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Leverage Your Own Social Network

by Oct 22, 2009, 5:22 pm ET

Social networks are so hyped right now among recruiters that it is hard to separate their real value and purpose from often overblown marketing promises. By creating a social network specifically for your organization, you can differentiate yourself from the crowd, build your brand, and find most of the candidates you need without any other sourcing techniques.

Rethinking how we source is not easy. But the unrefined tools such as search engines, job boards, advertisements, and even referrals are slowly giving way to far more powerful social networks of candidates. These networks can be shaped for specific types of candidates and for specific skills and competencies. They can be the only source of candidates you have so that your focus can be on your brand and building awareness of your organization and the kinds of work you offer.

Does this sound a little pie-in-the-sky? Maybe given today’s level of understand and technology, it is a stretch to give up all other forms of sourcing, but I predict these networks will replace 90% of other sourcing techniques with in decade.

What Is a Social Network?

For those of us in recruiting, a social network may be better thought of as a pool of potential candidates or as a community of talent. This is not the same as a static database of candidates. It is an ever-changing, expanding network of people who have chosen to associate with one another virtually. I often make an analogy to a network being like a series of circles rippling out from a center. Those people at the center of the circles are your most valuable and most likely candidates. Each successive ring of candidates gets further from you, is less known, and therefore less valuable. LinkedIn denotes this by giving priority to those people you know and who know you and then giving lower priority to people who you know through others.

Why Create Your Own Social Network?

Most of us rely on the established networks for sourcing candidates. These include LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and many others depending on your geography and specialty. These will always have some place in recruiting, but by creating your own network you can have much more impact and get better results.

The purpose of creating a social network is to bring the best people into your innermost circle. By building a relationship through frequent communication via whatever means make sense (telephone, email, Twitter, SMS, or IM), you get to know more about each other. Potential candidates can make decisions about whether they like you, the organization you represent, and the positions that are available. You get to screen candidates and select people who closely match your needs.

Creating the infrastructure for a social network can be demanding, but free ones such as Ning are available and provide some level of customization. Others are built from scratch or by using open source tools and modules. ERE.net’s community of users (you and me) is a good example of a social network of practitioners. We have common interests and any of us can find other recruiters who we might like to recruit or help to find a new position. This is an example of an open network, but it could just as easily be available only to people who answer some questions or pass through a filter of some sort qualifying them for membership.

With your own network, you can build in tests, require certain information, or in many ways decide if someone is the right person for your organization. By doing this you eliminate hundreds of unqualified people and reduce the time your recruiters spend screening out the unwanted.

A social network, or talent community, is always growing and changing. People can become a member of a talent community in several ways, but each requires them to learn more about the organization and provides the recruiter with more information about them. For example, if someone comes to the recruiting website and indicates an interest in a particular job, software can quickly assess a variety of things including aptitude for the job, interest, and skill level. People who answer questions in a certain way or who achieve certain scores can be referred to the most suitable positions, turned away completely, or forwarded directly to a recruiter for immediate followup. No one is asked to just “dump” their unevaluated resume into a hopper and wait for a follow up call — which usually never comes.

What Do Candidates Think?

Given these economic times, candidates are stressed and unhappy, as I have written in past articles. They are keen to find organizations that are responsive, friendly, and where they can showcase their own unique qualities. A social network allows this, and the candidates I speak with respond very positively to the immediate knowledge of how well they meet requirements. They are pleased to be invited to be part of a community they have an interest in and they are also glad to know right away that they are not a good fit and won’t be considered. No news is not good news to a candidate who is trying hard to refine his or her knowledge of different organizations and different positions, and who wants to maximize her time.

I am surprised that the hype about social networks revolves almost entirely around the public networks rather than on building your own. If you are in the planning stages for next year, set aside some of your budget to explore creating your own branded social network. You might be surprised at how well it works and at how it creates a far more efficient and candidate friendly environment than you probably have today.

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.

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  • http://www.talentonview.com Justin Hillier

    Great article Kevin.

    Private social networks are definitely going to be more prominent moving forward as companies look for ways to have a greater level of communication with employees and candidates.

    The focus at the moment for the recruitment industry is also heavily focused on attraction and very little is being done about a company’s own back yard (their employees). Engaging and retaining your current employees should be just as, if not more important then sourcing new talent.

    Having the 2 interact in one place may seem like a recipe for disaster, but there are greater things to be learnt if that does occur.

