Building a recruitment strategy in a social world

I began writing a post on social networking the end of January – can’t believe it is already March! Due to a variety of events I’m just getting back to writing and what I quickly discovered is that this is a very different post than I would have shared in January and I think it has a lot to do with the continued advancements of social media. So, its quite appropriate to see that the subject has influenced the writer and I hope that I can share this learning experience with you as well.

We are in the midst of a significant communication transformation. The momentum being generated through the fingertips of individuals seems to have taken off exponentially in the past few months. February metrics from Compete offer an exciting view into growth across several networks. Accounting for the high levels of growth already experienced last year when Facebook expanded its user base and subsequently opened its platform up to developers, and LinkedIn became even more ubiquitous this rate of growth is quite significant. Then came Twitter and the future of communications, networks and relationships became a whole lot more interesting. I’ll get into more detail on Twitter in the next post, which won’t take as long as this one…promise!

Clearly the impact of Social is just beginning to be felt and the potential is just beginning to be understood – yet, it is already profound. We are only at the edge of what the social media wave will bring. The potential for sweeping change is enormous and we will certainly see the future impacted and unfolding before our eyes. While I will address the impact on talent acquisition and employment branding specifically, I do think its important to understand what’s driving the social media tidal wave.

Is it:
• Advancements in technology?
• Growth in all things 2.0: online participation – content creation and collaboration?
• The hunger of immediacy – news and information?
• A growing need and desire for connectedness?
• Living, and for some thriving, in the age of transparency?
• The allure of community and relationships to produce social value – the new currency?
• Globalization and a flat world?

Yes - all of these and more are true. But how did we get here?

We are experiencing a unique moment in time and have the good fortune to be witness to the transformation of language and communication. Michael Rogers’ article What Evolutionary Psychology Says About Social Networking offers a point of view through the work of Robin Dunbar – an anthropologist and author of Gossip, Grooming and the Evolution of Language. By looking at the evolution of language (beginning with picking and grooming as a means of socializing) the desire and need to communicate with increasingly larger numbers of individuals has served as the catalyst - moving us from grooming to language and, well, now to social networks. What’s so interesting to me about Dunbar’s research/view is that it potentially explains a lot about what we can anticipate about the future, behavior, and which technologies are more likely to flourish – like Twitter. People increasingly see value generated through connections, are increasingly more curious about the world they live in, want to feel more engaged and want to make a contribution to the future – their own and society in general. Social media capitalizes on one of the greatest strengths of the Internet – ease of entry and elimination of intermediaries. Now, with social network platforms and the momentum building through web 2.0 technologies the ability to experience the value proposition is quicker – at least for individuals. For companies, the opportunity is there but it requires a greater investment of time, understanding, commitment and authenticity to build meaningful relationships and communities. The only network consistently associated with recruiting success is LinkedIn – and, the debate is still out on whether this is truly a social network. As an example, although LinkedIn has Groups that companies can establish, when compared to Facebook and Ning the tools simply aren’t there yet. Once a group is established on LinkedIn members can directly contact each other but the group admin has no embedded tools to manage communications with the group. As a side note, Linkedin has shared that this is coming and we will see the addition of the “Answers” feature for groups this fall.

There are several questions to consider for companies determining how far to pursue a social media strategy:

Is social media right for your company? If, yes then answer why! Understand the environment and community expectations to help define your approach and establish measures of success. If no – well that’s ok. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should! Better to find out before taking the dive because it could be more detrimental to your brand in the end.

Who’s your audience?
Where are they? What do they want?

What will community growth, retention and migration look like? Will we see increased migration away from general sites like Facebook and Myspace to niche sites as these communities morph and as advertising becomes more intrusive? Users of both of these sites have seen their worlds invaded by the masses as well as advertisers. This view into the MySpace community sheds some light on the feelings.

Will niche rule? Where does Ning fit into the future? If Niche rules Ning provides a great platform but there is still a need for a more manageable interface across networks, even within Ning, from both the User and company perspectives.

What is sustainable? How many different discrete networks can individuals personally manage? How many can companies effectively manage? The array of sites creates a very complex and messy look at what any User and/or company is facing. Take a look at this graph by Doug McLure (thanks to Charlene Li of Forrester for the reference).

How will new technologies facilitate growth and retention and when will they be here? How quickly will we see new technologies emerge that support increased efficiencies in managing networked communities and establishing trust and engagement. One projection, from Charlene Li, is that it will take until 2013 to see truly open platforms.

