Mixing Your Messages: Getting People on Social Networks Interested in Jobs

Quick, what’s the last ad you saw on Facebook? Don’t start thinking — just say it. Can’t think of one? Well then, what’s the most interesting post you read in the last week? The one that made you click on “like.” I’ll bet you remember that.

There’s an object lesson on the reality of social networks. Just before the Facebook IPO last week, GM announced that it was stopping all ads on Facebook, citing poor results; in other words, sales. What wasn’t mentioned is that GM is just the most recent company to abandon Facebook, following the lead of Gamestop, J.C. Penney, The Gap, Nordstrom, and Banana Republic. That’s not very surprising. The social media ad platform company Mediabrix estimates that the click through rate for ads on Facebook is just 0.05%. It’s a little better on Twitter — the company’s estimates are that retweets of commercial messages are about 3% – 5%, but of course that’s among a much smaller user base than Facebook.

Many companies are finding that advertising and social media don’t mix well. While it’s still early, the evidence so far suggests that social media users respond more to engagement than commercial messages.

But engagement isn’t easy either. It requires having to develop a conversation with people in your network in order to get your message across, and that can be a lot of work. In a BusinessWeek interview a GM executive said that Twitter ads during the Super Bowl nearly doubled the company’s followers, but added that maintaining such a campaign was far too resource-intensive for the company because a company tweet “can’t look like it came from some corporate thing” in order to be effective. It’s very labor intensive and it can’t be automated.

Product Placement

If you’re going to try and sell people on social networks, then it should be like product placement in the movies — subtle, not intrusive. There’s a scene in Ironman where Robert Downey, Jr., after returning from captivity, asks for a cheeseburger and he’s handed a bag from Burger King. They didn’t stop the movie to show an ad for whoppers. People on social networks don’t want to be marketed to — they don’t want to see job postings. A Forrester Research analyst described such efforts as “like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.” If people wanted to see job postings, they’d go to Monster, not Facebook.

Engagement requires a soft touch, not a hard sell. A company that does a great job of this is Dell, which has developed a customer service strategy rooted in engagement on Facebook. Any employer looking to attract candidates through social media can learn a lot from the Dell page. In one sense it’s a very simple formula — you have to make it interesting. Start a conversation by picking a topic that’s relevant to the audience. Keep it going by including others that can contribute to it. Make the brand noticeable but not dominant.

Article Continues Below

This is what builds a talent community. If you’re going to start talking about jobs, then the pitch has to be woven into the conversation. Trouble is that this is a low-yield strategy that takes time and effort. The people in such communities are there because of the community — not the jobs. The ones who were interested in your jobs have likely already applied for them.

Use the Social Aspect of Social Networks

People have long relied on social networks to help them find jobs — from well before the term existed. They are real social networks — offline — consisting of friends and relatives.

Social networks have merely moved the process online. In a recent survey of some 1,800 candidates about half the respondents claimed that they found their last job through connections made through social networks, mainly by tapping friends and relatives. Interestingly, a majority of those that found jobs in this manner also reported higher levels of satisfaction with their jobs. The likely reason is that they had more and better insights into the job than they would have otherwise. This is not a huge survey, but it does suggest that candidates use social networks to benefit from their social connections — not because of job postings.

For an employer wanting to tap social networks the approach should be to draw people into conversations much like the kind they have with others –professional conversations, not personal ones, but conversations all the same. Introducing jobs into these can result in the jobs being referred to others they know or perhaps the candidates considering the jobs themselves. But just posting jobs on social networks may not produce much of a return on the investment.

Raghav Singh, director of product management at Salesforce, where his role is to build commercial products for HR, particularly recruiting. Prior, he was director of product management at Korn Ferry, where he developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. Raghav's career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.