I'm willing to believe that social recruiting works, but the compelling evidence just isn't out there

I’ve had a few run ins, albeit friendly exchanges of banter, of late with a few pro social recruiting types. Obviously it’s difficult to explain ones self fully in 140 characters or less so I thought I would take a bit longer to explain my stance.


I make no bones about it – I like social media. I said as much over 2 years ago in a blog that picked up on Ricky Gervais’s flounce (he’s since come back as we all know). Indeed I have gained business I would never have otherwise got from social media. However, to me it’s all about horses for courses and people’s motivation.


Here’s what I mean.


Prior to the online phenomenon that started with a trickle of IT jobs being put online and over time grew into what we have today, the press was the tried and trusted route to finding a particular type of person. Sometimes it was via the trade magazines (and indeed latterly the online equivalent), sometimes the national and sometimes the regional or local newspaper (I can only speak for the UK but I know from experience that the structure of the US press was/is somewhat different, not least because of the comparative size of the country). Sometimes even a combo of all three depending on the extent of the campaign and number of hires required. Radio and open days were often part of the deal – basically whatever it took to make enough noise based on the size of the project/numbers involved.


In each instance however (I used to be a recruitment media buyer as part of my day job) we would carefully examine all the criteria and available options, specifically looking for the reach each medium had in terms of our target audience, both geographically and by skill set. Sometimes we would target particular towns/regions where we knew a certain industry to be prevalent – aerospace is one that springs to mind. The jobs on offer may have been hundreds of miles away but the best people were worth pursuing and persuading, even if they didn’t yet know their next move was soon to be upon them. Ah, the good old-fashioned passive job seeker people now refer to with an air of doubt. Trust me, they really did exist and they were exactly the sort of people we would seek to track down.


What applied back then equally applies now, and it’s this – quantity doesn’t mean quality. Putting an advertisement in a national newspaper because it had a circulation of 3 million simply didn’t work. It was all to do with demographics. Each national newspaper had its own niche but, try as they might, for certain roles they could never persuade advertisers with any regularity to give them a try, because they simply didn’t have the right readership. The same could be said of mass circulation magazines like Cosmopolitan.  Big numbers but not the right audience. People simply didn’t buy that magazine on the off chance there might be a recruitment advertisement targeted at them in it. They tried to launch recruitment sections but they simply never took off.


So my point? Well, several really. 1) When people try and wow me with the fact that Facebook has 800 million, soon to be a billion members I remain suitably unimpressed. Indeed my first thought is, what sort of demographics are we looking at. Second, what about the geographical spread, third, let’s say I am looking for an accountant in Birmingham. Does Facebook know how many accountants in Birmingham they actually reach? I doubt it. Why? Because one in four of all Facebook members actually fail to complete a profile that tells the world what they do for a living. You are therefore straight away unsure who 75% of the population of any given area actually are, other than by their age. Compare that with an accountancy institute and straight away you can be sure how many qualified accountants there are in a specific area should you want to send out an e-shot looking for specific qualifications and experience.


That’s just one example. The point is, and I’ll say it again – quantity does not mean quality. How do we know the best person for your job is on Facebook or Twitter? There’s a good chance if they are a highly skilled and much sought after professional they won’t be. Or even if they are, maybe it;s somewhere they got to chat with family and friends and get away from the rat race they're caught up in. i.e. what's their motivation for being on Facebook? I’ll concede at this point that if a household name employer – a Virgin or a BBC or an Apple – is looking for staff then social recruiting can work, but historically those sort of organisations people aspire to work for can advertise anywhere, even on the back of a cigarette packet or in a shop window and they will get huge response. We used to get them quite literally queuing round the block when we ran campaigns for British Airways cabin crew. But what about the Joe Soap average companies, the ones that people don’t yearn to be a part of?


