How To Build A Successful Social Recruiting Strategy

There’s no doubt that when it comes to recruiting and 
hiring, social media long ago moved from the margins to the mainstream. The exponential increase in employer adoption has become a big business in its own right, with a rapidly growing ecosystem of new tools and emerging technologies dedicated to helping companies find, attract, and engage better talent faster through social networks.

According to a recent survey, 55 percent of employers currently plan to increase their social recruiting spend. That represents a growing share of the estimated $140 billion that organizations budget for recruiting products and services annually, giving birth to a cottage industry of consultants, contractors, and content marketers.

The competition has become cutthroat, with essentially every purported “expert” not only positioning social media from a strategic recruiting and hiring process perspective, but also suggesting that it offers some sort of talent management panacea. The fundamental truth of the matter, however, is that when it comes to social recruiting, there are actually no experts, nor established benchmarks for success—only experimentation and emerging best practices. And, as every seasoned talent manager knows, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent.

Intertwined, Comprehensive

That’s why it’s imperative for recruiters, and the employers they represent, to stop looking at social media as a siloed, self- contained strategy and rather as an integral, fully intertwined component of a comprehensive talent acquisition strategy.

Social media can be great for broadcasting your reqs or building your brand, but at the end of the day, it, like every other recruitment advertising tool or technology, is simply a medium. And, to apply McLuhan’s aphorism, it’s the message that really matters in defining social recruiting success—or failure.

Developing, refining, and testing that message to ensure that it resonates with your target audience—in this case, current and potential candidates—is a critical first step in developing a social recruiting strategy. Yet it is often overlooked. With ow associated costs and few barriers to entry, recruiters can
be tempted to jump into social media feet first.

Without a defined strategy and sustainable, measurable processes in place, however, this feet-first approach inevitably leads to employers getting in over their heads. Creating this strategy involves answering three critical, yet crucial questions that every employer or talent organization must address directly and comprehensively.

The bad news for recruiters (and even worse news for consultants) is that for social media, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to answering these essential questions. Like social networks themselves, user experiences—and meaningful engagements—are highly subjective, highly personalized experiences. The good news is that if you know how to recruit, you already know how, more or less, to use social media
to recruit. You also know the answers necessary to build a strategic, measurable framework for social recruiting success.

Testing, Testing

Before rolling out any strategy, however, make sure your message matters with market testing. Hiring managers, HR business partners, recruiting colleagues, and current employees (particularly recent hires) represent crucial stakeholders in the talent acquisition and retention process. They can also serve as ideal focus groups to test and refine your social media messaging and positioning. Because, as every HR pro knows, performance-based feedback matters—like whether or not top talent accepts your offer.


The Big 3 Questions of Social Recruiting

There are three questions to turn connections into candidates, and candidates into hires:

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to finding and retaining top talent? There’s always that one req or passive candidate profile that’s the most pressing, the most critical,
and, by general rule, the most difficult for which to source. It’s the one with an empty talent pipeline where “just-in-time” was yesterday. And, of course, market demand is creating a revolving door for the “A players” whom you’ve already managed to bring on board. No matter what the title or department, if it’s the role or function that is the most imperative to your company’s business objectives, it’s the one you need to concentrate your social recruiting efforts on. It’s likely the one that’s taking up most of your time, anyway. And the social channels, content, and messaging that will resonate with, say, a Ruby-on-Rails developer is going to differ significantly from retail general managers.

Like job boards, these candidates not only have completely different niche sites (e.g. GitHub, StackOverflow vs. the National Retail Federation Community) but also different segments, like groups and fan pages, within general sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well. Fortunately, Facebook’s Open Graph search makes it easy to find, follow, and engage with groups or specific pages simply by typing in the target title or industry; similarly, hashtags on Twitter (try Twubs hashtag directory) are great at getting in front of the right candidates and standing out from the noise whilst staying on top of industry news, trends, and other relevant information.

That’s why it’s important to not only know which candidates you’re targeting, but to tailor your social efforts specifically
to them by not only targeting for specific job openings,
but adding expertise, insight, and value to industry- and function-specific conversations. Engage to make a professional connection, not to make a hire.

Bottom line: Social media saves time and should enhance,
 not replace, your current talent acquisition strategies. But
it won’t fix what’s fundamentally broken. So if it comes
down to elements such as negative market perception or low recruitment ad response rate, you’re best served spending your time addressing the underlying issues, instead of exacerbating them through social amplification.

