Apr 6, 2011
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Build Social Capital to Succeed with Social Media

“The Whuffie Factor” is a book about using social networks to build your business. The concept of whuffie (rhymes with whoopee, but don’t confuse the two) refers to social capital built through connections among and between people in communities of shared interest. This creates a sort of “cultural currency” that an organization (or individual) can “spend” for its own benefit.

The Whuffie Factor is about marketing and sales but it does have some lessons for recruiting. The main one is that in order to succeed in making hires, recruiters must actively participate in social networks in — well — a social way. What most recruiters are accustomed to is using any media or channel to push ads.

The social media recruiting strategy of many employers can be described as one of getting as broad a network as possible (followers, connections, friends), getting to know major influencers, and getting write ups or posting jobs through those. That may well have worked in a Web 1.0 world, but it won’t do much in a Web 2.0 world, where people expect to have interactions with others — which is what social media is all about.

‘Tis Better to Give Than to Receive

Whuffie is about getting involved with a close-knit community, actively participating, and paying it forward. As an example, don’t just promote your company. Ask others about their companies. Participate in other’s online events and help them promote theirs. Don’t just ask them to attend yours. And help others get make connections that help them; don’t just ask for connections to people who might be interested in your jobs. Turn the bullhorn around: listen, don’t always be the one talking.

That builds up social capital and creates a currency that you can spend in pursuit of candidates. But you have to earn the currency before you can spend it. These principles are the same offline and online. Just how likely are you to help someone make connections who shows little interest in you and is only interested in using your network for their own benefit? But most people will help others they are close with and with whom they have regular interactions.

Talent Community or Marketing Database

Whuffie can be built up in talent communities, so long as they are real “communities.” Members interact with each other, share experiences and knowledge, and have a sense of belonging. But that takes time and deliberate design to ensure that there are meaningful common elements, good reasons for participating, and facilitators to make the interactions happen. This all takes time and effort and employers that can’t do so end up feeling frustrated with social media. A lot of so called talent communities are nothing more than a database of prospective candidates. They can be described as communities only if you believe that the phone book represents a community.

I signed up for one such community and the next thing that happened was I started getting emails telling me about every job that company had open, from the an entry-level administrative role all the way to a director-level position. Really makes you feel like you’re part of something special.

Some companies have decided that the returns do not justify the effort required for a talent community to be successful. The strategy of a major cruise line is only to post stories and articles on social media sites and direct candidates to their own website. That can be automated by a content management system. Given the volume of hires the company makes and the wide diversity (in jobs, locations, and languages), a true social media strategy is not practical. What they’re doing is using social media as a channel for broadcasting ads. There’s nothing social about that. It doesn’t build Whuffie.

Recruiters need to interact with a talent community to earn whuffie, which takes time and effort. There’s no way to automate that, though it can be outsourced. Some employers have established or hired offshore teams to interact with talent communities and create whuffie, much like gamers in multi-player games buy advanced levels from “factories” in China and other countries. That has to be less satisfying than doing it yourself (much like makin’ whoopee) but either way, you have to get it before you can spend it. It’s not a one-way street which is what makes it difficult for recruiters to build a reliable, repeatable process for getting hires through social media.

The central message of The Whuffie Factor is that your social reputation is your capital. It takes time to build a reputation but do it well and you can achieve a lot.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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