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Knowledge@Australian School of Business

Social Media Recruitment: How to Put the Writing on the Wall

Published: August 25, 2011 in Knowledge@Australian School of Business
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When an organisation is looking for new recruits, there's an abundance of options these days. As Internet job sites have overtaken newspaper advertising, word of mouth referrals – as a means of identifying candidates – also have become increasingly popular for large and small businesses. Big four professional services firm Deloitte's employee referral program now generates more than 40% of new hires. But the real power behind its recruitment strategies is social media, which plays a role in attracting up to three-quarters of all hires.

"We've embraced social media for four reasons," says James Elliott, director of recruitment and mobility at Deloitte Australia. "The first is our brand. It's crucial to us that people associate our brand with these platforms as our business advises in this space. It is very important for people to associate our brand with technology and innovation. Second is the opportunity to provide an authentic insight into what life is like inside the firm. It allows a degree of connectivity to unlock the doors of the firm and to let people see inside to a degree that we simply couldn't offer before.

"Third is how we use these platforms to help leverage our own employees' networks to assist us in finding talent. Our people have great networks so we're finding ways to tap into them – using social media to make it easy for them to identify talent for us to hire. And finally, we have an internal headhunting team that uses social media to research and search for talent."

Limited research is available on the use of social media in business, according to Judith MacCormick, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian School of Business, who has spent the last five years studying the role of mobile technologies and their impact on work and life patterns. But the trend to recruiting via social media has grown fast. "Around 80% of recruiters are expecting to utilise social media in the course of their work in the near future," MacCormick notes. There's a pressing need for jobseekers and employers to understand how to use social media appropriately.

For some organisations, social media recruitment still presents a brave new world, but Michael Specht, founder of human resources and technology consulting company Inspecht, says it's vital to look carefully before leaping at its viral capacity. "Social media may or may not be important to your organisation – it's not the case that everybody has to use it," he says. "Don't do it just to keep up with the Joneses. You first have to understand your recruitment goals, your drivers and objectives."

Rules of Engagement

Engaging with social media has plenty of pitfalls for the unprepared, Elliott admits. When Deloitte first began experimenting with social media five years ago one of Elliott's most difficult jobs was preparing for the unseen challenges involved in losing control of the conversation around the organisation's brand and, ultimately, what was perceived to be the loss of control of the brand itself.

"You are throwing yourself out there and empowering your employees and people outside of the firm to engage with you and write things on the web that are available for anyone to see," Elliott says. "You have to be confident that you are providing the right sort of platform, the right level of access to your culture and that your people are going to embrace it and say the right thing. It is very much dependent on your culture – every organisation is going to be different. There is no right or wrong template. It's about making sure you do something that resonates.

"Social media is about engaging in conversations, so we recognise we have to be involved in it 24/7. That's a big change from how we operated before. We had to set ourselves up internally to support that. We know there's nothing worse than putting something out there on Facebook and then not responding when somebody has a question. There's the potential to do more harm than good for a brand if you get on these platforms without thinking it through."

So what's the best approach? Specht says it's important to understand the drivers for entry in the first place. For instance, is it about engaging in social media for cost-saving purposes? Or is it a branding exercise, to use the power of social media as a marketing channel? It may be to access new talent, develop relationships with new groups of potential employees, or simply to allow a potential hire to understand his or her fit with the organisation. Some organisations seek to leverage the networks of staff members in order to enhance their potential recruitment pool, as Deloitte does. All potentially offer the organisation a competitive advantage. But without an entry plan into social media, the result may be confused and messy.

Specht, who prepares organisations for social media recruitment, recommends a five-step plan to offer the greatest chances of success. The first step is to fully assess and understand a company's current situation to develop a clear picture of issues, such as external brand perception, future business needs in terms of staffing and skills, where talent is currently sourced and why. It's also vital to understand how the target market – prospective future employees – uses social media. Do they use LinkedIn and Twitter for business purposes, and do they just use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family? The second step is to define the company's goals for recruiting through social media? Without a goal, it is impossible to measure success, Specht notes.

The third step is to collect collateral required for the project. "This includes everything from profile pictures to logos that will fit into the specifically shaped boxes on the pages, to understanding what content will be required, who will write it, who will be the 'ambassadors', what resources will be required and who is going to manage the accounts and engagement," Specht advises. "Specific social media channels will have to be agreed upon – will you ignore Facebook and target LinkedIn, or will you use LinkedIn to source people and Facebook to build brand?"

The fourth step is implementation of the plan and the fifth step is the measurement, or the analytics and review. "Not everything will work and sometimes great success will come out of an unexpected place," Specht says. "It's vital that there's a solid review process to capture information and drive change."

A rider is that staff who are managing the process must be aware of the legal issues that could crop up, including issues of privacy, discrimination, defamation and intellectual property, Specht adds. "These matters must be understood and should be part of the induction training for anybody who is going to have any interaction with the brand's social media presence."

Lessons For Job Seekers

Networking with the viral possibilities of social media may vastly increase the size of the candidate pool, but how useful is it in terms of delivering a well-qualified shortlist? According to MacCormick, research to date shows that social media tends to reflect reality – that is, the personality a reader perceives from a social media profile is generally a reliable image of the actual person who owns the profile.

With many people using social media for personal – and informal communications – its growing popularity in business means jobseekers, as well as organisations, need to think twice about their online presence. "There's an important message for potential recruits who really need to be aware of what it is that they're putting out there," says MacCormick. "If they do something irresponsible in their personal life and advertise it on their social media profile then it will reflect on them, and it may also reflect negatively on the company they work for."

Thorough recruiters are more than likely to check social media platforms when deciding on a potential hire, Elliott notes. "And employers and recruiters look at social media postings in the same way they look at a CV. If you've got a skill in a certain area or you've had great experience and there is something you'd like to bring to an employer's attention then make sure it is there. The more you use the right language and talk about your experience in a really compelling way, the better chance that we will find it."

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