What are you doing to overcome this challenge for recruitment and retention? To build an effective social recruiting strategy, you have to know your objectives. And if you’re in the business of people, there’s only one objective: to find the best talent possible as efficiently, and effectively, as possible. This means being able not only to demonstrate tangible results, but to measure, analyze, and report on those results.

That’s why, as great as social media is at generating the unstructured part of the big data puzzle, you can’t build a business case, or quantify the value of social recruiting, without first building the benchmarks and dashboards incorporating historical, structured data. In other words, meaningful metrics matter. And getting an accurate picture of source-of-hire data might be the most meaningful metric of all in building a social recruiting plan.

While these obviously differ by companies, the 2013 Career XRoads Source of Hire Study, arguably the most comprehensive report in the industry, evidences some common and pervasive trends across verticals, functions, and locations. This year’s report shows that, for all sourcing and spend dedicated to identifying and recruiting external talent, the top source of hire is actually current employees (42 percent of hires), followed by employee referrals (24.5 percent).

This means that, statistically speaking, your time spent building and engaging on social media should focus less on engaging prospective employees and more on increasing awareness of open positions and leveraging the connections of your current employees instead. One great way to do this is by starting closed groups on Facebook or LinkedIn, where your employees are likely already spending their time, and populating them with both current jobs and insights/advice on career growth and management specific to your organization.

Another is by adopting or using an existing internal collaboration tool such as Sharepoint or Yammer to push out career-related information and opportunities to your existing employee population. Offering structured referral bonuses or indirect incentives for successful referrals gives employees a reason to stay engaged, informed, and active in these groups, as well as motivation for turning ad hoc referrals into ongoing brand ambassadors—necessary allies in the war for top talent.

Bottom line: Engage your employees and hiring managers; they’re your most likely candidates, or the most likely to have that next hire in their network. Social media is the easiest way to connect the dots and transform their connections into candidates and hires.

Don’t look at social media as a sourcing tool, however. Think of it as an engagement and relationship building tool; indeed, the same Career XRoads report showed that while 92 percent of employers use social media for recruiting, those same
social networks only accounted for a paltry 2.9 percent of hires, proving that these channels remain more effective for sustaining long-term relationships than creating short-term, just-in-time hires.

Why should top talent want to work for you? Part of social media’s value lies in its intrinsic democratization of information, and with more than 90 percent of employers using social media for recruiting, this means that, as opposed to a proprietary database such as an applicant tracking system (ATS), social networks have shared databases. This means that if you successfully use these channels to find and engage a qualified, interesting, and available candidate, chances are that your competition has, too.

The key to successful competitive differentiation lies in building a coherent employer brand across channels and platforms that appeal not only to the head, like traditional job descriptions, but also the heart. That’s why accurately representing your company culture and prominently featuring your organization’s current employees in your social efforts is critical.

Culture branding creates an effective screening technique, increasing organizational fit while providing a realistic portrayal of what your company is like, and why it’s a great place to build a career. The easiest way to do this, again, is by engaging the company’s current employees, providing them with the training and tools to effectively represent your employer brand. It’s critical to enable, rather than enforce, social media usage.

Bottom line: The conversation is already happening, and (scary for most HR pros) there’s no way to control it. But letting candidates and employees know you’re listening sends a powerful message that you care about what they have to say and are there to support them. Because that’s what managing talent is really all about.

Job descriptions, title, compensation, and recruitment advertising look a lot alike, but at the end of the day, top talent makes its decision based on one single competitive differentiation: your company’s culture and the people who create it.

Views: 2825

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 24, 2013 at 12:34pm

Thanks, Matt. This is a comprehensive, well-written article. You mentioned a term: "recruiting strategy".

What's that? The closest thing I usually run into is:

1) A company isn't hiring appreciably

2) A company needs to hire a lot of people RIGHT NOW

3) The company brings on a contract recruiter(s), sourcer(s), etc. but not enough to avoid having them drink from a fire hose- working 50+hrs/week and being paid for 40 hrs/week.

4) Hiring catches up/slows down a bit

5) The contractors are very quickly laid off

6) Rinse and repeat Steps 2-5 as often as required, losing knowledge transfer on the way....

