Recruiting Strategies for Social Media

News Updates

In the not so distant past, recruiters and staffing managers pored through resumes, posted on job boards and hosted expensive job fairs in top markets to find candidates and fill jobs. Now, they might interact with social network site users by posting a challenging technical question, then contact individuals who provide the best answers to discuss a potential job.

A growing number of recruiters and organizations are turning strategically to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and more obscure niche social networking sites to extend their global reach, speed recruitment sourcing and cut costs. Many such channels are largely free, but the process is not without its misconceptions and potential pitfalls.

“The most effective social media recruiting applies the elements of smart social media practice in general,” said Sherrie A. Madia, Ph.D., author of The Social Media Survival Guide. Madia said the key is not to limit yourself to one network; effective talent sourcing is about “networking the networks” to provide entries for talent across communities and platforms that allow recruiters to target pools of potential applicants with greater precision.

Researching blogs, niche communities and groups within networks can give HR information “to plant content seeds within these sites to attract more-qualified applicants,” Madia said. To remain competitive, companies that have not yet migrated their recruiting program to social media platforms should explore social media “as at least one component of the broader strategy,” she added.

Many Strategies Are ‘Aggressive and Ongoing’

Many companies already have opted for an “aggressive and ongoing” presence on large social networking sites as well as on some small, more-targeted sites, Madia said. One trend is to post top positions on a corporate blog with a link to the company’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

“Each of these come with the added benefit of shaping a broader corporate footprint in the social media space,” noted Madia, who is director of communications at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In the past two years at Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc., social media have moved from a peripheral part of the open source solution provider’s recruiting efforts to “the central component,” according to L.J. Brock, senior director of global talent acquisition. The company uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to build its employment brand and to raise awareness. In addition, it uses LinkedIn to source candidates directly.

The strategy “has significantly reduced our need for the use of traditional job boards,” Brock noted.

In the past, Red Hat had relied largely on outside search partners to supply top talent.  But using the LinkedIn Recruiter platform, its recruiters have access to a growing database of more than 80 million members in 200 countries. Brock said 75 percent of Red Hat hires had LinkedIn profiles before they were hired, which he said “is a leading indicator someone is right for our company.”

Red Hat identifies roles and regions where LinkedIn is most effective “based on historical tendencies and job seeker patterns” and uses that information to design targeted candidate sourcing strategies. For tough-to-fill positions, the company might post questions in LinkedIn groups “that only a truly qualified candidate could answer,” then contact the person who best answers the questions as either a candidate or a source for other candidates, Brock explained.

In Germany, the company uses a social networking platform called Xing to accomplish the same results, he added.

Realizing Tangible Benefits

Brock said that by using social networks for recruiting, his department has improved client satisfaction scores significantly and has improved the value that it brings to the business while reducing the cost of recruiting.

A 2009 SourceRight Solutions survey of 306 U.S. HR managers found that controlling costs and hiring matters were top of mind. When asked what their top HR concern is over the next few years, 52 percent said it was keeping employment costs under control while 29 percent said it was finding qualified/skilled workers. Turnover/retention and recruiting top talent at all levels were cited by 23 and 22 percent of respondents, respectively.

Red Hat recently re-launched its employee referral program to encourage employees to use LinkedIn to “act as an extension of our recruiting team,” Brock said. While historically referrals meant someone an employee could “specifically comment on or vouch for,” the company now pays employees for leads from social networking sites, albeit at a lower level.

Brock emphasized that companies should give people a reason to follow their social media “beyond job listings.” Among other things, Red Hat has a corporate and news blog, internal teams are invited to expand on their developments via blogs, and several internal groups at Red Hat maintain Twitter accounts.

Measuring ROI

Madeline Laurano, principal analyst for sourcing, recruiting and talent planning for Oakland, Calif.-based research and advisory services firm Bersin & Associates, said that about 70 percent of U.S. organizations use social networking sites for talent acquisition. But one challenge is truly understanding the value of the process and knowing “how to find that ROI.”

She cited the following organizations as having “best practice” social media recruitment strategies:

  • Novartis filled 40 “tough-to-fill” roles—many in its vaccines and diagnostic departments—while reducing time-to-fill by 20 percent and ensuring that 40 percent of new hires were diverse candidates.
  • Allstate officials said social media helped it shift from an outsourced recruiting model to a centralized recruiting model with eight internal sourcers and 30 recruiters.
  • Invensys has saved $4 million in talent acquisition and aligned this function with the overall business strategy.

Do’s and Don’ts

But Madia says plenty remains “new and untested.” Here are some do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t eliminate existing recruitment channels “in favor of a strict diet of social media. Test the waters by turning on social media enhancements, then turn elements up or down based on initial learnings,” Madia said.
  • Do create an engagement process before launching any networks. Create a job-applicant process that directs the right people seamlessly from a Twitter stream, to a Facebook page to your corporate web site in order to download an application.  Companies that fail to fine-tune the process risk “letting qualified applicants slip through the cracks,” Madia cautioned.
  • Do use an applicant’s social media savvy as one indicator in your search, but don’t make it the only criterion.  Some companies require an applicant to have a web site for his or her resume or a minimum number of Twitter followers. Even if the job is specific to these skill sets, assessing a candidate solely on his or her activity within this space “is short-sighted and may cause you to overlook real talent,” Madia said.

Develop a Plan

Madia said the key to developing a social media recruiting plan is to “test as you go” and to compare results with other recruiting strategies based on things like viable applicants, response rates and quality of candidates.

She added that HR should work on its recruitment strategy with marketing, public relations, customer relations and internal communications “to derive resource sharing in terms of content and results in the form of top hires and top PR for a company that knows how to position itself in the online space.”

In the end, SourceRight Solutions Director Dan Oakes said in a November 2010 webcast about the subject, that it all boils down to this: “Social media is changing the way people find jobs. Are [recruiters] changing the way [they] find them?”

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.