Great Expectations: The Reality of Finding Talent on Facebook

May 18, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

As Facebook went public came two interesting pieces of news. The first was a CNBC poll that shows that about half of all Americans consider Facebook to be a fad that will fade away as new things come along. The second was an announcement from GM that it plans to stop advertising on the social network.

The auto manufacturer says it no longer believes that the ads produce much in the way of sales. This seems to be supported by the CNBC survey in which 8 out of 10 respondents said they hardly ever or never click on online advertising or sponsored content when using the site.

This has some implications for recruiters using social media as a sourcing channel. With users essentially ignoring ads, job postings are not likely to be effective. Even employers that have accumulated large numbers of fans for the Facebook pages are likely to reach only a small portion of them with their job postings – one analysis found that the average page post only reaches 17 percent of the page’s fans. Five out of six of a page’s fans never see it, unless supported by new likes and comments for every new post. So even if you have built up a large fan base of prospective candidates, the vast majority of them will never see your jobs.

It’s About Engagement

GM is not severing all ties with Facebook. It will continue producing content for its Facebook pages, as a means of engaging with customers. When it comes to social media, success in selling a product or attracting candidates is all about engagement. Facebook’s popularity is entirely based on the content the 900 million (and counting) members create. The site itself is not particularly remarkable, but what keeps people coming back and spending hours on it is the engagement that results from content, much of it spontaneously created. Interesting conversations, often around interesting stories, is what makes it so addictive.

This is what GM has determined works. Just visit one of the GM pages — like Chevrolet — and see for yourself. They’re vibrant communities, full of stories, pictures from buyers, and rich in conversations. It’s real people talking about real things. Who needs boring ads when you can have so much more interesting material that people actually want to read?

Why would it be any different for job postings? We keep hearing about how much value branded career sites on Facebook can do for attracting candidates but there’s little evidence to show such an approach is likely to be successful. What’s likely to work is talent communities.

Talent Communities Done Right

A talent community is like any other community — offline or online — a place where people with shared interests gather to engage in conversations. Think about the communities you belong to and what keeps you going back, and it’s always the same thing: the level of engagement you have.

Developing a talent community requires creating the conditions for engagement. Pick a category of jobs, identify a topic that prospective candidates will be interested in, and start developing conversations around that topic. Great content can kick start conversations. The jobs need to have a high degree of commonality — nurses, doctors, mining engineers, marketing analysts, recruiters. It helps if the prospective candidates like to share stories and learn from each other.

Most people who join a talent community are interested in the community first, and finding employment may be a very distant second. But that’s the precisely the type of candidate we want to attract — the truly passive. Some of them may become interested in a job or may be persuaded to consider one, but it could take a long time. This is a long-term investment, more of a pipeline than a ready source of talent.

The Medium Is Not the Message

One lesson from the CNBC survey is that people aren’t particularly attached to Facebook — as a platform. People like to talk, and Facebook makes it easy to do so, but if something better or different comes along then they may not stick with the site. Look at how fast users abandoned MySpace. There are plenty of contenders, starting with Google+, and Path, which limits users to 150 friends, or FamilyLeaf that’s intended for family members, or Pair that’s a network for two people. Coming soon: Solo, for those who really like themselves.

The point being that a recruiting strategy centered on Facebook may not be a good long-term solution. What’s more important is understanding how to use social media effectively — building engagement, rather than relying on any particular platform.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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