What seems sensible to me is that when you get to Step 4), and things slow down, you have the recruiting staff get involved in doing the longer-term timeframe projects like creating communities and pipelines that we didn't have time to do before, INSTEAD OF LAYING US OFF. However, I've rarely seen that done.....





Comment by Ryan Leary on October 24, 2013 at 10:09pm

Share and Share this article people. This is the most comprehensive guide to lean on I've seen. Hit home on a lot social recruiting points and moves away from tactics. A must read.

Comment by Dennis Gorelik on October 25, 2013 at 11:56am

I like the idea of using open graph search to find your target audience.

Comment by Paul Alfred on October 29, 2013 at 4:45pm

Great article ... Would disagree with the fact there are no Social Recruiting experts .... 

Comment by Matt Charney on October 29, 2013 at 5:01pm

Paul: Anyone who calls themselves a social recruiting expert is selling something. And agreed there might be a few diamonds out there in the rough, but they're likely too busy recruiting to be talking about how good they are at social to do it. Appreciate your feedback!

Comment by Paul Alfred on October 29, 2013 at 5:19pm

Guess I'm selling something ... Part of Social is about branding and if you're no good you will be found out real fast. Anyone who is billing per hour for a number of years in my books is an expert ...  

Comment by Matt Charney on October 29, 2013 at 5:31pm

Paul: Anyone who's been billing by the hour for years is an expert at creating a market for their services, not necessarily at the end product.  As I wrote in my post, and truly believe, you can give a company the tools for successfully recruiting on social, but the success or failure of those tools is totally reliant on culture, buy-in and content, none of which any outside consultant can really teach. And being an expert at social media, online engagement or content marketing in general is not the same as being an expert at social recruiting, which is as differentiated as consumer and employer brand best practices.  And your claim of "if you're no good you'll be found out real fast" on social is totally erroneous - if you're no good at social, no one will be able to find you in the first place, and reach is, along with relevancy, the most important metric out there for tracking social success. But what do I know? I'm no expert, guru, ninja, rock star or anything other than someone who has fun experimenting with new tools, technologies and techniques.

Comment by Paul Alfred on October 29, 2013 at 5:49pm

Well Matt ...  I write Social Recruiting strategies for a living and I know for a fact I am not collecting monopoly money ... In fact I am working on one right this very minute a 4 phase strategy. I moved over to Social recruiting 2007  before that I used to live on job boards back 1996 in the days when they were free so I think I might know a little about the world of online recruiting before social -  and with great success after running a Recruiting firm before that ... I also work in Social Media as strategy consultant.  So looks like one of us  need to redefine what Social Recruiting is. But hey,  that's just my too cents ... I hate having to toot my own horn ... LinkedIn does work.

Comment by Matt Charney on October 29, 2013 at 5:59pm

Paul: I am not discounting your qualifications (and your online profile certainly backs up your experience) - but my definition of social recruiting is the use of organic or owned peer-to-peer networks for finding, attracting and engaging talent to an organization or position.  That said, we have a fundamental disagreement on a fundamental fact: LinkedIn isn't social recruiting. Their earnings call this afternoon shows like 85% of their revenue comes from Talent Solutions, which is pretty much a candidate database and job postings, which means their business model is the same as a job board. Difference is, publically traded job boards like Monster and Dice actually have a higher percentage of their total revenue (which also unlike LinkedIn, is in the black) derived from display and sponsored advertising, like the Monster Career Ad Network (as seen on a sidebar near you).  But no one needs to be an "expert at job boards," that's as intuitive as posting to Facebook - it's the complexity consultants have added to a relatively simple strategy that has created a layer of unnecessary commoditization.  I agree LinkedIn works, but take away their numbers from aggregate reports like Jobvite & Bullhorn's surveys, and the actual question is: does social media? Because I really don't think we know the answer to that question - no matter what your level of expertise.

Comment by Paul Alfred on October 29, 2013 at 6:10pm

Hmmm ... I agree LinkedIn is not Social Recruiting... The process of utilizing Linkedin and other social networking platforms to source qualified passive or active talent is. Having a  SR strategy in place to source those candidates takes it one step further.  I am in total agreement with respect to what you've written with respect to building a strategy and there is a ton more you could have added but for sake of length you did a good job.  The point I want to drive home is that "some of us" utilize these platforms effectively under the umbrella of having a Strategy to fully engage with talent. 


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