What gets me is how a comparatively few success stories, most notably from large organisations like the aforementioned ‘names’ or The Army or big security outfits can be testimony to, or a reason for all and sundry jumping on the social recruiting bandwagon in search of the holy grail! “Job boards are dying” you’ll hear self-interested social media gurus with a motive cry. No they’re not. They need to evolve in some cases for sure, but if an employer wants to straight away target a particular industry sector, plenty of niche boards are out there – and they can give you hard facts and figures. The sort of facts and figures that media buyers crave. They don’t want the phone call that says  “ere geezer, we’ll shove your job on 100 job boards for less than a ton”. The administrative nightmare alone would not be worth the apparent saving (which would actually turn out to be very costly in admin and failure to get back to every applicant).


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re making recruitment more complicated than it needs to be. And, importantly, we’re misleading people into thinking that because the likes of Facebook has 800m members that there’s the answer ion one cosy social network. No! Only 25% of FB members tell you what they actually do for a living. Not only that, the motivation for many being on there is not to be hassled with unsolicited intrusions, it’s to talk to friends and family.


Answer me this (because I really am willing to be convinced) - if Facebook is such a good medium for recruitment why oh why can’t I simply go somewhere online and find lots of readily available hard facts and figures that will stack up when compared to a niche job board or a trade magazine, online national newspaper careers portal or industry database?

The simple argument that Virgin and The Army have used social media for recruiting tells us nothing we didn’t already know. Put simply,  The day that the facts and figures and comparisons that give a compelling argument for social recruiting are freely available online is the day I might just see it as something more than a 'may as well chuck it on the schedule add-on' for all but the few organisations that are, like British Airways, lucky enough to to have people queueing round the block no matter where or whatever they advertise for.

Views: 1001

Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 15, 2012 at 5:45pm


Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on February 15, 2012 at 6:14pm


As my 12 year old granddaughter and all her friends have facebook pages - and I imagine many other very young kids do - I doubt there are that many viable candidates or clients on facebook.

Plus, a good friend/past candidate/now client and I discussed "friending" on facebook and he said he wouldn't want me to see what he has on his facebook if our only contact was that of candidate or client.  I agree!

I do not have a facebook page.  I don't want one.

Comment by mark rice on February 15, 2012 at 6:23pm

And now there's blog post...

Well, before we carry on a discussion about the evidence about social recruiting working - although you know that we have a pretty good idea (and evidence, case studies, etc) on that score (and not just for the 'big' household name you'll try and come back about), I have a question.

You talk about intrusion, and mainly all about Facebook, but how do you think 'social recruiting' actually works?

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on February 15, 2012 at 7:08pm

I think recruiting IS social - period. If you are not capable of engaging and influencing candidates and hiring authorities you are not a recruiter. We all use different methods (facebook, telephones, sky writing) to get our message out there, but at the end if you're not engaging and influencing you're just making noise.

Comment by Raphael Fang on February 15, 2012 at 8:02pm

Since I am an agency recruiter, I am not sure how well social media will help us.  However, I can see corporate recruiters using facebook or twitter to build up their brands and attract potential employees.


