Community managers and the evolution of the recruiting function

i_team_peoplepersonThe idea of a community manager isn’t unique to the recruiting function. The term is borrowed from the consumer world and emerged with the influence social media is exerting on brand engagement and reputation. While the role is still relatively new, companies have begun to realize the potential to attract, engage, nurture, retain and expand their customer / client base beyond traditional marketing and PR. Its about creating brand value through experiential engagement and listening rather than talking to nurture conversations and relationships. In a connected, multi-channel world, staying relevant requires new thinking and developing the skill to engage people in conversations is one way to accomplish differentiation.

The same is true in recruitment. The role of a community manager is not only important but one any company interested in developing an adaptive recruitment strategy should consider. The community manager is at the center of success for any social recruiting strategy that aims to move beyond “socializing job openings”, which isn’t sustainable and isn’t where the value lies in social media. Requirements of the role also address a new set of skills and competencies for successful recruiting strategies. As we experience rapid advancement and expansion of the channels, applications, tools and technology available to attract and engage prospective talent, the structure and competencies of the talent function need to evolve as well. It is possible to apply social networking for recruiting and even enjoy some success without a community manager. However, if you want to develop a sustainable and integrated social media and networking component as part of the company’s talent strategy, a dedicated community manager role is what you need. There are a number of ways to approach developing and integrating this role depending on company size, budget and hiring objectives. Before we get into the specifics of structure lets look a little deeper into why the role is important and the value it presents.

The dynamics and operating environment of today’s recruiting function is significantly more complex than even two years ago. Over the past 10 or so years complexity came from a confluence of trends and events – the rise of the Internet, talent scarcity (remember 4% unemployment), and a long, prosperous economic cycle. Needless to say, we’ve seen web adoption rates increase quite steadily, economic cycles wax and wane, and the hunt for good talent continue, with scarcity still existing in many instances. Recruiting functions must now excel in multi-channel branding, be adept at utilizing a variety of technology and related applications, and, overall, do more with less – certainly in today’s environment. They must also do everything they did before to anticipate and prepare for the company’s talent needs (workforce planning); select, assess, and hire the right people; and, develop outstanding relationships with hiring managers. Technology is bringing efficiencies to the recruitment process but this is not an environment that is standing still. We saw a first-generation response to these environmental factors with the introduction of applicant tracking systems (ATS) and the rise of sourcing functions as a means to streamline and develop specialization in the recruiting function. In many cases though, ATS’ weren’t able to meet the growing needs and sourcing functions were not effectively integrated into the recruiting function, were significant in size and were then the first to be cut when the economic situation and outlook worsened. The growing wave and influence of social media calls for a second-generation response – the community manager, to take the strategy beyond sourcing and develop sustainable communities. The value derived from the community manager role is a combination of efficiency, sustainability, brand leverage and reduced hiring costs. The value of sourcer, marketer and conversationalist is combined into the community manager role to target priority talent areas and support the company's workforce planning strategy and respective needs.

The perspective I’d like to provide is from the view of a corporate talent function leader. I’m going to take a holistic look at the community manager role to provide companies of varying size the options they need to be successful. Its often easier to tease apart the layers of a role and harder to consolidate them for effective execution and performance.

Structure:
The community manager reports into the talent function team leader and interfaces with recruiters, HR, marketing, internal communications, and targeted business leads. Through regular updates with the talent function team leader the community manager understands the talent priorities and designs a targeted strategy to attract and engage prospective talent. Talent priorities can be broken down by skill/experience, job levels, geography, function, business unit, etc. depending on the structure and needs of the company – think of alignment with workforce planning. The community manager should not be focused across the entire organization. This could come in time, but I would recommend beginning with a narrow rather than broad approach to establish the role and realize success before expanding. At the same time, it would benefit your strategy to have a longer-term vision so you stay aligned with the objectives and move forward incrementally. The community manager is focused on building pipeline and community not on open reqs. They should have a real-time view into open roles to expedite talent to recruiters and deliver more value to the connections they’re making externally.

