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High-Impact Social Recruiting Errors — The Top 30 to Avoid

by Feb 7, 2011, 5:33 am ET

Using social media to support recruiting efforts is justifiably a hot topic. Social media tools are one of the top three most powerful recruiting tools, along with referral programs and mobile technologies. Despite its potential, the approach most recruiting functions are taking to leverage social media is haphazard and weak.

Merely being able to state that “we use it” seems to be the primary goal rather than being able to demonstrate significant measurable results. It is analogous to assuming that “going to the gym” alone will produce a dramatic weight loss; we all know it really requires the right strategy, the correct approach, the right tools, and avoiding high-impact errors.

As corporate advisors, my associates and I are routinely analyzing emerging practices and identifying what characteristics lead to best practice, deliver maximum value, or contribute to career ending failure. While the list of asinine approaches emerging is immense, following are the top most impactful errors I see derailing efforts. If you are just starting to look at using social media or considering changes to your approach, consider this a checklist of things to avoid.

The Top 30 Most Impactful Errors in Social Media Recruiting

A) Strategy-related errors

No strategy — most recruiting functions do not have a weak social media strategy; they have no formal strategy at all. As a result, most efforts are ad hoc and are not integrated or coordinated. Almost universally, they lack clear goals, they have incredibly weak metrics, and there is little accountability for producing results. Without a clear strategy, an execution plan, and metrics to continually improve, no recruiting effort can be expected to produce extraordinary results.

Targeting active candidates — attempting to reach active candidates by posting job announcements is the #1 most common error. As a microcosm of society, most online communities are full of people not actively looking for a job, so broadcasting announcements to them is both annoying and ineffective. Social media is a great tool to identify and build relationships with employed top performers who are not actively looking for a job at this time. Ninety-nine percent of your focus should be on recruiting people who cannot be found on job boards or your corporate careers site.

Broadcasting when narrowcasting is needed — recruiters have a long history of sending “broadcast” messages that are widely distributed to everyone in the database. While this “one message fits-all” is appropriate on corporate career pages and job boards that service job seekers, it is a major mistake in social media. Instead, “narrowcast” messages that are tailored and sent only to specific “segments” of your target audience are required. The segments to target might include those with shared professional interests, the same job level, a common location, and shared personal interests.

Not using talent communities — the most powerful strategy in social media is building “talent communities.” Unfortunately, most recruiting managers have never heard of it. Pioneered by Microsoft, this “pre-need” recruiting strategy emphasizes building relationships over time with multiple targeted segments. The relationship is based on learning and professional sharing, rather than potential employment opportunities.

Relying on recruiters — most organizations expect recruiters to “own” social media recruiting; however, there are never enough recruiters to adequately carry the load. Fortunately, your employees are already active and visible on social media. The best firms instead rely on their employees to identify, to build relationships, and make referrals into the employee referral program.

Expecting speed, low cost, and high volume — if you want high-volume, low-cost recruiting to fill immediate needs, you should rely on job boards or referrals. Social media recruiting is incredibly effective but it takes time, resources, and will never produce high volumes of hires. Its focus must be on landing a relatively small number of “high-value” top performers, game-changers, and innovators.

Under-emphasizing the building of relationships and trust — one of the most powerful capabilities of social media is the fact that it allows you to build close relationships and trust. Unfortunately, many rush or bypass this important step and prematurely bring up jobs (early adopters have found that between three and five separate “communications” are needed prior to job talk). Failing to build relationships first will ruin any social media effort.

Failing to target diversity — most corporate diversity initiatives have only shallow involvement in social media. That is a huge mistake because diverse prospects can be more easily identified and much more effectively sold with a tailored approach, which fortunately is much easier to accomplish on social media.

Limited use in college recruiting — college students are the most connected and active individuals on social media. Yet most corporate college recruiting approaches remain essentially unchanged from the 1980s. Recruiting college students on social media allows you to identify, assess, and sell the very best without expensive multiple campus visits.

Underemphasizing employer branding — only a small percentage of corporate branding resources are focused on social media. Although it is changing, this can be a major error. Because it cannot be controlled by corporate influence, social media may be the most powerful channel for creating and maintaining an employer brand. It is clearly by far the most powerful channel for identifying and “countering” negative and brand messages.

Assuming there is a dividing line — many within HR are conservative, so they automatically assume that traditional “dividing lines” (i.e. work issues should not mix with at-home issues) remain strong. This a major mistake because among new generations; these separation lines are becoming increasingly vague. Being conservative will limit your impact, so management must continually update its rules on privacy and work/life issues so that they meet the receding limits

B) Channel and tool selection errors

Incredibly narrow channel selection — I estimate that 95% of all social media recruiting occurs on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. They are valuable but there are also many other valuable channels that should not be ignored (i.e. “location specific communities,” meetups, food/travel/recreation channels, photo and video groups etc).

Treating all channels the same — assuming that all communications and social media channels are equal is a common error. Each has its own unique audience, informal “community rules,” and expectations. Recruiting management needs to provide guidance so that employees and recruiters know what channel or channels “work” and “don’t work” for each recruiting purpose.

