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Social media and recruitment: time for a coherent HR strategy?

Is it time for human resources professionals to go beyond the ‘toe-dipping’ stage with social media recruitment?

A survey at the end of last year by online recruiter Simply Hired found more than half of UK jobseekers now use social media to assist them in their job searches. Meanwhile, research firm Potentialpark has found that in Europe close to 100% of young jobseekers would like to interact with employers online, and that in the UK, Facebook (64%) is favoured over LinkedIn (52%) as a good place for employers to be present.

Some recruiters are using the leading social media channels simply to search and advertise, while others are building longer-term strategies, such as investing in permanent, interactive online talent pools.

"Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter provide a cost-effective way of advertising jobs to people at all levels and in quite a targeted way," says Graeme Wright, head of strategy at consultancy Penna. "If you are a big pharma company and you need chemists, you can advertise jobs to all chemistry graduates from selected universities, for example."

Hard Rock Café famously targeted Facebook fans of certain rock bands, living close to Florence, to find staff for a new restaurant it was opening there. Thanks to social features embedded in the Hard Rock Facebook fan page they were directed to, the campaign 'went viral', with fans growing from nought to 6,100 in four days, and 4,000 job applications made in four weeks.

Successes such as this demonstrate the potential for social media to drive long-term results in recruitment, provided employers are able to make lasting connections with relevant people in their sector. "This means using social media to build a tightly managed talent pool, creating content and facilitating ongoing communications with participants," says Wright.

Electronics distributor RS Components tried LinkedIn to fill a European role in 2010 and was pleased with the cost-saving, speed-to-hire, and profiling benefits it delivered. With LinkedIn, the company has developed a wider resourcing strategy that combines LinkedIn tools - such as its new Talent Advantage search tool, InMail and display advertising - with RS Components' own website. Jon Hull, global head of resourcing at RS Components, says the average cost per hire is £714 for senior posts, using social media, compared with £7,500 via traditional methods. "Although the initial catalyst for us dipping our toe into the social media pool was saving money, the benefits are much more widespread. Adopting social media has not only allowed us to shape an entirely new recruitment strategy, but the groups, forums and profiles have helped move our communications, marketing and organisation forward in more positive ways than we could ever have thought."

UK pub and restaurant operator, Mitchells & Butlers, has launched brand-specific Facebook pages dedicated to driving interest in brands, such as Harvester and Toby Carvery. "Social media and sharing is an increasingly important part of our marketing strategy," says recruitment policy manager, James Marriott. "Each jobs page has been equipped with social sharing buttons for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, to allow us to be part of the wider employment conversation and to stimulate conversations about working for the company, our brands and the industry."

By developing a standalone website, it was possible to create a more informative and engaging candidate experience, Marriott says. "Using a tone of voice that reflects our brand, the site aims to explain the benefits of working for Mitchells & Butlers to the candidates as well as using short, 'day in the life' videos to set expectations around each job role," he adds. Facebook is now the tenth largest source of traffic to mbcareersandjobs.com, and the Harvester page has recruited 350 staff, offering savings in recruitment costs. "We have engaged a new audience and driven quality recruitment numbers to the website using social media tools, specifically Facebook," says Marriott.

Although LinkedIn is often cited as the obvious network for recruitment, more graduates and young people are on Facebook, and Potentialpark notes that this is where proactive recruiters are heading. Well over a third of top 100 European employers have Facebook career pages. Examples of fully 'social' career pages on Facebook include Unilever and Oracle, where live discussions on 'walls' are helping applicants from around the world discover what opportunities are open to them, how to apply and what to expect.

Thought has gone into the content and exciting ways of driving engagement have been dreamt up. For instance, Unilever is using its Facebook page to offer graduates the chance to win a goody bag and enter a draw for bigger prizes if they 'like' the page and fill in a mini-survey about their career expectations.

Twitter works particularly well in niche career specialisms. "If you can build up a loyal and relevant Twitter following, it means you find great people through conversations that take place," says Jonathan Hall, founder of Cranberry Panda, a recruitment agency for the ecommerce industry. About 5% of the agency's revenue now comes through Twitter - successfully putting people into jobs who got noticed on Twitter. Hall thinks success of social media in recruitment depends on "finding out where people with specific interests, skills and experience are talking, and do something that engages them on that level" - eg LinkedIn interest groups.

To appeal to 'digital natives' entering the job market, most graduate recruiters are using social media now, says Chris Rea, business manager at agency Graduate Prospects. "Although students habitually use Facebook and Twitter, we predict they will increasingly engage with LinkedIn for professional purposes," says Rea. "Our advice to employers though is not to build a strategy with one or other platform because the social landscape is constantly shifting. Social media should be viewed as just one tool, working as part of a larger comms strategy for recruitment. All the big graduate recruiters still print brochures, spend on traditional advertising and attend recruitment fairs." He thinks graduates benefit greatly from the vast amount of research they can do, using company Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

Social media activity gives the employer brand valuable kudos, says Woodson Martin, senior VP, employee success, at cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software house, Salesforce.com. He advises SMEs to use social media to compete for talent. "A survey conducted for us by OnePoll found 76% of graduates would be more attracted to an employer if it was an active user of social networks and tools," he says. "By moving with the times and embracing the new era of social networking, SMEs make themselves more appealing to the next generation of graduates."

Wright says social talent pools will deliver long-term value only if well managed. "So we are seeing organisations invest in candidate relationship management systems, to ensure the right people are in the pool and being communicated to in the right ways," he says. "Systems now will spot those people who are most avid followers of the outgoing communication, who responds, and who stops opening emails and therefore has probably lost interest."