    Talent on View have a number of private social media platforms in action for various companies with all of this in mind. The results to date are nothing short of spectacular.

  • Joshua Letourneau

    To add some perspective, I’d recommend that we keep in mind the reality of people (i.e. who we call “candidates” for our own purposes) joining yet ANOTHER social network isn’t entirely plausible.

    Part of the reason that Facebook is as widely accepted and revered is because it allows for a consolidation of sorts.

    People don’t want to keep up with more than a few social networks – it’s just too much work. We crave simplicity and consolidation, ergo Facebook’s seemingly perpetual growth slope. So why not set up a Facebook Fan Page and start from there?

    IMHO, the true challenge is that we’re not seeing through the eyes of the market (i.e. the candidate pool itself). We’re thinking of our own wants, needs, and desires (a thriving social community of user-generated content leading to better relationships and super hires). It’s not about us . . . it’s about them and their wants, needs, and desires. Time and time again, however, we seem to forget this basic notion of market psychology.

    Sure, I know there are exceptions here and there . . . such as a private social network on Ning. However, let’s keep in mind that most logical people are going to be slightly risk averse to joining a competitor’s Ning network, even if it’s “private” or “invitation-only”.

    Here’s why: It takes 2 minutes to set up a dummy profile (even on LinkedIn), of which you’ll likely receive one of those ‘private invites’. The result? Potential “moles” reporting who ‘may be looking’ back to Line Managers. Given the nature of corporate politics (i.e. around the water cooler), I’m sure many of you know what I mean.

    P.S. The biggest fallacy of creating social networks is that it’s “free”. The truth is that nothing is free. What is not being accounted for is man-hours and labor costs associated. So it may be “free” from any direct expenses per se’, but there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

  • Kevin Wheeler

    Josuha, I generally agree with your point about people not being willing or able to join too many social networks. But that’s part of the reason they are a good investment for an organization. No casual, “tire kicker” is likely to take the time and effort to join. If the network is well done, only really interested people will join, reducing the piles of unqualifed resumes.

    Yes, many qualified people will choose not to join for a variety of reasons, but I believe you will get all that you need. Future-oriented, digitally competent people are finding that private social networks offer many benefits and are worth the effort to join.

    Afterall, Facebook requires little effort to join but produces very little direct benefit when job hunting.

    Embracing private social networks takes courage and a willingess to experiment. We are very early in their evolution and application. I still believe that those who adopt these first will gain a great deal in both brand awareness as well in attracting good candidates who are frustrated with other means of job hunting.

  • Brian Peddle

    I agree with Joshua. Social overload essentially. Building up your own private social network takes time patience and a solid plan with resources to manage it. It is a full time job.

    I have seen many companies try to do this and fail. They all start out with good intentions. Blogging, Tweeting, Fan Pages on Facebook and then little by little the updates slow and finally stop, leaving the company looking bad.

    There is starting to be a fuzzy line between H.R. and Marketing.

    I recommend, as does Joshua, leveraging existing networks. Company Pages on Facebook are robust and have tons of plugins. 1/2 the battle is getting people to register for the community… Skip that part and get the good stuff.

  • Joshua Letourneau

    Kevin, well-stated and I’m with you 110%:

    “I still believe that those who adopt these first will gain a great deal in both brand awareness as well in attracting good candidates who are frustrated with other means of job hunting.”

    Between you and I, I’m still holding out for some ‘consolidator’ of all of our social networks (meaning outside of the Ning dashboard.) I’ve seen early iterations, but they’re not quite living up to promise yet.

    P.S. I’m definitely not showing anyone anything new here, but this FB group is pretty awesome. Fast-copying might not be the best course of action, but adopting a few elements might be worthwhile to organizations (whether it be on FB or a private network). http://www.facebook.com/YourFutureAtDeloitte

  • http://www.jessicaleewrites.com jessica lee

    in theory, it seems like a nice idea butfrom a candidate’s perspective, i can’t imagine signing up for another social network. i’m on linkedin, facebook, twitter and i blog. i don’t have time for additional networks. from a recruiter’s perspective, i can’t imagine managing another network and getting people over there when they spend most of their time already on FB or twitter. personally, i won’t even sign up for another ning network because it’s just too hard to manage all of it – and i would consider myself an extremely devoted and engaged professional. i’d be open to hearing who has done this successfully though. are there any case studies out there?

