Staffing Firm Takes Slow Approach To Social Media So It Can Do It Right

When Staff Management decided it needed a social media presence, its first instinct was to be cautious.

“We knew we had to be there, but there was a real concern about the issue of reputation,” admits Jerry Wimer, VP of operations at the contingent workforce provider. “Our whole industry is apprehensive about opening up that two-way communication.”

That the staffing industry has been hesitant to jump on the social media bandwagon is not surprising, considering the odd sort of business it is. It’s a B-to-B service that hires the public to work for someone else.

The work environment, management practices, the day-to-day tasks — almost everything about the workplace is out of the control of the staffing firm, even though, in most cases, its the boss who pays the the employee.

No wonder that when the staffing industry discusses social media the first issue to come up is the fear of negative feedback from the workers it hires, places, and, often enough, lays off.

In an article in the June issue of Staffing Industry Review, Manpower’s VP of U.S. Marketing and Franchise Relations Mark Metzendorf wrote: “The tremendous popularity of social media raises serious challenges around reputation management for organizations.”

But he also notes: “There is a clear role for social networks to help build and maintain engagement and brand reputations in our industry.”

It was the value of this role that so outweighed the potential risk of negative comments that for Staff Management it was never a question of whether to get on board with social media. The question was how best to do it.

“We’ve always been very feet-on-the-street oriented,” says Wimer. “We have been very heavily involved in community outreach, getting involved in a lot of personal contact and candidate networking.”

“But at some point it dawned on us that the whole country was getting on this platform (social media) and we needed to as well.”

So early this year Staff Management, a division of SeatonCorp, set out to develop a social media presence. It started by pulling together groups from within the company, and by looking at what others had done, as it started to develop a strategic plan.

As befits a company that was named #1 this year on HRO Today’s Baker’s Dozen list of top MSP suppliers, Staff Management did its homework. It hired CareerBuilder’s consulting arm, Personified, to analyze its existing online presence, and in particular, its online reputation.

“We needed to know where we stood and what was already out there about us,” recalls Wimer. Not unexpectedly, Personified reported that the company’s brand, as far as the online world was concerned, was limited. Staff Management was told its social media presence was, in Wimer’s words, “not so strong.”

So correcting that became one of the goals of its social media strategy. Other pieces of the plan came from seeing what wasn’t working or others.

“There are so many places out there where there’s nothing new for days or weeks,” says Wimer. “We knew we wanted to be more responsive. We wanted to have someone who would comment or respond back quickly; the same day was our goal.”

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Instead of deciding all the details, Staff Management concluded it needed to hire a social media professional to help with the strategy and manage the project. That turned out to be Sarah Katz, a young PR major with social media experience.

“She had a little bit of a blank slate,” Wimer adds. “We had some general guidelines, but we left a lot of it up to her.”

Since coming on board in August, Staff Management has developed a LinkedIn presence and launched a Twitter site. It launched on Facebook in September, promoting its clients and job fairs, but also adding news about hiring, openings, and bits about the company itself. It has almost 200 friends and lists of its openings.

The Facebook wall is mostly one-way, though the few two-way posts are just like eavesdropping on personal conversations. In one, a job fair attendee who didn’t leave a resume asked for and quickly got a fax number. And the name of the recruiting manager.

What the company has yet to do is to establish specific metrics to measure the impact of its social media program.

“A satisfactory result,” says Wimer, “might be a 10 percent lift (in candidate applications). That would be phenomenal.” But, “We definitely don’t have that (specific metrics) built into our plan.”

Eventually, it will. In fact, the company has already seen an increase in online responses to job postings. Wimer suspects that a good portion of that is due to the social media efforts, including the jobs the company now tweets to its followers, many of whom are company employees.

There’s still work to do. One obvious shortcoming is incorporating social elements into the company’s website. There’s no link to any of the social networks. The pleasantly inviting “Talk to Us” page is an impersonal form.

“We’re moving a little more slowly than maybe other companies would,” Wimer says. “We took a long time to decide (to go social), but once we did, we want to do it right.”

He offers three suggestions to other companies — staffing or not — who are considering a social media strategy:

  1. Make sure you are fully committed. “Don’t do it all if you are not committed to provide fast and timely followup to comments and posts.”
  2. Don’t sweat the negative. “You’ve got to be completely open and honest. Leave the negative comments. You will get some. Removing it will only hurt you.”
  3. Involve your workforce and expect enthusiasm. Being on social networks is “exciting. The workforce is there and they’ll be enthusiastic that the company is.” Involving employees will help in spreading the message.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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