While advertising via social media can save money, building a sustainable talent pool will require continuing costs. "This kind of social media recruitment can reduce time to hire and improve quality of hires, but won't necessarily reduce cost to hire," says Wright. "HR departments and their communication experts will need to spend a lot of time deciding content and writing exactly the right kinds of messages, keeping things current and relevant, and responding to messages coming in. This should be a two-way experience and so organisations who lead on this are finding they need at least two people working full time, maintaining content across the channels."

Many HR experts say the only way to ensure your talent platform is engaging and genuinely social is to allow your own employees to be visible and vocal - accessible to job applicants, so that they can answer questions about the company honestly and openly. "If all you have on your LinkedIn careers page or Facebook fan page are corporate videos and job descriptions, you are not moving beyond the traditional career brochure of old," says Wright. Although organisations might baulk at allowing staff to speak through this recruitment channel, there are ways to manage it. "You select the right staff members to be featured, and hopefully they will talk sensibly but realistically about what their job is like and how the company treats them," says Wright.

Potentialpark recently researched what elements are included on 'thought-leading' companies' Facebook careers pages. It gave marks across 19 criteria that jobseekers stipulated as important. German financial services company Allianz came top out of 12 companies, with a score of 17 out of 19, because it offers personal contacts, a job matching tool and allows for un-moderated comments and discussions on its wall. Microsoft scored highly because it runs quick polls with career-relevant questions, shows 'behind the scenes' event photos, and has integrated its YouTube channel, so fans can view dozens of employee video testimonials.

Potentialpark found the challenge of open, uncontrolled content is what holds many organisations back. "For many employers, it is not about whether Facebook is right or not," says Julian Ziesing, head of research at Potentialpark, "but how to get the internal support from management and corporate communications. Employers need to say goodbye to yesterday's concept of one-way communication - where one side gets to control the message - if they want to be taken seriously on social media. Otherwise, the same discussions are being held elsewhere on the internet - and without them."

Technological developments are likely to drive efficiency in the online application process - another reason to have a recruiting presence in the social space. For instance, Kenexa's 'Apply with LinkedIn' technology already enables candidates to use the profile they have created on LinkedIn to complete fields on job applications. Their profile updates can also be automatically updated on the employer's application tracking system, saving a great deal of admin time. "This is ensuring companies accelerate the benefits of social recruiting, which should help HR professionals win favour for new long-term strategies," says Abby Euler, Kenexa's director of social solutions. "Having these capabilities also serves to provide a great candidate experience, easing people through job applications and giving a shining first impression of the employer brand they're dealing with."

Are jobseekers ready for this, though? Nicola Deas, practice leader of career management at workforce consultancy, Right Management, says many will need help understanding how to use social media for job hunting: "As part of our workforce transition training for clients, we show individuals how valuable having a detailed LinkedIn profile or well-managed Facebook page can be."

Deas says that with major banks and insurance companies now proactively sourcing applicants through LinkedIn, it is vital for people looking to move jobs to be factual and articulate on their profiles. "Many don't realise that they need to include key words about transferable skills and qualifications, to ensure they come up in searches by these companies."

Social media is of course only one more channel, says Hall at Cranberry Panda. "People predominantly still search for jobs on Google and go onto job boards, but the social channels are growing fast, and they provide a very real opportunity to find the right people."

Hall thinks it is important for HRDs to take a long-term view and focus on the benefits of building trust over time: "The people you are talking to on these networks today could be your industry leaders of tomorrow."

G4S: globally social

G4S is the world's largest security solutions group, with more than 635,000 employees across 125 countries. Its G4S Global Career Centre, a website that went live in November 2010, is designed to maximise the benefits of social media - namely, attracting, sharing, improving the applicant experience and talent management. Replacing static career pages that attracted 40,000 unique visits a month, the new dynamic career centre was attracting 175,000 unique visitors a month within a year of launch. Facebook fans numbered an impressive 19,000 at the end of 2011.

Colin Minto, head of resourcing for G4S, says: "The calls to action on our Facebook and LinkedIn sites drive people back to the career centre, and once they are there, the community, sharing, conversational feel continues. We don't want to attract potential employees and then disappoint them." Video content, lively discussion forums, a Twitter feed and intuitive job search tools aim to ensure this isn't the case.

"Through having Tweet, Share and Facebook-like buttons on each job page, we have introduced the ability to share. This means if someone sees a job or video about a role they like, they'll share it among their friends, so jobs often go viral," says Minto.

"People want to know what we do, and we want them to have the best possible candidate experience," he adds. Accordingly, the site includes video tutorials on skills needed for event safety steward and custodial policing roles, interview techniques etc - all helping to build trust and engagement with the employer brand. High volumes of traffic mean G4S is saving on agency and print advertising for recruitment, and posts can sometimes be filled simply by searching in the fast-growing database of individuals that has built up. Another benefit is that because there is so much user-generated content on the site, it does well in natural search.

A team of three manages the content and social network feeds, and Minto says the community site is tracking £1 million savings for G4S in its first year (for the UK alone), and by 2013 should be saving the company several million pounds globally each year.

LinkedIn or Facebook?

  • Recruiters report they tend towards LinkedIn and other business networks for networking, screening and recruiting. However, when it comes to employer branding and talent communication, especially with students and graduates, many recruiters prefer Facebook
  • Facebook offers the bigger audience: 200 million members in Europe, as against 23 million on LinkedIn
  • Facebook is free for all members and requires no premium accounts to use certain functionality. Also, integration in career websites through feeds and the 'like' button is easier
  • Employers avoid sending messages or friend requests and prefer a 'let them come to us' strategy. Interesting content on fan pages leads to discussions and more personal interaction, but only at the scope and pace that the jobseekers themselves approve