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If a Recruiter Tweets in the Forest …

by Sep 8, 2009, 5:30 am ET

frontpage-bird… and nobody follows him, then was it written? Any discussion around Twitter raises a lot of questions from the sublime to ridiculous. And so it should be: Twitter is an interesting product, and there aren’t a lot of those in recruiting. My last article on social networking criticized Twitter, so I’ll start this one by accentuating the positive and discussing the merits of Twitter.

Twitter has value for recruiting, no question. Tweeting jobs raises their visibility because search engines rank them higher, though this works in an indirect way. Twitter adds a “nofollow” attribute to links submitted by its users. The “nofollow” attribute advises Google, and a few other search engines, to ignore the link. Some of these follow the links but exclude them from their ranking calculations (Yahoo, Google); some ignore the links completely (MSN, Bing). The only known search engine that doesn’t comply with “nofollow” at all is Ask.com. What Twitter does is to affect positively a website’s Alexa rankings by sending visitors to those pages. Usage data is a sign of quality for Google and all the other search engines and raises their rankings in search results. But search engines don’t index Tweets in real-time today so there’s a lag. However, that can be compensated for by using the “bio” line on Twitter to include some text on your jobs, because that is being constantly indexed.

Pointless Babble

Broadcasting openings via Twitter can help fill jobs, as described here. But Twitter is a particularly weak tool when it comes to engaging with others or building community. First lets examine the available evidence. Analysis of Twitter usage patterns show that there’s not much in the way of two-way communication happening via Tweets. A study by Pear Analytics found that some 40% of Tweets qualify as “pointless babble” and about the same amount as “conversational updates.” It should be no surprise that while Tweets are great for broadcasting anything, they’re not a channel on which to have a serious conversation. Twitter is much too public a forum to engage with a community. Communities on Facebook and other sites are restricted: you have to be accepted as a friend to get in. Anybody can follow someone on Twitter or find their tweets. That’s not how communities form.

Further proof of this comes from a study at the Social Computing Lab at HP which found that Twitter users have a very, very small number of real friends compared to the number of followers they claim. A link between any two people does not necessarily imply any interaction between them. In the case of Twitter, most of the links between users are meaningless from an interaction point of view. Put that together with other data, such as that half are not active, and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that as a social networking tool Twitter has limited value.

Social Networking 101

Social networking works by engaging with people and communities. Communities share something — an idea, an interest, theme, or topic. That happens more on sites like Facebook, MySpace, or Cachinko, where access is limited and one has to request to join a community. HP’s Social Computing Lab has also found that inside close-knit communities, information flows faster and to more people because an item relevant to one person is more likely to be of interest to individuals in the same social circle than those outside of it. Engage with the right communities and you can amplify your message and expand your networking efforts exponentially. But the key word here is “engage” — having something to share that the community cares about — so that its members will interact and reciprocate. That is more likely on sites like Facebook than through Twitter. Just how many meaningful conversations does anyone have that they’d like the world to be able to learn about?

Using Twitter is not a waste of time, but its value is limited as a way to expand your social networking efforts. For the average recruiter interested in social networking, their time would be better spent engaging with communities on Facebook and other sites. Twitter can raise the visibility of your jobs, but it’s not the most powerful tool in the social media toolset.

The last time I wrote about this subject some people interpreted it to mean that I was critiquing everything to do with social networking. Far be it for me to do so — I like social networking and it has been a huge benefit to me professionally. I just returned from a six-month project in Switzerland that came about because of social networking.

Some readers pointed out that many find it hard to accept any kind of criticism that challenges their cherished beliefs. If you haven’t got something nice to say then don’t say anything. If you’re not with us you’re against us. Seems like narrow-mindedness isn’t limited to healthcare reform. That’s understandable — nobody wants to be told that the prophet they’ve been listening to doesn’t have the answer to their prayers and probably doesn’t know a whole lot more than them. One of the many lessons my parents taught me was that just because someone may not like what you say is no reason not to say it, unless you’re running for election. And I’m not.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.airstraining.com Kelly Dingee

    I agree, the social part of “social media” is absolutely vital to its and the participants success. I also think recruiters may have to work at finding followers applicable to their industry and needs, and not just settling for spamalot, or the “easy follow”. There’s also something to be said for “attracting talent”, as opposed to constantly having to find it.

    I tend to look at all of these Social Media sites as resources – profile pages have excellent potential from a recruiters point of view – especially if you have a limited recruiting budget, and many do in the recovery. What will be key for many recruiters on shoe string budgets is figuring out how to leverage and extract from these sites with a deft efficiency in order to find and attract the people they need moving forward.

    Best,
    Kelly

  • Keith Halperin

    I believe that we should use whatever works best to find our candidates, recognizing that we only have a limited time to do it, by any means. Also,since you can hire good internet and phone sourcers for ~$15/hr, it’s not clear how much time you should spend sourcing, period.

    I think that when companies start hiring again, companies should effectively combine SN with employee referral bonuses, a sadly under-discussed topic. (Maybe because we usually don’t get money from it.)

    Kelly mentioned the “recovery.” In my blog (http://community.ere.net/blogs/keithhalperin/2009/09/is-recruitingjob-prosperity-just-around-the-corner/)
    I don’t see it happening soon, from the recruiting perspective.

    IMHO, a great deal of attention is being paid to a sourcing technique (Social Networking) which should probably be outsourced to people for a lot less money than we’re paid to do it, looking for people who can usually be found/contacted easily other ways, to fill jobs that aren’t there and most likely won’t be there until these techniques have been replaced by even more innovative techniques. Furthermore, people are ACTUALLY SPENDING MONEY to learn how to do this! Am I missing something here? Maybe it makes more sense if you spend 60 hrs/week in an agency looking for “purple squirrels,” as Megan said in her blog.

    Cheers,

    Keith H keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  • Jacco Valkenburg

    Strange thinking. You write a blog article to critize micro-blogging (Twitter)? Replace Twitter with Blogging and read this article again.

  • Ross Clennett

    Like any worthwhile marketing effort you need to start with a sound strategy before moving onto tactics. Seth Godin summarised this topic beautifully in about 100 words on his blog recently which you can read at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/08/when-tactics-drown-out-strategy.html

  • Joshua Kahn

    Raghav, you bring up some interesting points. I agree with some of them. You suggest that you can’t connect with a community via Twitter which is patently not true. That’s exactly how our crowd-sourcing experiment worked. http://find-attract.com/best-buy-twitter-crowdsourcing-and-the-associated-press/

    The idea connected with the appropriate community; in this case, on twitter. I would submit that community can be defined in a number of different ways. Communities don’t have to be in a “group” on Facebook or LinkedIN or any physical or virtual space to be considered a “community”. Communities, at their core are related to shared interest ultimately. Communities also have different shelf lives depending on the nature of this shared interest. It may be interest based on location (neighborhood community) or interest based on profession (LinkedIN groups or associations) or interest based on jobs, religion, food, or even on a specific current event. I think there can also be looser communities, that don’t have a central ‘place’ so to speak where they gather. Brett Favre, one could argue constitutes a community of sorts. Albeit a temporary and wishy-washy one :).

    To me it’s the conceptual connection that creates the community, not the virtual or physical gathering place.

    While a lot of so-called connections on Twitter are truly meaningless, there are still some that have meaning because people do follow others who have interesting things to say.

    Understanding community in this way will lead you to understand the appropriate tools to use to engage that community toward a particular end. Might be twitter, might not be.