Chase or be chased?
What will your community building strategy look like? What is the role third-party? Is this the primary approach or can you drive traffic to your own website and host a proprietary community? Most likely, it will be a multi-channel approach. Think about the decisions that had to be made around corporate employment sites and third-party job boards. There are similarities to the decisions to be made around social media and companies can influence what this looks like. That’s not to dismiss the importance of being on sites like Facebook but this is not a complete social strategy and its still to be proven how effective a platform this will be for a recruitment presence.
  • These questions are not meant to deter pursuing a social media strategy as a critical channel for talent acquisition. They are meant to guide thinking and decision making. Social is a critical channel and should must be pursued. Any company that pursues emerging talent and is not leveraging social media tools is already behind the curve. Whether you support Obama or not his call to the American people to get involved and be part of the solution of crafting our future is quite powerful and very timely. I believe that we will see this spread into other aspects of life and that companies of all sizes should begin thinking about how they will manage transparency and connections on a larger scale.

    Crafting a strategy to pursue a position in the world of social media requires time, and some monetary spend – but mostly time. Its more important though to understand community expectations when pursuing a social media strategy. Establishing trust is critical and second most important is transparency. Trust needs to be established and then builds over time through authenticity and value creation. Whether it be with existing or potential employees ultimately what companies want to do is break through the noise, get noticed, engage and differentiate their brand identity. To a large degree this is not much different than the web advances companies experienced in the late 90’s/early 00’s and the decisions around building an online employment brand. The most significant difference, besides the resulting technical advances, adoption and size of the online population, is that it is no longer as easy to put a website together and create an employment brand without first establishing an integrated strategy with your marketing department. Why? Most importantly is that things are more inherently connected today. Additionally, the very nature of social networks will quickly expose brand inconsistencies and spin, and the result will be quite detrimental to your overall efforts.

    So, what are the steps to building an effective social media strategy for talent acquisition:

    Understand the medium. Transparency and authenticity rule so its important to understand fit with your company’s culture. Value exchange is the currency for retention – how will you engage your community and how will you be engaged to build a community and then retain who you attract?

    Identify your audience. Who are you trying to engage? Where do they live online and what do they value when it comes to investing in relationships. Great video on audience and building community by Jake McKee of The Conversation Group reflecting on his time at LEGO.

    Create integration not fragmentation. To effectively engage talent you’ll need to incorporate various aspects of your company brand. Work with your marketing department to develop an integrated approach that leverages multiple touchpoints. A shared approach is more important than ever to create brand continuity and alignment. Nothing should be siloed and everything should be interconnected via bi-directional linking. Even within the constructs of your employment brand establish integration across channels – add links in job descriptions, on the career site, on network sites. This may seem obvious but I’m not seeing much evidence of it in practice.

    Engagement. How will you engage your community? What does the frequency of communication look like? The content? What is your intention to leverage your community and reward them for contributing value back to your company? The result is that you also have the opportunity to expand who is seen as potential talent and how the idea of “employment” broadens to simultaneously fuel innovation around new ideas and products. If you’ve heard me present on sourcing you know I admire the website Innocentive and believe this is a model for companies to consider managing on their own. Another good example of engaging talent is L’Oreal’s estrat game. And, watch the LEGO video!

    Resources. Pursuing a social media strategy requires resources to manage the community you’re engaging with. Who will do this and what is their bandwidth. I believe that we will see the creation of a Social Relationship Strategist position. In recruitment this could fall under a Sourcing Strategist who manages all aspects of the online employment brand. For now, the challenge is to allocate workload so someone in the recruitment function has the bandwidth – and the passion, to manage your network(s).

    Manage your reputation. If someone’s not intentionally managing your company’s reputation someone else is. So, if the thought of transparency and risk is scary realize that its happening with or without you so you may as well get in on the conversation. This is a prime opportunity for recruitment/talent management to add value back into the company. Chance are that besides you no one else besides marketing really gets the evolution and power of social – the exception here is early adopters in media, tech and maybe consulting.

    Integration with your ATS. Assuming you use some type of applicant tracking system it’s important to identify an effective and efficient way of reconciling prospects to reduce redundancy in candidate actions/communications. CRM is one tool to consider but even this won’t do it all. It would be nice to believe the ATS vendors are on top of this and if you know of one that is I’d like to hear from you.
  • Perhaps the most difficult first step is deciding to start small and take the time to immerse yourself and incrementally build out your strategy. Momentum is building through fingertips on the keyboard and people are ready to engage. Now, give them a reason to engage with your company.

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