The Rise of the Social Networks

After recent announcements by Facebook and the rise of networking platforms like MySpace, LinkedIn, and Ning, social networks are once again gaining momentum. Usage is accelerating, new audiences are being drawn in, and new applications are being developed that can help us all better manage our lives and contacts. Recruiters stand to benefit most from these trends, and here’s how.

One of the biggest challenges in online recruiting has been a lack of detailed, regularly updated and public information on candidates. Social networks have the ability to change this, and we’re still in the early-adopter stage. There are signs that social networks are growing up, expanding their audiences beyond the earliest adopters, and increasing their usefulness to recruiters.

Reviewing the Major Players

Each social network has its pros and cons for recruiters. Here is my take on each of the major players in the space.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn now has a bigger population than Sweden, according to the site. That is at least more than nine million people, although no statistics are available on how many people on LinkedIn are blond-haired, blue-eyed, and eat Swedish meatballs. Recruiters regularly report that LinkedIn is their most effective recruiting tool for a range of difficult-to-fill, experienced, and niche positions.

The beauty of the LinkedIn model is that it has created an environment where professionals can come and look for work, without appearing as though they are looking for work. In other words, they’ve found the holy grail in recruiting: the semi-active and passive candidates.

They excel with more experienced and niche candidates. The environment feels almost like a resume database, although their versions of resumes are supercharged by personal recommendations from past co-workers that can often provide insight into how good a person really is.

Of all the social networks, LinkedIn has the clearest opportunity to cut into the job boards’ domination of online recruiting and perhaps one day become the de facto standard for how people find jobs and build/publicize their resumes.

To accelerate this process, I would recommend that the company focus on user education and functionality (how you use your network to find a job, for example, as not everyone is a natural networker). In addition, learn ways to draw people into the community and give them incentives to update their information, establishing themselves as a member of the recruiting community through outreach, events, and educational whitepapers.

Facebook

Facebook is currently growing the fastest of any network and now has over 30 million profiles.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the site is the News Feed, where you see all of the things your friends are doing within the community, groups that they belong to, applications they’ve downloaded, or just messages they’ve posted: it’s like word-of-mouth on steroids.

Facebook recently opened up their code base for other developers, which will rapidly expand their user base since other applications you use regularly and are tied into Facebook will effectively drive traffic for them.

The growth of Facebook is an outstanding development for recruiters, as Facebook does a much better job than MySpace of structuring information and helping you search for people with an advanced search interface. Still, they don’t nearly get the depth of peoples’ experiences and recommendations like LinkedIn does.

Article Continues Below

In addition, a good portion of Facebook’s new members will likely be the more professional, college-educated crowd that recruiters crave (unemployment among college grads is close to 2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than half the rate of the rest of the working population). The reason new members are likely to be professionals is that Facebook started as an exclusive community for college students, and new members tend to be brought in by existing members.

If Facebook wants to play in the recruiting community (and I’m not sure if they really do, as it’s just one opportunity among many), I suggest that they allow users to expand on their experiences, give people tools to refer jobs to their friends (although this is more likely to come from an outside vendor that integrates with Facebook), provide ways to search and view profile summaries (vs. entire profiles with lots of irrelevant information for a recruiter), and let companies “pay to play” to get their jobs into the news feeds of their relevant users.

MySpace

MySpace passed the 100-million profile mark last August, with 230,000 new profiles being added every day.

For recruiters, however, MySpace is not the most user-friendly environment. There are too many 15-year-olds, not enough ways to find specific types of people, and not enough relevant data. Plus, it is buried within an interface that changes dramatically from profile to profile and has the added effect of blowing out your sound system on every other page.

That said, it’s still the biggest untapped directory of profiles on the Web. They’ve started to gather peoples’ job titles and some of their experiences, but until they can bury some of the noise, they won’t be useful to a majority of recruiters out there for anything except name research and the occasional instant message.

The Next Stage

Social networking is growing up. The fastest growth categories on many of these sites are people over 35 years of age, and there’s a pretty even distribution between men and women. There’s been a very funny ongoing commentary online about this phenomenon, which culminated in a widely distributed New York Times article called “omg my mom is on facebook!” Expect adoption of all of these tools to increase even more dramatically over the next year, as there’s now an army of developers focused on expanding what you can do with these tools.

On the horizon, there are new players to watch like Ning, a niche social networking platform that allows you to build your own social network around a topic that is interesting to you; Second Life, which is more of a virtual world but with some social networking and interactive capabilities useful for recruiters; and my former employer Jobster, which has recently launched some social networking technology on their job-seeker site.

Some clear opportunities exist to make searching for candidates using these tools easier for recruiters and for the networks to help candidates find employers, vs. employers doing most of the work. Recruiters would be wise to embrace these social networks soon by building their LinkedIn networks, engaging in the Facebook community, and trolling sites like MySpace and some of the newer players for candidates who you won’t always find in resume databases.

Eventually, social networks may the best tools at our disposal.

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

Topics