Social Media: the Most Powerful Recruiting Tool Since the Telephone

A common question raised these days by senior HR leaders and business journalists pertains to the reality of social media empowered recruiting.  By asking if it is “real,” I presume they want to know if it is a fad or something that will dominate recruiting in five years. My answer is simple: using social media to support recruiting is not only not a fad, it is the most powerful tool added to the recruiter’s tool box since the invention of the telephone. Social media is a wildly complicated tool that requires much more strategy and skill to master than other tools, but presents organizations with unrivaled capabilities.

While what it enables is the primary driver of social media leverage quickly becoming a foundation activity, it doesn’t hurt that many of the possible uses come at no/low cost price points.  It also doesn’t hurt that the majority of the people using social media are not there actively searching for a job, thus improving your chances of finding truly top talent that is gainfully employed.  Make no mistake: using social media to support recruiting ranks second only to employee referrals in the hierarchy of powerful recruiting tools that should form the foundation of every corporate recruiting function.

Get off the Bandwagon and Focus on Results

There is currently a great deal of “get on the bandwagon” pressure to be active in social media. Recruiting functions are hurrying to get on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, just so they won’t be considered behind the times. However, it is not appropriate simply to declare a new approach as “real” or a fad, based on a gut feeling. You need an objective set of criteria to assess the relative power of any recruiting tool or approach.

Social media recruiting should be heavily funded and supported because it meets or exceeds so many of the key “power factors” that differentiate a dominant recruiting tool from an average one. These 10 key “power factors” include:

  1. Broad capability — social-media-empowered recruiting has the broadest array of capabilities of any existing recruiting tool, by a large margin. In addition to the obvious direct sourcing capability, social media has the capacity for multimedia messaging, brand communication, conducting market research and for building sustainable longer-term recruiting relationships. Social media sites allow you to go beyond the traditional resume and gather information that can be beneficial in accurate candidate assessment.
  2. A large audience of ideal prospects — any effective sourcing tool requires a global audience that includes a large number of qualified prospects, and social networks are both large and growing. In addition, the proper composition of the audience is also important. The majority of sourcing tools focus on the active job seeker, which generally makes up less than 25% of the people trained in any field. In contrast, the social media audience is quite broad and in fact is dominated by users who are currently employed and that are not actively looking for a new position. The ability to reach those that are “not actively looking” (in addition to actives) makes this a powerful recruiting tool.
  3. Leveraging employees — there is never enough “surplus time” for recruiters to do all of the sourcing and branding that needs to be done. As a result, an important power factor for rating any recruiting tool is the extent to which the recruiting workload can be shifted to others, especially employees. Advanced social media leaders use their recruiters primarily as coaches and educators, so that your firm’s employees can carry the bulk of the social media prospect identification and relationship building.
  4. Relationship building — most sourcing tools are really just “job posting tools,” and as a result, they do not support you building relationships. Social media provides numerous opportunities to build trust relationships based on common interests with individuals who simply wouldn’t respond to anything related to a new job opportunity.  Building a relationship over time almost guarantees that you will have a high offer acceptance rate.
  5. Authentic messages — unlike e-mail and phone calls, which can include a high percentage of spam, most social media messages are permission based. In general, the messages received are treated by the receiver as more authentic than for example, a corporate website blurb. By using your employee population as your recruiting army, most of your messaging and communications will be sent by employees who work in the job every day, and be messages that are very likely to be read and considered as credible.
  6. Mobile access — with the widespread use of smart phones, almost all social media applications offer access to prospects and candidates anywhere in the world, 24/7.
  7. Multimedia messaging — social media offers tremendous flexibility when it comes to communicating because messages can be sent using a channel favored by your target. The message can be presented in multiple ways, including the traditional written word, text, voice, video, or photos.
  8. Low cost — in most cases, social media allows for no-cost messaging, job posting, and relationship building. There are some fees for some features that you may decide to pay, but overall, it is an extremely low-cost platform.
  9. Prioritized applications — many sourcing tools fail to produce superior results because the last step is formally applying for a position using the firm’s corporate website. A long tedious application is fine for active candidates, but it is not user friendly enough for non-jobseekers who have recently been convinced to consider a new position. Fortunately, well-designed social media strategies automatically route employee-generated contacts from social networks through the more “candidate friendly” employee referral program.
  10. It produces quality hires — the last one of the power factors to be calculated but the most important assessment factor of any sourcing tool is whether it produces candidate slates with a high percentage of high-quality candidates, and eventually, high-performing hires. Unfortunately, many early adopters have failed to measure quality of hire, but because of the stretched out relationship-building and assessment process, the chance for a major error is severely reduced.

Doing It Right Isn’t Easy

As with most things, the easy approach doesn’t produce the best results.  While social-media-empowered recruiting is powerful, it is not the easiest thing to do right. Just like the initial use of Boolean search strings, you must first learn the rules if you are to avoid high error and frustration levels. The most important area of education for your employees and recruiters needs to center on the unwritten rules that govern online communities. Take some time to learn how to acquire friends, build relationships, and determine when it’s okay to explore employment opportunities.

A Definition of Strategic Social-media Enabled Recruiting

There is no universally accepted definition of what is and what is not social media recruiting. I personally like to think of social media enabled recruiting as:

  • A longer-term, data-based, network centric, direct sourcing, market research, and employer-brand-influencing process…
  • Governed by the unwritten rules of online communities…
  • That leverages the networks of employee’s to source and influence “not looking” prospects (passives) who rarely if ever will voluntarily convert through online applications…
  • By establishing visibility within segmented groups and developing relationships based on common interests (learning, professional, personal)…
  • That holds off on introducing employment opportunities until trust and dialogue are established and offers a prioritized and streamlined application process (often via the employee referral program) when the time is right.

As with all world-class recruiting approaches, social-media-enabled recruiting evaluates employee performance post hire and compares recent hire performance results to those of other sources.

Final Thoughts

If you have been wondering whether social media recruiting is a passing fad, you can let that motion pass. It is and will remain a powerful recruiting and employer-branding tool because of its wide audience and its many powerful features and capabilities. Unfortunately, the great potential of social media recruiting has yet to be reached because so many users are rushing to get on social networks without really understanding how they work, why they work, and when they are inappropriate — in other words, a strategy.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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