Interact or Your Talent Competitors Will

Apr 12, 2010

Around the world the response to social media by corporations and their recruiting functions in particular is as varied as one can imagine. As recent as February, a small majority (53-57%) of organizations were still banning access to social media sites in the workplace, according to multiple studies, and only 29% had a formal policy outlining how groups within the organization could use such sites to support formal corporate initiatives. While many corporate leaders may not understand the premise behind social media or be attracted to the interaction and transparency it can provide, the major players in social media are here to stay and organizations best develop a strategy that involves a lot more than doing nothing.

While becoming an early adopter isn’t for every organization and shouldn’t be for some, the truth is that social media is no longer in its infancy stage; most of the major players are turning seven this year. In the six-plus years that sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook have been vetting concepts and building out their offerings, they have become a necessary and integrated component of daily life for hundreds of millions of people. Usage is now past the tipping point where refusing to participate doesn’t come with serious consequences, one of which might just be the hijacking of your candidate flow by talent competitors.

Social Media Squatting Emerges

Cybersquatting, or the practice of registering Internet domain names related to another entity with the intention of later selling them for big money, has found a new angle in the recruiting community. Savvy recruiters are setting up Twitter accounts and groups on LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook that service candidates interested in employment or who already work for a talent competitor. The intention behind such actions is usually the hijacking of the candidate flow, the mining of competitive intelligence, or poaching of existing talent. A competitor of Children’s Memorial in Chicago for example could create a group on facebook named “Critical Care Nurses of Children’s Memorial Chicago.” Potential candidates interested in learning more about the magnet hospital and the working environment from other nurses could join the group, only to be fed negative information and dissuaded from applying by group members and encouraged to join the rival hospital. (The example used is fictitious.) While the practice isn’t common, it has already been spotted in the high technology, healthcare, and professional service industries.

A more common form of squatting relates to social media vanity URLs, which let you link to your social media profiles in a more user-friendly way. Vanity URLs enable you to replace the gobbledygook (!/profile.php?id=845862041&ref=ts) found in a typical social media profile link with a handle of your choosing, i.e. Organizations slow to use social media are finding that vanity URLs are being set up by employee groups, alumni, customers, and yes, competitors.

Little or No Recourse

Like domain names, vanity URLs on social networks and groups are served up on a first-come, first-serve basis: if someone gets their first, it’s theirs. With domain names, organizations in some countries can challenge the ownership of the domain if the offending name infringes on a legal trademark. But if that isn’t the case, the only recourse is to buy the domain name from the current registrant. Most social networking sites prohibit the sale of user accounts, but do reserve the right to reclaim a vanity URL or transfer ownership of a group to a new user; however, the situations that make that possible are not clearly defined.

How to Protect Your Organization Against Squatting

Whether you realize the value of social media or not, some in and outside your organization do, and at some point they will most likely establish a networking group that relates to your organization. While you can prohibit employees from doing certain things related to social media in the workplace, as long as employees are not violating trademark law, it’s difficult for organizations to prohibit people from assembling online and affiliating with your brand.

If you are interested in protecting your organization against social media squatters, consider the following:

  • Register now. To insure that choice group names and vanity URLs are yours for use later, the best approach is to stop resisting and join the revolution! Even if you are not ready to start interacting, you should go ahead and reserve your vanity URLs and group names. After all, they are free!
  • Monitor frequently. It takes minutes to set up a group and hundreds of engaged stakeholders can join overnight, so whether you are leveraging social media in your strategy or not, you need to frequently monitor the major social networking sites to spot initiatives to build a community related to your organization quickly.
  • Support employee and customer efforts. It’s a lot easier to influence a community when you are part of it versus trying to regulate its actions from outside the wall. If your customers or your employees want to network, they are going to do so whether you want them to or not. When initiatives start up, get over resisting, and support the initiatives to the extent you can.

Final Thoughts

While it used to be routine for organizations to take years to adapt to new technologies and social trends, doing so today can create a gigantic culture lag between life inside the organization and the outside world. With smart phones becoming ubiquitous, access to social networking sites is too. If you don’t step up to the plate and start servicing your stakeholders using social media, chances are someone else will. To use a quote famous among fans of Star Trek, “resistance is futile.”

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