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: 984

Comment by Bill Boorman on February 16, 2012 at 1:17pm

Thanks for the mention Jerry,

i think you can recruit from any channel where people gather with a bit of imagination. The common factor in any of the success story's you might want to look at is a good recruiter, agency or corporate. A good copy writer can get you a great ad response, but it takes a good recruiter to convert candidates in to hires, and get the right people in place. Some channels are working better for attraction, and Facebook is one of them, but the results are coming as much from taking a sourcing approach, locating targets from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc. Where people are located, good recruiters find a way to get them hired. Facebook has the most people, so it's no shock that some recruiters are working it out. In answer to the post, it doesn't often make the news when companies hire a handful of people a year, whatever the medium.


Comment by mark rice on February 16, 2012 at 2:05pm

@Alistair You didn't really answer my question - using Facebook isn't just about using Facebook ads, demographics, etc, etc. It's also where candidates can engage with a brand. Unlike jobboards, emails and even press ads - they can actually engage with the brand and vice versa. And I think you'd probably be surprised to find how many companies are seeing the value of that engagement. Not to mention that candidates actually value that experience. That's why I asked if you know how it can work because you seem to only be looking at it from one point of view. 

Comment by Alasdair Murray on February 16, 2012 at 2:22pm

I think brand engagement on Facebook is somewhat overplayed http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/only-1-of-facebook-page-users-en... As I say, I'm glad it worked for you and ITV and Zizzis but remain unconvinced that very many people genuinely sit around on Facebook just longing to engage with a potential employer and through the experience feel all the better for it. Some, but a tiny percent I'd wager. A bit like talent communities. Busy people don't have the time or inclination to mess about with wooing or being wooed over a period of time. Plus, career aspirations are a very personal thing. Would I want to reveal my interests in a forum of strangers all jockeying for a position of favour with a potential employer? I think not! Talent community, talent schmommunity!

Comment by Raphael Fang on February 16, 2012 at 3:30pm

How many of us, recruiters, actually put our profession on facebook?  I surely don't and I don't even engage with  work related people on facebook.  I like separate my work and personal life.  I don't particular like them to mix.  Not that I have anything to hide, I don't want to engage my clients or candidates outside of work.

I have used facbook and myspace to source candidates before but it was in 2007.  People were more open with their personal information.  Things had changed and people no longer share personal information to the public.  I have no problem with that.  if I want to be found and advance my career, there is linkedin.  

Comment by Jerry Albright on February 16, 2012 at 4:45pm
"Engaging with a brand" < does any other thinking person here find this hysterical? I'm not sure who is sillier - the person coming up with this stuff......or the person buying into it.
Comment by Paul Alfred on February 16, 2012 at 7:08pm

Alasdair it's 2012 ... The LinkedIn network launched 2004, adoption begins 2007,  full adoption 2008.... Thats a Social Media Network .. Their IPO proved successful and those numbers if you can count ...  don't lie if you follow their stock ..  What was that you were saying about Social Media again ... Tell Google, Facebook Oracle Microsoft,  Pepsi that the billons they spend on Social Media is going up in smoke screw that talk to a truck load of Companies who pay the 5k a month to LinkedIn to Recruit from   ...  Great Jerry can school these MBA guys and tell them where to best spend there millons in  profits.  Get with the program ... Are you talking about Social Recruiting or Facebook Metrics two different conversations ...  Let me know when you want to talk about Social Media Recruiting... 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 18, 2012 at 11:15am
What I find funny about "engaging with a brand" who do you think you are "engaging "with?

Some interns, tapping out stuff, an automated marketing bot. Do you really think there is any kind of "engagement" with a brand? Go ahead, engage with a Doritos and let me know how it's working for you.
Comment by Dan Hunter on February 20, 2012 at 6:15am

Wow quite hostile Paul, i think the blogger here was talking more about Facebook and to some extent Twitter.  You are correct that Linkedin is a social network but i think only a fool would say it isnt useful for recruitment.  I think it's safe to assume there was a mix up in terminology.

Comment by Alasdair Murray on February 20, 2012 at 6:50am

Indeed, I didn't mention Linkedin because to me it's not a social network in the true sense of the phrase, rather it's a business network that's been around for years for no other purpose than for people to be able to put their CV online and clearly state what they do for a living (and have done in the past). I personally have only found it useful for keeping tabs on what ex colleagues are up to and connecting with new clients who I have done some work for, but I can see how others might get some mileage of out of it in terms of recruiting.

Comment by Alasdair Murray on February 20, 2012 at 7:13am

Interstingly I have just read this, which in a way supports what I am saying, particularly the bit that says “There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop,” Mulpuru said in a telephone interview. “But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”- My point entirely, motivation, people's reason for being somewhere online. If you're on a job board or browsing a corporate website, chances are you'll be receptive to work related stuff. On Facebook however, most people just want a private chat, not hassle from advertisers or recruiters. Who amongst us actually likes pop ups and constant unsolicited online bombardments? Not me, that's for sure! There's a time and a place for everything, but not one place where anything goes at any time!



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