Recruiting’s Smart Experiment With Social Media

Jun 15, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

As the summer’s gathering of social-media-using recruiters kicks off at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, recruiters at DaVita, KPMG, CO-OP Financial Services, Burger King, California Pizza Kitchen, and the University of California we talked to over the last couple of weeks say that social media is an ongoing experiment, one that in some companies is being done without any specific plan, but is nonetheless yielding results.

The Spoke and the Wheel

“Smart Experimentation” is the motto at DaVita, whose recruiting department was recently honored by peers. The Colorado company hires nurses, social workers, dieticians, technicians, and others for its dialysis operations.

A social media research team, including three DaVita recruiters and Shaker, reviewed the Web 2.0 landscape to decide where to initially focus the company’s efforts, in addition to its corporate careers site. One topic of conversation, for example: Should MySpace be on our target list?

In February, they presented their findings to Tony Blake. As a result of the study, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube topped DaVita’s short list of social-media favorites. All 50+ recruiters have LinkedIn accounts, and an internal Spring audit showed 80% had Facebook pages.

DaVita had a Facebook careers group, but is migrating toward a better fan page, with the help of Shaker. It also uses Facebook for an internal blog, where recruiters post best practices, such as increasing followers on Twitter. Interest in that blog has been modest so far.

Although Blake and others have jumped on the Twitter wagon, it will be in Q3 when Twitter will follow Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube as the object of DaVita’s attention. What’s now DaVitaJobs will probably change to a variety of sub-divided jobs — DaVitaNursingJobs, or something like that. A number of other tactics are in the works for the rest of the year. It’ll try JobsinPods and will probably have another go at TweetMyJobs. When it posted one job there, 19 people looked into it. DaVita liked the results, but cut back when the company started charging.

This Fall, Davita will also work on a new social media plan, based on what it has learned from its “smart experiment.” Among the metrics it’ll use to judge its success: LinkedIn page views; user ratings for answers provided by DaVita recruiters on LinkedIn; Twitter followers and other recruiter-network growth; source of hire, which it’ll measure monthly; growth of Facebook fans; wall posts; and Google analytic information showing movement from social media sites to DaVita’s careers page.

Says Watson: “Our goal with the social networks and career site is to function like a spoke-and-wheel where all social sites are the spokes feeding into the center of the wheel which is our career site.”

Spreading the Word by Video

This quarter, the DaVita recruiting team will turn its attention to YouTube. Watson wants employment-branding videos made that are “really raw, the true nature of what it’s like to work there.” Perhaps, he says, the company will hold a competition where employees make their own videos showing what it’s like to work in facilities, or nursing, or other jobs.

KPMG has been at this a while. For a year and a half, interns and new hires have been putting up videos on YouTube about what it’s like to work at the company. This will be the third summer that interns can participate in a best-video contest. KPMG uses its career site to spread the best videos, and takes advantage of “campus ambassadors” who tell other students about the videos and about their internships at the company.

That’s just the tip of the social-media iceberg for KPMG, which brings in about 2,100 full-time college hires and about 1,700 interns annually.

Beyond video, other KPMG tactics include virtual career fairs, as well as one intern’s blog about the company on

Kathleen Schaum, director of the company’s campus strategy, has been at the company 20 years, the last half in HR. She says several tools developed by the company are aimed at helping candidates answer the question: “If I went to KPMG, would I be stuck in one little job my whole career?

Its employer brand (or employee value proposition; choose your jargon) is three-pronged. Candidates are told they can have three things at the company: fun; leadership opportunities; and a global career.

Recruiters can tap into an alumni network for boomerang hires. Employees and candidates each have sites to map out their career trajectories. For employees, once they map out where they want to go and have a sense of which KPMG-ers may already be doing similar work, they can use a separate mentoring tool which allows them to connect with those employees for advice.

“Didn’t Pay a Dime”

When it comes to social media, LinkedIn is a winner for Christina Ousley, a senior HR generalist in California for CO-OP Financial Services.

She recruits sales, HR, accounting, and other jobs for the company, which is involved in the electronic funds transfer business. Last year, she helped bring in about 100 people to the 250-person company. Recently, to backfill a PR manager job, she emailed targeted people who were part of her LinkedIn network. They emailed it and re-emailed it and sent it to marketing and PR groups. The result is a new employee, and, she says, “I didn’t pay a dime.”

She has also used LinkedIn to get a hold of recruiters at credit unions where she reads about layoffs. In one case, she contacted such recruiters, and ended up conducting a little outplacement session at the company. She had three really qualified people for an open job. Did she hire one? “Almost,” she says. “It would have been a great success story.”

Jeff Todd, also in California, is using LinkedIn at Berkeley. The state is so broke that it’s talking about shutting down parks, freeing prisoners, and selling off landmarks. School funds are being cut and some University of California-Berkeley employees who handle IT, publications, and fundraising, and other areas, will lose their jobs. Todd is teaching them to build LinkedIn profiles and join LinkedIn groups, as well as learn their way around Facebook.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, he’s posting articles about the school from his Twitter page, and using HootSuite to measure success. With HootSuite, he can set up a special URL to see what’s generating traffic and what’s not; politics (such as a post in which he said “UC Berkeley lab conducts stem cell research, free for the first time from restrictions lifted by Obama”) and entertainment seem to sell. The goal: to build a relationship that’ll be necessary when things turn around. “When things get hot,” he says, “the people who are going to talk to you are those you paid attention to when times were slow.” His wife would probably agree, as she recently hired someone at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who had been forwarded her job-opening post on Twitter.

