I bet you are having an ongoing conversation about the ongoing conversation. Are you listening to the conversation? Joining the conversation? Guiding the conversation? Tired of the conversation yet? You know, the conversation about the conversation that current and former employees, prospective candidates, and other interested parties are having about YOU as an employer. That conversation. Without a doubt, there are many ongoing conversations about the conversation and differing opinions as to how employers should/can/must engage in the conversation. These conversations have been going on for hundreds of years. The Internet, social media, and other tools are just exponentially connecting, expanding, amplifying and fanning the flames of the conversation.
When I interviewed for my position at TMP almost 14 years ago, I really knew nothing about the company, nor did I have an obvious route to learn more. Had I been privy to the TMP work experience conversation, I might have injected some of those nuggets and questions into the interview conversation. Without those gems I was relegated to closing the interview with “I really believe I can make an impact at TPM.” Thankfully, I still got the job. We had a good conversation despite my verbal typo.
Yes, the conversation about the conversation about the conversation can be exhausting. But, there are definitely valid reasons for an employer to be aware of the conversation. While there may not be a finite right or wrong way to determine when, if, and how to engage and guide the conversation, there are some common sense ideas to be considered.
(For those of you who have lost count, I’ve used the word “conversation” 25 times already.)
First of all, think about the conversation from this perspective: anyone can quickly and easily find well-indexed opinions about the workplace of most employers via search engines, message boards, blogs, social media, employee testimonial sites, etc. That’s a given and we should all stipulate that.
Now think about this fact: Anyone who is considering joining your talent community, applying for a position, “liking” your company career page on Facebook, accepting your offer, or even just curious what it’s like to work for your company because they’re having a bad day at work or their friend works there, there’s a good chance that, if they haven’t already, they’re going to do a quick search engine query on “Working at INSERT YOUR COMPANY NAME.” Did you know that approximately 80% of all Internet sessions start on a search engine?
For many employers, much of the online conversation about their workplace that is returned in a search may not be positive. In some cases that may be warranted, but in more cases, it’s merely a subjective sliver of the real experience – let’s face it, some of these employee testimonial sites can lean toward becoming repositories of disgruntled employee opinions – we like company when we’re complaining. That’s not to take away from valid opinions but needs to be considered. I believe the adage about treating me well and I may or may not tell one person; but treat me in a way that I perceive to be unfair, and with the click of a mouse I may tell 500 in my social network, is definitely what’s behind this. But we cannot assume that jobseekers viewing this information know that to be the case so they may apply much more stock to what they’re reading than is perhaps warranted.
So what can employers do at a minimum when faced with a preponderance of negative feedback about their workplace on the Internet?
We need to ensure that your recruiters, hiring managers, and other candidate facing employees — which definitely is a lovely segue to a diatribe about how all your employees should be employer brand broadcasters — are aware of key trends in the conversation, at least to the extent of being able to anticipate what a candidate might see online and have thoughts about how they should respond if that topic arises or if they should proactively bring it up. Possibly that takes the form of a distributed monthly recap and/or reputation audit document.
If a relatively small number of people are citing the same negative item about you online as an employer, note it. If it’s a large number relative to the size of the conversation who are saying the same thing, listen and consider the right next steps –which may consist of engaging in the conversation and offering a different and true perspective; being aware and consciously choosing to do nothing right away but note, track, and make stakeholders aware of it; looking inward to validate or disprove the negative sentiment; building a communication action plan as appropriate; etc. And when and if you need to engage and guide the conversation, use the authentic voices of your employees and communities to offer their perspectives.
Two great places to share first-hand perspectives are your well optimized career website and career social presence. There’s a lot of valid discussion about the importance of optimizing your actual job postings so they appear in search engine results. We should also optimize career content to appear and rank well in search engines. So when a person types into Google “working at Acme,” the employer’s own career content appears in the results too, rather than just the Glassdoors and other similar sites.
In closing, I do need to point out one enormous drawback of the pervasive conversation … a faux verb that I thought we’d laid to rest has returned. Yes, I mean “conversate.” It’s re-entered the lexicon — perhaps it never left — and twice in the last month I’ve been privileged enough to hear references to the need for employers to conversate with their target audiences.
Best of luck in genuinely engaging and conversing with your target audiences. The key is to be thoughtful in your overall approach and resist the impulse to quickly react unless absolutely necessary.