketing here.

    Good article Joel

  3. Thanks, Joel. I agree with your premise. At the same time, many/most of us recruiters are in situations in which we are over-worked, non-empowered, and under-budgeted: We don’t have time to consider the bigger picture, aren’t in a position to have our opinions heard (and they aren’t often solicited), and even if they were, there’s usually no money available to do anything new. This leads to the companies that would most benefit from your proposal would be least likely to implement it.

    Your comments….

    Keith keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  4. Keith – there is no doubt about it, properly engaging the candidate marketplace in this fashion requires a fair degree of effort. And as you rightly point out the effort must be supported from at the top. This does not mean, however, that a grass roots movement cannot begin from those on the recruiting front line. By operating with in the boundaries of whatever social media policy that is place a coordinated effort with front line sourcing and recruiting will almost immediately show results. Once there is enough data in place and examples of the value of the effort try to send it up the chain of command. Good luck and let me know if you have any success.

  5. This article spoke the truth about how social networking is a huge part of everyday life and it does have a strong influence and impact on you in whatever way you use it. Great article I really enjoyed this piece.

  6. Thanks again, Joel. “Support from the top”? What’s that?
    There’s a term for those who start “grass roots movements” in a corporate setting? It’s: “FIRED”.

    For the typical front-line recruiter or sourcer, will doing your proposal (or anything else)
    1) Increase our employment security/influence/power?
    2) Increase our paycheck?
    3) increase our interesting work or decrease our boring work?
    THESE are realistic criteria for investigating/supporting new techniques, technology, procedures, etc….

    Happy Friday,

    Keith “Let’s Be Realistic” Halperin

  7. Great Article Joel! At it’s core, I feel social recruiting is about making connections one at a time, giving more than you get and earning trust by being a part of the network. It isn’t easy to do, but once an individual earns that type of trust, their audience will be listening when approached with the right career opportunity.

  8. For companies that don’t have resources to spend on full time community managers, there are certainly manageable ways to engage with candidates at scale.

    1. Offer a way to “contact us”, but limit the message size to 300 characters to make it easier to respond quickly.

    2. And provide an FAQ section to reduce the amount of work answering questions over and over.

    3. Host a webinar with a cross section of your top employees, one profiled each month, where candidates can get a sense of a “day in the life”, and ask questions.

    Interesting read, Joel.

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