Social Recruiting – the hot new thing, as it always has been.

“On the recruitment front, communities are providing a new channel for the labor market”

This quote is from one of our favourite books on social networks and how they will revolutionise business.  What may be a surprise is that Hagel & Armstrong’s book “net gain” was published in 1997.

Whilst the terminology may have changed, and broad social network tools have caught the imagination in place of the technology solutions (mainly owned by the community managers) that were seen as the future when the book was penned many of the themes hold true, or can be mapped onto the current landscape.

Whilst there have always been early adopters in this area, and to this group jumping from one up-and-coming tool to another is second nature, the fundamental drivers for how and why we use such technologies remains remarkably constant.  As Seely Brown & Duguidwrote in the preface of the second edition of The Social Life of Information in 2002:

“We are not trying to ignore or denigrate information technologies”… “Rather we are arguing that by engaging the social context in which these technologies are inevitably embedded, better designs and uses will emerge.”

In our view far too many HR departments look at the social network landscape from a tool-first perspective.  Early adopter advertising agencies, social network guru’s and enthusiastic managers jump on the next new tool as the panacea to solve all the issues.

A few years ago Second Life was apparently the next vision of the future.  One big recruitment advertising agency spent 6 months heavily promoting recruitment using Second Life to its clients.  Several large firms took the plunge.  If you look at those who took part a there are a few themes – first, they were all users of this one advertising agency.  The second is that few if any repeated their first activities.

Looking back over the last 14 years from the publication of ‘net gain’ we can map various social network and related tools become the next big thing only to fade away from the imagination.  If we look forward even over the next 5 years the landscape will certainly look remarkably different.  In fact the only tool that I am really confident that recruiters will be using is LinkedIn, though arguably its greatest success is to make it socially acceptable for people to post their resumes online without fear that their employer might see it.

The only sustainable way to approach social networking technology, as with any recruitment marketing, communication or broader sourcing approach is to spend time understanding the user needs and how they are behaving to meet those needs.  Furthermore you need to segment your market into behavioural segments.  Certainly these will differ by geographies.

If you understand how potential candidates are seeking to perform their job transitions then you can develop solutions that fit into those needs.  Social interactions using technology when successful are simply an extension of existing behaviour that has existed for many, many years.  Arguably several pioneering firms such as Rowntree in York understood the social needs of employees and used these to build deep engagement and advocacy well over 100 years ago.

Mapping those needs and behaviours and then layering on how the tools can fit will guide technology usage.  Yes the technological tide may change and new tools become relevant but the change in job-seekers needs and behaviours are slower. Whilst job-seeker behavioural research should be repeated regularly you will probably find changes relate to which is the current tool of choice rather than a fundamental shift in behaviour.

A few other points to remember

Social network usage doesn’t necessarily translate to success as a recruitment tool.  Several tools, including Second Life, attracted recruiters because of their large audience figures.  There are two things recruiters should consider when analysing new networks.  First, understand why people are participating – what need they are trying to meet.  Second, try and not get seduced by the absolute numbers, but instead what percentage of your target populations are using the tool.  I argued at the time that users on Second Life were seeking an outlet to escape from the real world and they would, on the whole, be blind or even react negatively to brands seeking to enter it.  I also estimated that the millions of users would be reduced to a small number when target segments were considered.

Whilst social networking approaches can cost a lot less in spend to traditional marketing approaches, they usually demand much greater time commitment from companies to create a credible presence. The real cost may, depending on the approach, make them a high-cost channel.

Never underestimate the power of real-world social interactions.  If your target market is relatively closely defined by geographies never hesitate to organise relevant events to meet people in person.  The power of good conversation over a few drinks should never be underestimated.