Failing to fully “know” the target — the Internet makes it pretty easy to identify and exploit the interests and expectations of potential candidates. Unfortunately, “knowing the candidate” requires some research. Currently, many recruiters fail to identify critical things like learning areas, individuals they admire, where they “hang out” on the Internet, and the individual’s “job switch criteria”.

Not encouraging blogs — because employee-written blogs have a high level of genuineness or “authenticity,” it is a mistake not to encourage and reward employees who write them. Unfortunately, many firms actually discourage or even ban blogs from corporate channels.

Being overly direct — many channels require subtleness or indirect approaches in order to gain access and trust. In these cases, directly posting job announcements is a no-no. Instead, consider indirect approaches like commenting on their work, polls, asking questions, surveys, etc.

A narrow range of tools — most corporations’ recruiting efforts are limited to four areas, (job posting, corporate landing pages, Twitter followers, and recruitment advertising. Instead of this limited scope, you should educate your employees and recruiters about the tremendous impact that other tools can have. This list should include commenting on an individual’s work, passing on articles or best practices, sharing pictures, and CRM-type contact messages (i.e. birthdays, anniversaries etc.).

C) Message and coverage errors

Generic messages — it is a mistake to regularly send generic messages that are designed to “fit everyone” but that actually “fit no one.” Not only are these generic messages not likely to be read and acted upon, but they may also negatively impact your employer brand image. Spamming messages of any kind can get you ignored or blocked.

A lack of authenticity — a large majority of corporate messaging lacks what is known on the Internet as authenticity (i.e. the appearance of being real, believable, or genuine). For example, sending out press releases or vision statements is just silly because they will be viewed as propaganda.

Using the wrong message type — most recruiters and employees automatically use the “message type” that they are the most comfortable or familiar with. They may use the same message type (and message content) over and over. That is a major error because social media rules demand that you use the message type that best fits the communications preference of your target. There should be a corporate webpage that provides advice on when it is best (or inappropriate) to use text, e-mail, wall posts, group posts, status updates, comments, videos, blogs, podcasts, or direct messages.

Not identifying influencers — top people always check with friends, colleagues, and advisors before making a “job switch” decision. Failing to identify and to also sell these “influencers” can dramatically decrease your social media offer acceptance rate.

Failing to ask new hires to announce — most firms assume that will happen automatically but it should be a standard practice to encourage all new hires to publicly announce to their followers and groups that they are excited about joining your firm.

D) Recruiter and employee support errors

Not providing guidance — it is a common but major error to assume that recruiters and employees will intuitively know how to recruit on social media. Unfortunately, most will not go to formal training classes, so the best alternative is to offer templates, sample profiles, sample messages, frequently asked questions, and a list of dos and don’ts. Recruiters should also offer to critique your employees’ profiles, blogs, and messages.

Not supplying content — most organizations make the mistake of assuming that employees and recruiters are aware of every one of a firm’s compelling stories and practices. Research shows that employees and recruiters seldom know even the most powerful stories. So large companies should proactively provide access to “story inventories”: examples of best practices and compelling photos/videos. Obviously, all of them need to be authentic and employees need to be allowed to choose the ones that they find to “fit” their situation.

E) Process and administrative errors

Weak referral program handoff — when employees or alumni submit their social media contacts as employee referrals, they are often not prioritized and they are certainly not routinely treated as “high priority” referrals. The result is that employees get frustrated when nothing happens and they get no feedback. So eventually, they give up on making social media referrals.

Weak ATS handoff — even when recruiters enter candidates into most traditional ATS systems, their “warm” application is generally not treated any differently and can be lost in the volume of applications. Your ATS must capable of “marking” and tracking social media applications, or your entire social media program will flounder.

Not being mobile platform friendly — most innovators are avid social media users but they are also smart phone users and spend more time accessing social media while on the go. Unfortunately, it is quite common for social media recruiting tools (and corporate websites) not to work on mobile platforms. This is a missed opportunity and a first-class design blunder.

Weak “comment tracking” tools — it is a common mistake to assume that the tracking tools that are found on popular social channels are all you need to keep track of a continuing conversation that one of your targets is participating in. Instead, you need to assume that the conversation may eventually transition off to another channel. Keeping track of those cross channel conversation requires advanced “comment tracking” tools like YackTrack and ConvoTrack.

Weak business case — most executives support social media efforts at least in part because of the current level of hype. Unfortunately, without a solid, continuously updated business case, resources and thus results will quickly dry up. The CFO must be involved early on to ensure that the business case and your results metrics are convincing and compelling.

Failing to accept an online profile — if you are targeting prospects who are not “actively looking” for a job, it can be a major error to require an updated resume from them. The best are learning, at least initially to accept an online profile (in lieu of a resume) for an application or a referral.

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.

  • Nik Palmer

    These are good suggestions for any Social Media campaign, marketing, branding, recruiting, or otherwise.

