What is a social network?
It is a group of people connected to some degree by a common tie. The network is the person's social connections and the tie can be anything from friendship to raising venture capital, or from genealogy to recruiting scarce resources. Social media is not only the collective name for the primarily web and mobile tools that enable social networks to interact with each other, but also the content generated by the users.
There are thousands of social networks on the web in all shapes and sizes. From the perspective of using them, the key points to bear in mind are the relevance of the sites you propose to adopt and which ones your prospective customers visit and use.
Which web sites do what?
Social networks tend to fall towards the business or the personal side of life. Some cross over into both territories, so you should carry out some research to identify the ones that are best suited to your needs. The big personal networks are well known and include the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Myspace. Some more business-focused examples include LinkedIn, Plaxo and Xing.
Don't underestimate the power of blogging so try using wordpress.org or blogger.com. Help people keep up to date with you using an RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication). And maybe a magazine style podcast once a week, or month. Whichever ones you use, let your public know with follow me/us symbols.
Making social networks part of your strategic mix
So far, we have discussed the 'what' and some of the relevant technology. Next, look at your overall recruitment processes and the specific characteristics you need to address. As a business, you will have identified your core business aims and objectives making sure that each one has measurable outcomes. Now, consider the knowledge and skills needed to achieve those objectives and identify any gaps by carrying out a needs analysis. These gaps are filled by a learning and development programme or by recruiting the required skill. Now you are ready to draw up your recruitment and development plan that will include some more traditional methods as well as the newer imperatives. In today's knowledge economy you need a blended approach.
Managing and keeping talent
Very few people stay in one organisation for the whole of their career. So you need to nurture them if you want to keep them. That's where social media can help you by creating a network that your people feel a part of and is significantly better than the competition's. You can use it to help them see the career potential in staying with you.
Why not start by brainstorming possibilities with a group of interested people from within your organisation. Below are a few thoughts to get you going.
Create an organisation profile on LinkedIn and then perhaps a recruitment group. You might also have an alumni group for past employees to keep interest positive and high.
Use Facebook to reach some of your target audience with targeted messages and a fan page.
Make sure that Twitter features in your action plan and decide on the level of messaging.
Is it worth making a video of what it is like to work for you and hosting it on YouTube?
Put Follow Me links on your web site's home page and let people include RSS feeds.
Ask for a volunteer to write a blog about you, your organisation, and the opportunities.
Social networks and the media they create are here to stay. The secret is to harness them, ensuring that you own the agenda. Although the challenges can seem a little daunting, the rewards are great.
Tim Little, Investors in People specialist & business mentor