Oct 22, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Social networks are so hyped right now among recruiters that it is hard to separate their real value and purpose from often overblown marketing promises. By creating a social network specifically for your organization, you can differentiate yourself from the crowd, build your brand, and find most of the candidates you need without any other sourcing techniques.

Rethinking how we source is not easy. But the unrefined tools such as search engines, job boards, advertisements, and even referrals are slowly giving way to far more powerful social networks of candidates. These networks can be shaped for specific types of candidates and for specific skills and competencies. They can be the only source of candidates you have so that your focus can be on your brand and building awareness of your organization and the kinds of work you offer.

Does this sound a little pie-in-the-sky? Maybe given today’s level of understand and technology, it is a stretch to give up all other forms of sourcing, but I predict these networks will replace 90% of other sourcing techniques with in decade.

What Is a Social Network?

For those of us in recruiting, a social network may be better thought of as a pool of potential candidates or as a community of talent. This is not the same as a static database of candidates. It is an ever-changing, expanding network of people who have chosen to associate with one another virtually. I often make an analogy to a network being like a series of circles rippling out from a center. Those people at the center of the circles are your most valuable and most likely candidates. Each successive ring of candidates gets further from you, is less known, and therefore less valuable. LinkedIn denotes this by giving priority to those people you know and who know you and then giving lower priority to people who you know through others.

Why Create Your Own Social Network?

Most of us rely on the established networks for sourcing candidates. These include LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and many others depending on your geography and specialty. These will always have some place in recruiting, but by creating your own network you can have much more impact and get better results.

The purpose of creating a social network is to bring the best people into your innermost circle. By building a relationship through frequent communication via whatever means make sense (telephone, email, Twitter, SMS, or IM), you get to know more about each other. Potential candidates can make decisions about whether they like you, the organization you represent, and the positions that are available. You get to screen candidates and select people who closely match your needs.

Creating the infrastructure for a social network can be demanding, but free ones such as Ning are available and provide some level of customization. Others are built from scratch or by using open source tools and modules.’s community of users (you and me) is a good example of a social network of practitioners. We have common interests and any of us can find other recruiters who we might like to recruit or help to find a new position. This is an example of an open network, but it could just as easily be available only to people who answer some questions or pass through a filter of some sort qualifying them for membership.

With your own network, you can build in tests, require certain information, or in many ways decide if someone is the right person for your organization. By doing this you eliminate hundreds of unqualified people and reduce the time your recruiters spend screening out the unwanted.

A social network, or talent community, is always growing and changing. People can become a member of a talent community in several ways, but each requires them to learn more about the organization and provides the recruiter with more information about them. For example, if someone comes to the recruiting website and indicates an interest in a particular job, software can quickly assess a variety of things including aptitude for the job, interest, and skill level. People who answer questions in a certain way or who achieve certain scores can be referred to the most suitable positions, turned away completely, or forwarded directly to a recruiter for immediate followup. No one is asked to just “dump” their unevaluated resume into a hopper and wait for a follow up call — which usually never comes.

What Do Candidates Think?

Given these economic times, candidates are stressed and unhappy, as I have written in past articles. They are keen to find organizations that are responsive, friendly, and where they can showcase their own unique qualities. A social network allows this, and the candidates I speak with respond very positively to the immediate knowledge of how well they meet requirements. They are pleased to be invited to be part of a community they have an interest in and they are also glad to know right away that they are not a good fit and won’t be considered. No news is not good news to a candidate who is trying hard to refine his or her knowledge of different organizations and different positions, and who wants to maximize her time.

I am surprised that the hype about social networks revolves almost entirely around the public networks rather than on building your own. If you are in the planning stages for next year, set aside some of your budget to explore creating your own branded social network. You might be surprised at how well it works and at how it creates a far more efficient and candidate friendly environment than you probably have today.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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