What Is a Talent Community in 2013?

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 6.56.07 AMIn 2013, it seems everyone is talking about talent communities. Some people call their job alert system a talent community; some people refer to their CRM as a talent community; some people call their LinkedIn company group a talent community; and some job boards refer to their resume database as a talent community. And, it seems, there is a vendor solution for each flavor of talent community. These diverse opinions create interesting discussions and debate until it is time to seriously consider whether to invest in a community of talent; then the confusion sets in and creates the question — what is a talent community?

For me, defining a talent community is easy. 

I turn to social media thought leader Jeremiah Owyang. He defines community: “An online community is an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest.” If we extend that thinking to communities of talent, it follows that a talent community is an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest or affinity. For me, the “test of community” is whether or not a member can have a conversation with another member of the community. In other words, does the community allow for conversation?

Like many things, talent communities are also defined by how they are used in practice. While my “working definition” of community has remained consistent, my experience building communities has allowed for the consideration of a broader definition of talent community in practice. And to be honest, the definition of talent community by the recruiting industry has evolved over time.

Back in the day (circa 2007) when the idea of talent communities was just that — an idea — a Microsoft team that I was member of began to experiment with building talent communities (I must blame thought leader Kevin Wheeler for causing me to think about communities of talent). Our “Microsoft sandbox” was impacted by community pioneers at Jobster, the Career Connection Network, and by Jobs2Web. Along with Doug Berg (Jobs2Web founder) a strong influence on our thinking was Richard Nacht (Career Connection Network founder). As a side note: Richard was ahead of his time; what we are discussing today in terms of community — gamification, community managers, niche- and profession-based groups, and talent assessment — were all part of his platform.

The community-building work at Microsoft was summarized by two of my former colleagues, John Phillips and Heather Tinguely. They presented an overview of Microsoft’s talent community work at ERE’s Social Recruiting Summit 2010. In a very transparent case study that covered more than 200 communities on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, they showcased the success and failures their talent communities. The Microsoft communities were built on platforms that allowed for conversations by its members. They identified three types of communities that their employees developed. They were:

  1. Corporate promotional communities
  2. Interest-based groups
  3. “Jobs” groups

Moving forward to 2013, I notice four different types of communities that have evolved over the past six years:

  • Talent network
  • Company-branded community
  • Profession-based community
  • Hybrid (branded & profession-based) community

The “talent network” emerged with the Jobs2Web (now SuccessFactors) recruitment marketing platform and has been adopted by the other leading recruitment platforms such as Smashfly and TMP’s TalentBrew. The talent network is based on a job alert trigger system where a member selects the type of jobs they would be interested in with a company and are advised via email when such a position becomes available. While the talent network solution does not map to my definition of community, the simplicity and the effectiveness of this approach keeps it in the talent community discussion. One of the interesting aspects of the talent network is that become more effective as they age; recent data from SuccessFactors shows that their customer’s talent networks have become the third best source of hire.

The second method is the popular approach of build a following and community around a career at a company with the fans of its brand. This branded talent community showcases the organization’s employment value proposition, as well as what it like to be a member of the team. This approach to community works well if you are the market leader or rising star in a particular business segment. The very nature of this type of community requires a constant supply of new members, as interest in a job with a certain company is intermittent at best.

There are several vendor solutions that have been developed around this branded approach to community. They seek to bring together in a network the current, past, and future employees of an organization. Examples of this company branded approach to community include Ascendify, which transforms a traditional career site into a social recruiting platform. Its CEO, Matt Hendrickson, has quickly made an impact with the talent community conversation. Facebook partner Work4Labs offers a turnkey solution to engaging prospective talent on Facebook with its one billion members. Talent Circles, under the leadership of Marylene Delbourg-Delphis, has created a multi-faceted candidate engagement platform that has some very interesting community-building aspects.

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The third type of community is formed around a profession and seeks to bring valuable information to its members that relates to their shared calling. These communities do not focus on jobs, but rather focus on a career in the member’s vocation. The most successful of the profession-based communities are narrowly focused on a specific niche or a specific area of interest. For example, rather than build a community around software development, build the community around java developers or Apache Hadoop developers. Success in building a niched profession-based community is providing value to its members. For example, a new job is only occasionally valuable to this membership — but helping this affinity stay on top of what is happening in their profession is always appreciated.

A version of this approach is a special interest community that is built around a common purpose or share affinity. For example, many organizations offer specific communities aimed at transitioning military to assist our heroes in their return to civilian life. Two of my favorites are Military Connect and We Still Serve at Microsoft.

There are some interesting vendor solutions in this area. Dice has created a special interest community on ClearanceJobs that focuses on people who have specialized clearances that are required to work in certain defense industry jobs. BraveNewTalent, bolstered by the addition of thought leader Master Burnett, is creating communities around content and conversations that would be valued by a variety of target audiences. Based on the concept that each affinity and profession will want to keep up to date on their respective area of interest; this platform shows a lot of promise in community building.

The forth type of community is a combination of profession and branded approaches. They show up as Xbox Jobs or Hardware Engineering at Google, or Software Engineering at Intuit, each showcasing an organization’s career opportunities while attempting to engage the visitors in a conversation a specific affinity. These communities usually focus on hard-to-fill types of professions that seem to be always in demand by the organization. Typically, they highlight a specialized profession or business and engage their target audiences on several social platforms simultaneously; for example, Facebook (Xbox Jobs), Twitter (Xbox Jobs), and LinkedIn (Xbox Jobs). Most of the previously mentioned vendor partners’ solutions can be adapted to this hybrid community.

What is next for talent communities? Will the recruiting industry settle on a definition of community? Will there be some clarity around talent community? All good questions, with answers best observed historically.

What is known is that early thinking about Web 3.0 is that we will move from transactions to engagement. In other words, we are moving from the macro to the micro approach. In the context of talent communities, that means that we are moving from mass approach to a more personalized approach. We are moving toward building online communities where talent is joined together by a common interest and affinity interact with each other around content, conversations, and communication that is valuable to the membership. Talent communities are not going away. We are just getting started.

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.

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