Predictions for the Future of Digital Talent Acquisition: Social Media (Part 2 of 3)

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 5.12.46 AMThis is the second part of a three-part series on the future of digital talent acquisition. In part one, I looked at content. Content will be the watchword of the next few years and there are some very specific ways talent acquisition professionals can ride that wave. But content is a spark waiting for gasoline in the shape of social media.

It has only been a few years since social media escaped the dorms and became the communication and financial powerhouse we see today. To some extent, we’ve seen social media complete its maturation process to compete with TV and display ads. No longer is social media a means for people to talk to each other that happens to have ads on it. Now, it is a medium for ads that happens to allow you to connect with friends.

If you don’t believe it, take a look at your Facebook feed. If you stripped out updates for games like Farmville and Candy Crush, updates from brands, links to other websites and videos, and updates from other social media channels like Instagram, Pinterest and Spotify, what’s left? Not much. Not much at all.

But that doesn’t mean social media is dead. It means that it is changing and evolving. Maturation of the content channel coincides with a maturation of the business model: many of the feed updates are paid for. It used to be if you were a fan of Coke or Bucky Badger, their updates would show up on your feed because you are a fan. Now, only about 1 percent of all brand updates organically (read: free) make it onto peoples’ feeds. Everything else gets paid for.

So look at your Facebook feed again. Think about how many of those updates were paid for and what they cost. Think about how much time and effort goes into all those Upworthy, BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post “articles” that flood your feed. Think about the amount of actual conversation that is taking place on your Facebook feed and you’ll agree: Facebook has changed a great deal in just the last four years. This means that in the near term, any Facebook campaigns you’re considering will be more expensive just to maintain the same reach. This means that in the long term, maybe Facebook isn’t a social media platform as much as it’s an ad platform. This should change your thinking of if and how to use it.

At the same time, Twitter is hinting that it may be thinking about filtering its feeds the same way that Facebook does in an effort to keep “valuable content” in your Twitter feed. Twitter’s exit interviews show that the two main reasons people leave it are because there’s no way to filter content to only show the good stuff and because not everyone can find friends to follow. The first point is interesting in that Twitter’s nature is to be more “raw” than Facebook. A post can be seen by 100 percent of your followers. Regarding how one defines “good stuff” in a Twitter feed: It isn’t much of a leap to see that “valuable content” will be defined less by what a user wants to see and more by what a brand wants to pay. Twitter is on the cusp of deciding if it is going to be more like Facebook or if it is going to stay raw. I have hopes more than predictions, but it is worth keeping in mind when shopping social.

LinkedIn is making a big bet on content. While it seems to have mapped each person’s professional network pretty well, it will start using content to learn who really are influencers and who’s just listening. Add LinkedIn to your content distribution process now if you haven’t already. It’s low cost and gets your best content (not just your job openings) in front of influential people.

But the most interesting places for social media are on visual social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest and on more ephemeral channels like SnapChat and WhatsApp.

Visual social media may feel like a toy, but the power of visuals gives them real impact. The scope of Lawrence of Arabia wouldn’t have the same impact described in audio, even if it did have a great score behind it. Visual grab us emotionally. We believe visuals more and faster than we do textual information alone. Blog posts with graphics are read more than those without. So start to think about how your talent brand could harness the power of Instagram or Pinterest. These channels are excellent places to get immediate employee-generated content. And as newer platforms, they haven’t been as savagely tilled as Facebook or Twitter. They might be more fertile soil to grow some crops.

SlideShare continues to grow and add value. It’s interesting because most people list it as “visual social media” but it’s really a content distribution network. (Have you noticed how many of our social media predictions involve content? That’s not an accident.) Refactor your best content into clean PowerPoint slides and publish them on SlideShare. They will get eyeballs, traffic, and SEO value to your site without much work at all.

Beyond visuals, based on what’s popular in the dorms and with your kids, we’re about to see a lot of SnapChat and ephemeral marketing.

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SnapChat is somewhat hard to explain: Think of it as a visual text message designed to evaporate upon viewing. Text is very limited (less than 50 characters), but the real message is the integration of image or short video clip, the scribbling on the image and the text (which is really more of a caption). You see the image for a few seconds and it is gone (mostly forever). More interestingly, you can’t broadcast: you send a message to individuals who must follow you back. This means you have to offer something of significant value to get someone to create a connection before you can talk to them. It places the burden of value on you.

While it sounds like a medium designed to eschew marketing, it just turns broadcast marketing on its head: instead of a single message to a million people, this is a single message to a very limited audience. It forces you to think hyper-locally and hyper-specifically. People are already experimenting with it and it will likely be an interesting channel in the very near future. If you want to try it out, start with a pilot project. Reach out to a handful of applicants for a single job (perhaps an internship) and ask if they are on SnapChat. Create connections and send pics of current interns. Ask for pics of what they’d like to be doing as interns. This can even be a part of the initial interview process.

In the social media sector, we are in the middle of a platform arms race. All major brands are on all major platforms all the time. Think of how many of you have Google Plus pages for your company that you built because it was new and it was Google, only to virtually abandon them because it turns out it wasn’t anything like Facebook. Everyone is planting their flags in each new platform as it gains traction, spreading their social media budgets of both money and time ever thinner. No one is achieving any positing advantage simply by being on that platform, but no one is willing to cede any territory.

You will absolutely need some sort of social media monitoring and management tool set to find, aggregate, and disseminate content via your social media channels, but it will only help you with the most established platforms. To succeed at emerging platforms, you are going to have to get your hands dirty, be willing to experiment and even make some mistakes.

Winners of the talent game in social media will come from people who are willing to focus on a single channel and really become experts at it. When Oreo tweeted during last year’s Super Bowl blackout, it was only able to stand out in a crowded market by having true expertise in Twitter. Ellen’s Oscar selfie was not a random event; it was crafted by people who knew the value of selfies and celebrities on Twitter, the value of networks, and gave it a great push by making it feel “spontaneous.” Samsung, the maker of the phone she carried around during the Oscars, paid a lot for that single photo op because it knew it would travel far and wide. While social media pushes us to think in terms of scattering seeds, we should also be considering “how” and where to strategically plant things and get them to grow.

Next, I’ll look at how mobile will be driving the content that resonates with prospects.

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