  • Terry Starr

    I have been in the recruitment marketing space for nearly 30 years. I am also the co-founder of http://www.MyWorkButterfly.com, a global social network to help moms return-to-work and those working moms trying to manage it all.

    Although our site was built on a Ning platform (you would never know it), as Joshua states, there were many costs associated with building it – let alone the number of hours it takes to manage it.

    I believe that social networks are best served as an opportunity to RETAIN your best talent through a research-developed community that speaks to your employees, as well as to RECRUIT like-minded talent who are attracted to the transparent culture you’ve built externally for the whole world to see. Perfect pipeline strategy.

    I think why MyWorkButterfly has so found a way to continuously grow and have moms come back for more, is the many resident experts contributing relevant content, as well as all of the like-minded mothers who have found a safe-haven to communicate to one another on the many tough issues facing moms. Our niche community offers far more to these mothers then they would ever find on a Facebook. FREE RESOURCES, LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE and RELEVANT CONTENT!

    If you’re considering building a social network for your own company, I’d suggest calling on your ad agency to help you maintain (and sustain) your effort. Otherwise, it can [no, scratch that, will] become a full-time job.

    I’d be happy to answer any questions in this regard.

  • Brian Peddle

    Nice looking Ning site Terry. I think in your case, which isn’t company specific, it works pretty well. I helped CampusRN.com do something with http://www.campusrn2rn.com/ on Ning and it has worked well.

    The goal fits a specific niche and like minded individuals are all contributing as you said.

  • http://www.glenborn.com feargall kenny

    I claim to be somewhat dangerous in this space having moved from a senior sales in the White-labeled social network space into Executive Search (around social media) in the last 6 months and I cant say I agree with you. Standalone social networks only work if they serve a niche so well that the users come back again and again. They need compelling content (premium or User generated) as a hub and, these days, pretty much need to support Open ID login so you can “log in” with another id (facebook, google etc.). This saves the user from having to reinvent their identification every time they join a new social network. If the site is premium content driven then the social network should be seamlessly tied to the content and the comments and ratings through one login (single sign on or SSO). Ning doesnt support SSO or Open ID (it pushes the Ning id) and, until they do, in my opinion, most of their social networks will be a flash in the pan that never quite get to ongoing critical mass.

    As a job seeker, I won’t join a social network say built for, say, GE’s hiring because there will never be a critical mass of people like me (say electrical engineers) at a site like that and rallying around a company social network I may hope to work for isn’t a compelling enough reason to be there when my job search needs to be much wider. What I can do though, say as a GE, is to thread and push compelling content throughout the corporate site or on its blogs that cover, say, thought leadership from its engineering staff, supports user interaction (eg comments and ratings), supports light-touch login through open ID, and pushes links beside such articles to related open positions in the firm. This can be used as a subtle but effective way to find top talent in related fields.

    As a job seeker I will, however, join sub-groups of major social networks like Linkedin that are related to my discipline (they serve a niche and get critical mass of like minded individuals) and will consider joining a standalone network for such niches if a) there is compelling, professionally produced content on the site as a rallying point and b) I don’t have to go to a lot of effort to do so and can dip in and out of it when needed.

  • http://www.glenborn.com feargall kenny

    sorry – just to finish off. Terry and Brian’s sites serve specific niches well and the content looks good so there is a reason for a hub there but this won’t translate to a company’s career site.

    IMHO the best a company can do right now for proactive recruting efforts through social networks is to “fish where the fish are” through twitter,linkedin and FB efforts, RSS enabled job listings and content / blogs on their site that invite open-id login and commenting. All these efforts need to focus on some type of id capture – either candidates for a current job listing or those that are interested in hearing about future roles so they should point back to somewhere where such data can be captured (such as their open id presence or email address).

  • http://JSGInc.com Jeff Weidner

    “I am surprised that the hype about social networks revolves almost entirely around the public networks rather than on building your own.”

    For individual recruiters it’s an absolute necessity to either build their own social network or build a group(s) on the social networking sites.

    However corporate recruiters that try to do this will definitely get push back from the Company. I’ve seen it first hand and companies are struggling to get and keep control of their corporate identiy on the social networks. If a corporate recruiter builds the network the company wants to own that network. HOWEVER, this is not how the social networks are built. Read the terms of service and the group, or social network and the list of candidates that goes with it “belongs” to the person that created it NOT the company they work for.

    Unfortunately most companies don’t have enough “interesting” content to entice a candidate to join a white label network like ones Ning or oher DIY social networks…

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