This could be structured as a part- or full-time role. The resources allocated will obviously affect the pace of progress but it is doable. What is not doable is combining this role with a recruiter role. Why? The inherent risk when the role is structured as part of another role is that any time an urgent recruiting need comes up the community manager's responsibilities end up on the back burner. You won’t build the traction and momentum, progress will come more slowly and delivering on ROI objectives will be challenged. Additionally, the cost of building community is primarily in the human factor, and the absence of "voice" will leave people questioning their own time investment to engage with your brand.

Four skills of a great Community Manager:

Communicator: 
Being a good communicator is as much about listening as it is about talking. The community manager should be skillful in developing and nurturing relationships across a broad spectrum.

Internal relationships: The community manager builds relationships with multiple stakeholders to position themselves and the company for success.
> Close working relationship with the talent function leader to stay aligned with the long-term business objectives and talent priorities of the company.
> Builds credible relationships with marketing and internal communications to ensure a cultural and brand-right fit with their content and “voice” and the company’s objectives. Leverage marketing relationship for enhanced reach.
> Integral relationship with the recruiting team to establish credibility, expedite hot talent, share expertise, and deliver consistent brand messaging.
> Stays in the loop with HR to be up on the stories that give life to the company’s brand.
> Shares “intelligence” back to the organization to provide a view into brand perception and sentiment, communicate product and service feedback, and capture ideas.

External relationships: Develops relationships with prospective talent through a variety of channels - creates original content (text, visual and audio), comments and responds to engage across communities.
> Demonstrates a strong, authentic voice that does not sound like PR spin. No offense to PR but if it doesn’t sound real it isn’t a conversation and is quickly discredited in an open, social world. Both the brand and credibility of the community manager are at risk, along with the company, if the conversation isn’t authentic.
> Utilizes a communication strategy inclusive of blogs, microblogs, social networks, user groups and email correspondence as their tool kit. They develop understanding to each unique environment and effectively navigate through different communities.

Business acumen: The community manager is most effective when they have a visceral understanding of the company’s brand, culture and objectives – what is the company trying to achieve and what is their authentic message.
> Translates the business to a conversation to tell the company’s evolving story and engage people in the brand, products or service. Resourceful in seeking out stories and engaging other internal voices in the conversation.
> Clearly understands the company’s culture and talent objectives to present compelling content and identify and expedite hot prospects.
> Strong integration with marketing to leverage the company’s full brand capacity, align with all brand elements and create a synergistic relationship between people and purpose. You’ll get a lot more done and expand your reach if you partner with marketing. The lack of integration between company brands and employment visibility is still an open invitation with social media. This is no different than the best practice of positioning the “careers” or “jobs” link on the company website. It’s just more complex due to the cross-section of channels and activity.
> Familiarity with the company’s industry helps the community manager navigate where they should be seeking out and engaging talent and also informs content development.

Technically Adept: This role is a combination of conversationalist, sourcer, and marketer. Technology is the thread that weaves these together.
> Engages with leading edge technical applications, tools and platforms. Identifies top-line resource investments to further community strategy. Makes recommendations for entry and exit strategies.
> Has access to and skilled in use of a CRM system. Adopting a CRM system as the activity hub supports community communications, talent lead capability, pipeline management, and metrics. While its certainly possible to move a strategy forward without a CRM system, the ROI will be more challenging to establish. The investment is well worth it when you look at tools like Avature.
> Skilled in sourcing techniques to identify targeted talent and initiate conversation and interest.

Persistently Curious:
> Intrigued by the influence social media and community are having on society as a whole. Seeks out data and trends to inform the company’s recruitment and business strategy.
> Builds an effective personal network to share, learn and engage discussion around use of collaborative technologies.

While there may certainly be challenges with integrating this role in today's business environment there is potentially more risk in not moving forward. It is equally important for the recruiting function to be on the edge of newness and invest in preparing for the future, as it is for sales, marketing or product development, and IT. It could be argued that its even more important to invest in the recruitment function to support the company's business needs and ensure the talent they need to execute across all the other functions can be found. Investing in the community manager role now will allow the company to build a foundation at a time when there is an opportunity to engage talent at a lower cost of attraction and ensure the company is prepared as the business environment improves.

If you'd like additional background on the role of social media and recruiting, you can reference my article, Building a Recruitment Strategy in a Social World. You might also enjoy this articlefrom the NYT that describes how communication, ideas, community and transparency are influencing the world.

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