“In the Future, They’ll Be There”

Brianna Foulds, who has been Tweeting using her married name BrieNadal, is the senior manager of recruiting at California Pizza Kitchen. She works on the hiring of restaurant managers in the Western U.S., oversees the corporate recruiting, and is involved in internal promotion and succession-planning initiatives.

While the chain would prefer an expanding economy, one thing that’s helping it hold up well is its thank-you card program, where repeat customers have the manager open up a card entitling them to a gift.

Anyhow, Foulds is experimenting with social media like so many others. “We’re really just trying to get on the big ones,” she says. “We’ve decided it’s best to be on a couple sites and really own them, rather than a lot and not really be effective.”

The restaurant doesn’t have a formal plan in place, but the marketing department is building a Facebook fan page (which Foulds’ department will then help keep up). It’s going to be one Facebook site for fans, whether you like your job being a hostess, or you like the Thai pasta. Meanwhile, the PR department is Tweeting about the thank-you cards mentioned earlier, as well as other topics, under the handle

For office jobs like HR, “LinkedIn is a fantastic place,” Foulds says. The company isn’t finding as many restaurant manager candidates on social media as it’d hope, but “in the future, they’ll be there,” Foulds says.

John Nykolaiszyn, one of four senior corporate recruiters for Burger King Corp, is also dabbling in social-media for restaurant-industry jobs. “We want to be ahead of the competition,” he says. “We’re quietly using Twitter. We’re using LinkedIn. We’re exploring search engine optimization and search engine marketing to promote our brand.” That brand has four parts to it; “Bold, Accountable, Empowered, and Fun.”

Right now, the modest steps are getting good buzz. A June 9 list of top Twittering recruiters (say that 10 times fast) included BK, as well as the line: “This list is almost as interesting for who’s NOT on it at this point. We have Burger King, but not McDonald’s.”

“People Are Terrified”

Matt Alder is the director of product strategy for Barkers, the largest recruitment communications agency in the UK. He’s helping clients manage their employer brands online, which involves, he says, two things. The first is getting the message out about their companies, whether through videos, Twitter, or something else. The second is monitoring what people are saying about them.

Privacy, he says, is a bigger issue across the Pond than in the U.S. As mentioned before, it’s easy to be uneasy about what you find on social media sites.

“People have a real potential problem with people looking up on Facebook and things like that. Facebook is still considered quite private. The press over here jump on every single invasion of privacy that social media throws up.”

Advertising on Facebook, he says, is fine. But researching candidates: not as much. “There are fewer employer Facebook fan pages in the UK at the moment. LinkedIn and Twitter seem to be something companies are comfortable with. But who can see what they’re doing on Facebook — people are terrified about that in the UK. Facebook has had massive, massive growth year over year and people are very keen to share … but with family and friends.”

Christina Ousely, from CO-OP Financial Services, is using Facebook “for personal use, but I haven’t really tapped into it (for recruiting). I’m hesitant to add people to my page, because it has pictures of my daughter, stuff like that.”

These are challenges at Berkeley, too, according to Jeff Todd, the fellow mentioned earlier who’s helping with outplacement and testing out Twitter there. The university is still trying to figure out who should be looking up what on social media sites: Should it be HR? Search committees? Someone else? Todd says there are innumerable issues that arise when viewing a Facebook profile and finding out a person’s religion, politics, and appearance. The problem, he says, isn’t just about rejecting someone because of what you learned about them – something that hopefully won’t happen much. It’s that once you take a look at their profile, there could be the perception that you rejected them for that reason.

Foulds, from CPK, occasionally posts a job on her personal Facebook page, or otherwise receives an careers inquiry there. But, she tells candidates: “I try and keep Facebook a little more personal, for friends and family. Let’s connect on LinkedIn.”

“Loaded Up on Tweets”

Managing all this social media is also a challenge.

Christina Ousley has a close relationship with CO-OP’s marketing department, and is talking to the marketers about the best way to send out jobs via Twitter in the future. For now, if she wants to Tweet jobs out, she’ll do it by hand, not RSS.

She’s still using Monster, for entry-level positions in particular. Ousley’s “trying to find the manpower” for Twitter and other social media.

Mainly, she’s using Twitter to find good articles about best practices, and network with corporate recruiters who are also using it. But, she says, “As the only recruiter, it’s hard for me to sit there and Tweet all day (something she says often goes on with independent recruiters). I’m not a beginner with Twitter. I think I know more than a lot of people out there. But it’s time-consuming. I am glad I work really fast. I’m glad I can multitask. My cell phone is loaded up on tweets. Some people just Tweet all the time.”

Similarly, CPK’s Brianna Foulds (who also likes the restaurant community Fohboh as well as the Talent Revolution site) is using Twitter to learn about best practices in recruiting. “The thing I found that is absolutely wonderful about Twitter,” she says, “is the networking with others, sharing best practices and information. There’s a huge presence of professionals. I try to go in a couple of times a day and read Tweets, and try some re-Tweeting of my own. It’s adding on to my normal, typically busy day. Some days I just don’t find the time.”

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