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

There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about social networking and its role in recruiting. Conferences and seminars are everywhere. ERE recently held a conference on social media at Google, and there are dozens of articles here on ERE and elsewhere that are touting the benefits of social networks. There are hundreds of social media blogs and websites as well, and an expanding number of social media applications and tools.

But the big questions for many are simple: What are social networks, what do they replace, and what makes them useful?

What Are Social Networks?
Very simply, social networks are Internet-based applications that allow you to expand and grow the number of people you know who have the skills, interests, or abilities that you are looking for. They also give you the opportunity to market your organizations to a targeted group of people.

For most of us the challenge is how to find enough of the right candidates to meet the needs we have and how to find people in markets and geographies that are new and strange. When your boss says that there are positions open in China, and you are in Minneapolis with only a local network, what do you do? This is where social networks can be magical.

Social networks as an idea are neither new nor unusual. We all have our own networks of candidates, friends, college mates, sports mates, relatives, and so forth. The only difference is that our networks are physical, and most likely interactions only occur face-to-face or over the telephone. We also often have very limited information about the people we meet everyday, and really aren’t certain if they could fit an open position we have or not. The Internet-based social networks provide a much broader ability to screen and communicate with potential candidates.

The social networks we all know best are LinkedIn and Facebook — both of which connect you to millions of potential candidates. They have been around for several years and through their own marketing and promotion have assembled a huge number of people. Other well-known social networks include MySpace, Bebo, Orkut, Hi5, Ning, and others. There are also many smaller networks, some more focused on a particular type of candidate or candidates of a certain age group, but still very valuable.

By offering the ability for you to connect to people through other people, you can build a global network of potential candidates. By using your own branding and marketing efforts, you can create a large and robust sub-network of people who know you and your organization and who you can communicate with as frequently as you wish. Some organizations use LinkedIn and Facebook to find people and then invite them to join a private social network that you may create by using a tool such as Ning, for example. By creating your own network, you can tailor the messages to your potential candidates and you can use the members to find more people.

What Do They Replace?
Instead of posting jobs to job boards, you can instead list your job on your career site and invite your network members to refer it to anyone they think is appropriate. If you have a large enough network, you may find enough candidates using only this method. But, for many recruiters you may still have to post to a job board or use some other outreach method to gather enough candidates. But, given a large enough network, it could replace job boards.

And, rather than hire people to do Internet search, you can simply ask your network members to refer someone who has the skills, abilities, or experience you need. The potential of a social network is huge and is only limited by how many people you have in the network. That is why many recruiting functions are taking budget dollars from traditional sourcing and investing them in marketing and promotion to build their social network.

What Are the Benefits of a Social Network?
Social networks also let you reach out to targeted groups of candidates to let them know about new opportunities or to just provide them with background information about your organization. By doing this on a regular basis, you can slowly inform candidates about many aspects of your business, the culture of your organization, and the kinds of opportunities you generally have. This helps candidates to self-select out of organizations they are not comfortable with, and prevents many bad hires. It also creates excitement in potential candidates who feel they are a good fit.

By using Candidate Relationship Management tools, you can build excitement and create a relationship with candidates. CRM allows you to:

  • Send messages on birthdays or other special occasions
  • Offer the opportunity to come to events and/or job fairs you might hold
  • Send information about internships or special assignments
  • Share facts and corporate news with them
  • Comment on their background or ask for additional information

Social networks allow you to increase the level of trust that candidates have in you and your organization, especially if you offer regular communication through a blog or some other media. Some organizations create regular videocasts or podcast about their business, offer videos of the CEO or other leader, and provide potential candidates with a broad perspective on the organization, its leadership, strategy, and culture.

What Role Does Twitter Play, for Example?
Tools such as Twitter are really micro-blogs and allow you to send messages to a group of followers to build or maintain interest in your organization. Twitter also serves as a type of CRM tool by letting you send job listings or specific messages to those same people on a regular basis. But Twitter is just one of a growing number of applications that either help drive more people to a social network or that keep them interested in your organization or build a relationship with them over time.

As you can see, using social networking well is challenging and time-consuming. It requires you to develop a social media strategy, decide which of these many tools are best for your organization, learn about new technologies, and practice a more proactive type of recruiting.

At the ERE Expo in Florida, there will be several sessions and a panel devoted to how to better use social networking. If you are still uncertain about how to make social networking payoff for you, this would be the event to attend.

While at first it may seem overwhelming to embrace social networking, candidates are getting accustomed to being treated in this more personal way, and the results are a higher quality candidate. Social media will become the primary sourcing tool and will provide the best forum for communicating with prospective candidates.

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