Why UK recruiters shouldn’t put all their eggs in the social media basket quite yet

I’m obviously a huge fan of what social media is doing in the world of recruitment. I genuinely am.  I’m truly excited by the way digital social platforms are shaking up recruitment & selection as a whole.


The reason for this post is to try and calm some of the sensationalism and general BS doing the rounds. Not that I want to be a downer to anyone’s high but I think some objectivity is required to bring some balance to those who appear to have been inhaling a few too many hits from the social recruiting bong.


When you talk to people about social recruiting they often think of the big three – LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook. Rightly so.  When you look at LinkedIn it’s by far the leading professional online platform (in terms of members) in the western world (when compared to Xing [German based]) and Viadeo [French based]).  As of August 2011, they were boasting in excess of a mightily impressive 120,000,000 members.  On the surface this is a huge number.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll highlight a very respectable 22% (26 million) of these it’s are based in Europe.  Dig further though and, in terms of the UK labour market, things start to become slightly more sobering.


If you’re focusing your recruitment within Britain you’ll currently find approximately 5% (6 million) of LinkedIn’s members based here.  Something else we need to consider when talking about social platforms is how many of the users are actually “active” i.e. are engaged, frequent users vs. those that are inactive – Set up an account and leave it dormant the majority of the time.  In a recruitment context think of it like this.  To the untrained ear it sounds very impressive to say your digital recruitment footprint consists of 10,000 new followers & fans on your Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter careers pages.  Your bosses would be more impressed if you told them it consisted of 10,000 new, relevant, regularly active, authentically engaged candidates acquired through your Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter careers pages.


Descending further into the rabbit’s hole and a bigger picture begins to emerge within the UK market:

According to the Office of National Statistics the labour supply in the UK described as “economically active” (population who are able to work whether currently in employment or not) was 31,759,000 as of June 2011. If you take LinkedIn’s UK members it means approximately only 19% of the UK’s labour supply are on the platform.


Please don’t get me wrong. I totally agree that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn et al are incredibly powerful recruitment tools.  They can be a great source of candidate supply for certain functions in particular sectors. Would I advise you put all your recruitment eggs in the social media basket just yet?  No. 81% of the UK labour market isn’t on LinkedIn. Of the 19% that are we also need to consider those that aren’t actively engaged and discoverable on it and the other platforms out there.  I appreciate this is only one statistic but if you look a whole employment population in a country it’s got to be quite an important one right? Or am i being overly simplistic? (answers and any other thoughts / opinions in the comments section below please).


This leads me to share my thoughts on some of the other noise being generated out there on the back of the exciting things happening in the social recruiting space.  The impending death of the CV? The imminent demise of job boards? The death knell already being sounded for recruitment agencies throughout the land?  Oh please.   All of these things may happen but not anytime soon.  Maybe in some niche sectors where an abnormally high percentage of candidate supply can be found on the social platforms, but definitely not industry /nationwide as some rather evangelical folks would have us believe.


In terms of social recruiting and it’s associated technology adoption I would propose we’re coming up to a quarter / halfway up the “Early Adopters” curve on Everett Rogers’s model (see below):

Everett Rogers’s Technology Adoption Lifecycle model

There are some folks playing in the fields of social recruiting who  need to realise we’re still very much in the minority. There’s a hell of a long way to go before social media becomes the silver bullet of recruitment some would want us to believe it already is.  I look forward to continuing being one of the “Innovators” / “Early Adopters”, and contributing to blazing the trail but let’s keep grounded folks.  Let’s ensure we’re taking people with us on this journey and not disengaging them by running off into the social recruiting woods without taking the blatantly obvious majority with us.


Hungry for more?  Check me out at www.trecknowledgy.com - a blog about training and coaching through recruitment complexities, and please feel free to subscribe.  Follow me and my random recruitment blabberings on Twitter also - @TRecKnowledgy

Views: 339

Comment by Sandra McCartt on September 7, 2011 at 2:19am
Excellent article Ben. It does seem that tin foil hats are very much in vogue in the UK this season. Everyone I know is becoming very bored with all the "end of days" predictions. It's my observation over several decades of the evolution of recruiting that there are two groups of people who fall off the edge of change. Those who jump out there promoting every new idea as the end all to be all must do or you will die and those who never move forward then simply die from lack of feeding.

The jury is still out as to whether Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are a silver bullet, just another option or the Bermuda Triangle of Recruiting. Although most recruiters do not use print much anymore I would point out to the wild eyed wizards of innovation that a fast review of their Sunday newspaper may be a shock to them that many companies still advertise jobs in the classifieds and they get applications and they fill jobs. It's amazing, people still read the newspaper even if they read it online.
Comment by Dyll Davies on September 7, 2011 at 10:50am
No one recruitment method will ever be a 'silver bullet'.  Where a recruiter searches and/or advertises depends very much on who they are seeking to contact and attract to the roles they have - obviously.  LinkedIn is a very, very powerful tool for seeking passive candidates in the area I work - senior level candidates for high tech start-ups.  Which is not suprising given that those who work in high-tech tend to use high-tech as early adopters.  It also seems to work much better for more senior candidates than junior ones.  It also enables me to work outside the UK not just in Europe/EMEA but also in the US so while your figures for the UK LinkedIn memebership are interesting I would suggest a recruiter who is confined to the UK and using LinkedIn is perhaps missing a trick!
Comment by David Johnston on September 7, 2011 at 12:00pm

Great article Ben and good to see people in your position bringing some good old fashioned common sense to recruitment marketing and resourcing. At the end of the day, social media may be the 'Silver Bullet' in some sectors, but as with all recruitment the secret is to know your target market and where potential candidates 'hang out', what publications (and I include offline) they read, what websites they visit and what they are interested in. Once you understand that, you can start to target them, but if only a fraction of those are active on LinkedIn, you could be missing a lot of people.


On the flip side a huge percentage of the working population are on Facebook (if Facebook's stats are to be believed, almost everyone in London is on Facebook :-) ). Using FB for recruitment takes a bit more creativity, but several companies are doing it well.

At the end of the the day, you make a valid and important point, social media is another channel for recruitment and whether its right at the moment will depend on the type of people you are targeting. 

Comment by Mary Hope on September 7, 2011 at 1:09pm

Interesting debate.

I find lots of career coach people - including me- plugging sites like Linked In 'it's not the only game in town but it is really important'

So why is that?

I work with senior people and it has a large following there. More importantly when i talk to head hunters i hear them talk about the fact that it is the only place they look outside their own database. So yes candidates need to be there if they want to be found by someone who is only using or primarily using that sourcing method.

However it is not the answer to everything and as David says it's patchy - huge HR community, few lawyers (by comparison) so it's not the whole answer.

My big concern about is that so many consultants are using it as places to blog and advertise that it is becoming boring..... (i'd never do that..... )How many thins that people post under the 'Group Discussion' heading is really a 'I'll write your cv and relieve you of lots of money' advert.. some not even disguised as discussions. Once that happens real people will turn off and take their attention elsewhere. We have seen the rise and fall of all sorts of sites Friend Reunited, My Space. The challenge for Linked In is to keep enough real knowledge sharing and debate so that people stay engaged and don't pull the plug.

So yes it's a way of finding people, it's a way of finding work.. but not the only!


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