  • Brian Kevin Johnston

    Excellent tips… Having a strategy is HUGE… I agree, “passive candidates” do not want to get “pitched”… We request a “chat”, once things are going well online, then we take it offline, focusing on support/service/education… If you are good, they will come to you when they are ready to search for(buy)a new job! Best to ALL, Brian-

  • Rayanne Thorn

    These are great suggestions. Thanks for the incredibly thoughtful list.
    I have a concern about putting too many constraints or rules though on anyone that is venturing into Social Media. I, like most others, took on Social Media all by myself – as there were no real rules or training at the time. The thing about social media is that the learning curve is different for everyone. It is the organic nature of its use that keeps you coming back. Some things can be automated and if that is what gets you in the Social Media door, great – but it is not what will keep you playing well with others or increase your presence. It takes a constant, concerted effort – BUT only if you want to be there and if you gain benefit from it.
    It “isn’t” easy and it “is” time consuming. And the personal commitment plus the support of leadership internally is imperative.
    Thanks for posting – I will be tweeting and posting in my LinkedIn group!

    -Rayanne Thorn

  • Keith Halperin

    Thank you, Dr. Sullivan. I believe you hit on a number of very important points including (if I may re-state it):

    SN Sourcing (Note: it’s not really SN Recruiting) isn’t appropriate if you need to fill positions quickly or in high volume. As I have previously mentioned, those responsible for creating a pipleline should be different from those filling immediate needs, which also lends SNR toward being outsourced, probably at the $11/hr rate, since by its nature, it can be done anywhere.



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  • K.C. Donovan

    Dr. John
    What a list! You could have stopped at the first five suggestions in your “strategy’ section and have a compelling article – yet you go on to give ALL of the answers to the Social Media Engagement test! Anyone looking to embark on a Social Media recruiting path need look no farther!

    One point that stands out –

    …you mention that social media will NEVER produce high volumes of hires and one should look for ads and referrals for this…

    I would submit that once you have created a vibrant Career Community (which does take a bit of time), that the Community should provide as many hires as any other resource. A Community that is comprised of people that are interested in a company and are cultivated with customized content to maintain interest (delivered in the format they want it in), and network touches and events with company management that establishes a true “rolodex” building program should bear high hiring volumes…(we’ve been doing this for almost ten years and have the data that bears this out…)

    So it isn’t really never – only a matter of putting the steps in place like Dr. John has indicated to begin building a Social Media program that can provide big results once its in place…certainly something to aspire to instead of spending the thousands and millions each year on TPR’s…at least that’s how we see it…

  • Jeff Weidner

    Another great article!

    The article doesn’t really touch on it but social recruiting and social recruiting marketing are two very different things. One, Social Recruiting, is about searching for candidates, identifying candidate pools or developing talent communities on social networking sites (which IMO Microsfot did not pioneer but that’s another discussion)and the other is more akin to marketing, PPC campaigns, ad campaigns on the social networks, drive traffic to generate interest (more marketing than recruiting)

    From what I’m seeing more companies are trying to split these two functions within their organizations but a) don’t know how to do it due to functional alignment with one or more departments IE Marketing, employment branding and staffing/recruiting.

    Jeff Weidner
    Dir Sourcing Science

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  • Frank Risalvato

    I did not see anything regarding EEO or legal ramifications. There’s a large legal-expert community that is warning about using Facebook, LinkedIn for recruiting due to the perceived or real ease of engaging in discriminatory practices.

    Almost everything listed on a FB profile, (sex, marital status, religion, race (appearance), could be a legal minefield. I have a policy to NOT view a FB page until a) after the referral (or job offer was accepted) b) The candidate invites me

    I also have a strict policy that differs on FB from LinkedIn – Example: Clients are not invited onto my personal FB page (to prevent hot topics from impacting business relationships).

    It’s a very messy world out there — and one needs to use social media with EXTREME caution!!

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  • Neil Costa

    It is great to see more support for the changing recruitment marketing mix. There are so many opportunities and still many questions about how to get started, how to measure success. Everybody is moving at a different pace because of their internal customers. See “Healthcare – athenahealth ERE article…

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  • Courtney Hunt

    This post is chock-full of great in-depth advice. I recently wrote a piece entitled “Social Media and Recruiting 101: Overview and Recommendations” which may help put these insights into perspective in terms of the overall recruiting process. In my piece I recast the recruiting funnel from a digital perspective and discuss the general role social media plays at each stage. Here’s a link:

    Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community
    Founder, Global Center for Digital Era Leadership

  • Alice Buckler

    Thanks for the post, most interesting! The company I’m working for is expanding and I now am in charge for recruiting new employees. I’ll take all the recommendations under advisement.

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  • Lauren Stefano


    I’m currently working as an administrator but we are expanding so I have to be in charge of new employees so as for me the information you shared over here is priceless! Thanks a lot for that!

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  • Dorothy Wong

    Going back to the author’s point of finding the influencers and Brian Kevin Johnston’s concern about how to get to passive candidates, I think identified provides a solution to that problem.

    Identified (, a professional search engine powered by Facebook. Its ProSearch feature allows users to search for potential candidate that has connection to a current employee. This makes reaching out to passive candidates easier through a current employee. It identified also allows recruiters and users to connect more easily ie not having to go through the trouble of setting up a new profile on a separate site while protecting users’ and recruiters’ privacy since Identified only imports professional information which includes education history, work experience and network to their searchable separate professional networking site.