How Social Media Hurts Recruiting, and What to Do About It (Part II)

Jan 27, 2011

In Part 1 of this series, I introduce the argument that in addition to the obvious upsides, substantial negative consequences are also created through social media’s impact on recruiting. Social media is creating problems for recruiting, but few people are talking about this topic.

If you haven’t read Part 1, I recommend you read it before this article. I explore the idea of the Social Gap –the gap that is created as a result of social media. This is primarily a gap of expectations … because most corporate recruiting practices are currently incongruent with supporting the social graph.

I originally thought this would be a 2-part series, but after continued reflection and writing this latest portion of the article, the topic is best served by a 3-part series.

Now, contrary to some, the goal of this series was not to be sensationalist, but rather to point out something that I’ve not heard others discuss: that with all of the benefits provided by social media, there also exist some substantial adverse effects. Smart recruiting departments can (and should) respond to mitigate those negative consequences. So it is in that spirit that I offer two other issues (and some solutions) that social media creates for recruiting departments:

  • The Social Proof Problem
  • The Backdoor Problem

The first problem, the Social Proof Problem, is related to a fundamental shift in how people (this includes candidates) view the efficacy of online information, and also how they use social media for validation. This is closely tied to the concept of Radical Transparency and Social Proof. There’s a great book by Cialdini that discussed in depth the dynamics of Social Proof.

There are three primary macro-level trends that have happened over the past 10 years to fuel The Social Proof problem. It’s easy to forget that Internet usage has doubled in the last decade, and that in 2000 fewer than half of Americans had Internet access. Similarly, broadband access increased from less than 10% market penetration to 60% in the same time frame. This access to the web then combined with the phenomenon of blogging, which we now also take for granted. But remember, until the advent of mass-market blogging circa 2002-2003, the relative volume of online information was low and widely dispersed. It is interesting to look back and review the famous Technorati State of the Blogosphere reports to remind us of the huge shift that has happened. Now we have social media which is pouring gas on the fire of this huge information availability shift.

The impact of these trends on recruiting departments is that people and candidates now seek more easily accessed Social Proof to validate and codify the information they believe to be true. Social Proof has widely been studied in the field of social psychology, and is tied to the human condition that results in the Fundamental Attribution Error. In short, given limited time and motivation, people will often evaluate people, products, companies, jobs (and most other things) based on how surrounding people behave toward them.

The application of Social Proof has been used widely for years, but is rarely talked about. The classic examples are using good-looking celebrities to sell products. The underlying marketing message is that the product must be worth purchasing if a good-looking celebrity is making the endorsement. Or the laugh tracks that play on sitcoms: our brain is wired to think the show is funnier if we hear others (even canned pre-recorded tracks) laughing along with us.

Social Media accelerates the Social Proof dynamic of the human condition. This is why Facebook will prove to be so powerful as a marketing channel and why websites like exist. The impact on recruiting departments is related to the shifts I described earlier: it used to be that company employment brands were shaped primarily by company-generated points of view. For example, getting on the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work would shape candidate perceptions. Or employment brand statements, images, and related collateral would mold candidate perceptions of the value proposition offered. Indeed, this has not changed. But what has changed is that now candidates seek to validate the claims by seeking Social Proof: “who do I know in my network that can substantiate these claims?” As humans, we overweight the efficacy of information received through people we know as being truer than other sources. It makes us feel safer to do so.

The impact on recruiting organizations is that this reputation economy places far more pressure on organizations to create marketing impressions that are true. These marketing impressions include every touch point with candidates through the steps in the recruiting process, as well as those impressions that are made outside of the recruiting chain of events. As a company, the claims made related to employment will be scrutinized and validated in ways we have not seen before.

It is no longer sufficient to make claims about employment at your company, even if you believe them to be true. Instead, they have to be true. Reflect on that statement for a moment. I see many organizations with tremendous incongruence between the true value proposition offered compared to their beliefs about the value proposition. What they think they offer isn’t really what they offer.

Smart organizations are already changing their game in response to these trends. You can, and should, too. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • The first step is to Get Real: If your beliefs about your value proposition as an employer aren’t steeped in data, you need to start measuring more effectively. Conduct a survey of employees, but recognize that you also need to obtain outside data. So survey people outside of your organization to gauge perceptions about the employment value proposition, and marry the two findings into a comprehensive model. Recognize that Social Proof and the fundamental attribution error shape your perceptions also: “my company must be a great place to work because I work here and all these great people work here …”
  • Evaluate all candidate marketing impressions (and test them for truth): Systematically review the marketing impressions you make on potential applicants, and evaluate whether they are true. It is sometimes useful to have a colleague or other person or consulting company do a ‘secret shopper’ evaluation of the recruiting process. Send a few unbiased observers through your recruiting process and have them take notes on all of the marketing impressions that are made. See what you learn, and then make adjustments, either by changing the impressions for candidates, or making changes within your organization to further substantiate the claim. For example, if part of your marketed value proposition is that you support families and the idea of work/life balance, substantiate that claim by asking your employees if they feel it’s true. If it isn’t highly substantiated by truth, either make changes to policies and your approach, or stop making the impressions on candidates. Importantly, it’s incumbent on you to get to the truth; a great litmus test for truth is whether you are able to provide valid data that substantiates the claim; if you can’t, all you have likely formed is an opinion. At worst, do this for your most important jobs — the ones that if left unfilled will most negatively impact company performance.
  • Recognize Realistic Job Previews are happening and respond correctly: RJPs have been widely studied, and the general consensus is that effective job previews improve job survival ratings by 3-10%. New hires who realistically understand the truth about the highs and lows of a job at a company have a better probability of remaining engaged and productive in their new jobs. Social Media is now giving people an impression of what it’s really like to work at your company. Since candidates are asking your employees to provide them with an RJP already, smart companies are taking the time to more deeply understand the components of a realistic RJP, validating with employees, and then producing collateral that can be shared with employees for reinforcement, but also equipping employees with the collateral to share across their social graph. Of course those same tools are used in the recruiting department.

There are many more tactics that can be deployed to respond to the Social Proof problem that social media has created for recruiting departments. As usual, sound off in the comments and join the discussion.

The Backdoor Problem is also substantial and tied to the first two problems we discussed. We will explore it in detail in Part III of this series.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!