Comment by Alasdair Murray on February 16, 2012 at 3:27am

Mark I have a very good idea of how social recruiting should and can work and I am fully aware of your successes, notably with ITV for Scriptwriters and for Zizzi, however, in terms of universal statistics regarding demographics and reach, Facebook et al come up woefully short. No recruitment media buyer in the world could confidently put Facebook on any schedule other than as a freebie add on for every client of theirs and the only readily available evidence is in the form of a few anecdotes of success. Once you have successfully used it for a less well known company and Facebook have a sizeable amount of data that supports their case, then I, and I should imagine many others, will believe in it more. As it is, to me it's like saying the Radio Times was the obvious place to put a recruitment ad back in the old days as it had the biggest circulation (as much as 8 million I seem to recall at one time) and yet nothing could be further from the truth. It was never a recruitment vehicle at all, which again goes to show that numbers don't always add up top quality or relevance. I'm pleased you have had success for some of your clients and I know you'll dine out well on it, but until it becomes more universally accepted, rather than questioned, that Facebook is better than say an online trade magazine or national press site or a niche job board or industry database e-shot, I shall remain sceptical of its powers of attraction for anything other than name organisations or aspirational roles such as television scriptwriter. And, even if it does attract for other areas, I would still wonder if I had actually reached the best people, given that only 1 in 4 on Facebook actually complete a profile that tells you that hey do. There may be 800 million facebook members but what interests me is how many of those accounts are a) real, b) dormant c) totally irrelevant - the 12 year old girls someone mentioned earlier - to my recruiting needs (were I to have any). In short, FriendsUnited had big numbers and recruitment never took off there. So did Myspace. So too, I am sure, does the largest dating site in the world, but to me it's about relevance and motivation. I want an apple I go to the greengrocers. If, however, the greengrocer keeps sending apples to my door when I don't want them I get a bit pissed off. Similarly, if I go intot the butchers and he tries to sell me a car I think 'why is the butcher selling cars? I'm not out her looking for a car and if I want one I know where to go to get one". Bad analogies maybe, but that's a bit like how it's going online - sites forcing data and advertisements down your throat. Recruitment is an emotive area. Moving jobs is third in the decision stakes maybe only to buying a house or getting married. At least it was. Now it's becoming a bit like a bloke on an online street corner opening his raincoat whilst whispering "Psssst, want any jobs?"

Comment by Alasdair Murray on February 16, 2012 at 3:48am

PS - I will say at this juncture that it kind of saddens yet at the same time amuses me that whenever anyone dares to open up a debate that is anything but pro social recruiting straight away there is a feeling of outrage that emanates from the few that have actually had any success doing it. It's surely a can of worms that needs opening on a regular basis and discussing like adults - i.e. rationally, with questions like "If we don't know what 75% if Facebook members do for a living how can we be sure they are relevant other than by their age and where they live?". You an hardly formulate accurate data when such a high percentage won't even tell you what profession they are in. That's why I believe Faceboojk to be very hit and miss as a recruiting vehicle. But, as I said, I am happy  to be proved wrong. We just need the market to be flooded with success stories rather than as it is currently - lightly peppered with them.

Comment by Brian K. Johnston on February 16, 2012 at 9:49am

Good article... If you want a free copy of my book, that proves it works, send me an email..  brian AT johnstonsearch DOT com ....  What I have learned, is people don't know "how" to recruit in social media.. (totally different skills set)  Best to ALL...

Comment by Elise Reynolds on February 16, 2012 at 10:28am

Most people would rather not be recruited on Facebook and a few people are actually offended by it.  That does not stop me from trying to use it.  If possible I will use Facebook for a name generator and then try and call that person at the office.  That person never needs to know that I first discovered them on Facebook.  I have messaged people I thought might make good candidates on Facebook and I got no real responses. 

Facebook is limiting because people rarely spell out their role and employer.  I do use Linkedin quite a bit.  I really don't get Twitter, at least not for the kinds of jobs I recruit .

Comment by Samantha Lacey on February 16, 2012 at 10:56am

Facebook is useful from a corporate, in house recruiter point of view as a brand builder. Next Retail in the UK and L'Oreal are good examples of careers pages on FB. FB can also be used for very targeted advertising, if you want your job ad to appear to graduates you can target it so it only appears on the pages of those who have identified themselves as students graduating in 2012 or whatever year is relevant. You have to keep the ad simple of course, but a few words that then directs people to the careers site is easy enough. Facebook is not the best for active targeting of candidates as so few are happy to be approached on there, but people are increasingly using Facebook as the "central hub" of their online world., we can read the news, engage with brands and do any number of things through it, it's only a matter of time (in my humble opinion) before we are able to properly job search and seek candidates through it. I think I read last week that it is the most visited webpage in the world. For me, LinkedIn is the way to go for candidate mapping and direct approaches (although nothing beats a phone call!). 


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