Hiring new staff? Best update your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter...

How social media can help you find the right recruits

How social media can help you find the right recruits

There's no doubt job seekers are getting more creative in their hunt for work. Given the current economic climate this is hardly surprising, as candidates simply have to do more to stand out from the crowd. But technology is the underlying driving force, arming wannabie workers with a plethora of tools to help them get noticed and stand out from the crowd.

Today's job seekers can blog, create their video content, get involved in industry-specific social networking sites to gather knowledge, build contacts and even directly target specific individuals they want to work for - to name a few web 2.0 options available to them. At least one individual from 'generation digital' has taken things even further - paying for an ad on Facebook - selling himself as a potential recruit to magazine publishers.

From a job seeker's point of view today's recruitment landscape is rapidly changing - but what do all these rich social media tools offer employers? Should organisations be using the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to recruit staff or not?

Social media tools are certainly on employers' radars, according to HR industry association the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). "It's definitely on their radar to use different types of technology including social media," says Vanessa Robinson, head of HR practice development. However she says the emphasis - for now at least - is on social media being a complementary addition to traditional recruitment processes, rather than a wholesale replacement.

"I can't see in the short term that [social media] would totally replace other types of recruitment," says Robinson. "But I think it would be interesting - when organisations are using different mechanisms - to do a comparison to see where they're getting most interest from."

Recruitment association the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has just launched a guide for companies on using social media. "Growing use of social media in recruitment [is] emerging as a significant trend that is beginning to redefine the hiring process," notes the report. "Increasingly, recruiters are using new social media channels to form and strengthen client relationships, increase candidate pull and enhance their brand."

Like the CIPD's Robinson, David Smith, vice chair of the REC's technology group, sees social media as another piece of the recruitment jigsaw. "I don't think the whole of the recruitment process could be done online through social networks," he says. "Companies are still going to want to interview someone face-to-face and go through a normal interview process [but] the social media network has a job in the process - as far as the introduction goes, and for both parties to assess each other."

The recession is one reason for employers to turn to social media tools to help with hiring. "The recession has prompted many employer organisations to invest significantly in new media expertise as a means to reduce costs by targeting both active and 'passive' candidates directly," the REC report notes. But cost-cutting is not the only plus-point for turning to LinkedIn. Social media channels offer access to a broader candidate base, and enable organisations to more easily approach suitable individuals who aren't actively looking for a new job - aka 'passive' candidates.

"[Social media is] a modern method of talking to candidates," says Smith. "Either active candidates or passive candidates who may be considering a job move. The reality is that consumers spend several hours a day on their social media sites online and that is a good time to target people as far as offering them job prospects - they're more likely to respond to an approach over a social media network than they are to take an unsolicited phone call or unsolicited email."

According to Smith, social media is growing in importance as a recruitment channel across many business sectors. "The phenomenon of social media is so huge that in just about every sector - certainly within arguably the professional sectors as opposed to white collar - then a large number of people are using social networks," he says. "To connect with these people recruiters will be connecting through them online using various social networks rather than ringing them up on the phone or sending them an email."

The usefulness of these web 2.0 tools will vary, however, depending on the business/industry in question and the type of worker being sought. For instance, social media is more likely to appeal to a younger demographic.

"I think it's still fair to say that there's more people that are at early stages of their career are probably more inclined to use social media type sites," notes the CIPD's Robinson. "So it's probably [more relevant] for those organisations/industries that are attracting more people at that stage."

The REC's Smith makes a similar point. "Social media I suppose has been embraced more by the younger generation rather than the older generation so anyone wanting to work with young people... needs to be working with social media - to talk to people, contact people and relate to people."

So just how big is the social media phenomenon in the UK? Even just considering a handful of websites and services its reach is significant and still growing. The REC report notes there are 18 million active users of Facebook in the UK, each spending an average of 25 minutes per day on the site, while YouTube has 15 million unique users in the UK per month. Latest figures from LinkedIn show the site has more than three million UK users. Meanwhile Twitter usage in the UK ramped up massively last year, with growth exceeding 3,000 per cent.

And of course if an organisation's job hunt is international the pool of potential candidates offered up via these social networks is even bigger - for instance LinkedIn has more than 60 million users in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Smith describes LinkedIn as an "absolute godsend for recruiters". It is certainly the most instantly job-friendly of the popular crop of social media services, standing out from the likes of Facebook and Twitter with its emphasis on hooking up "experienced professionals", rather than connecting friends and acquaintances.

Individuals from around 150 industries are represented on LinkedIn, according to the company. A user's profile resembles a CV - with extras you wouldn't usually get on the traditional document such as written recommendations - so its potential as a recruitment tool to employers seeking experienced candidates is immediately obvious.

But what about other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and even virtual worlds like Second Life? Are they worth a look-in too?

More popular services certainly are - especially for companies building a longer term recruitment strategy. "Recruiters use Facebook much less than something like LinkedIn," says the REC's Smith. "But I think recruiters like to use networks like Facebook for community events - to stay in contact with people in their particular industry. So potential clients and potential job seekers in the year ahead."

"They all add to traffic and interest and so I wouldn't dismiss any of them," says the CIPD's Robinson. "But I think they can all target things in slightly different ways... with this more passive recruitment I think all of them would suit this purpose."

Robinson adds that engagement with social media can have other less obvious recruitment benefits to organisations - by making them appear more progressive, and thus a more desirable place to work. "[Social media can be a] smart way, proactive way of trying to give a true story to people looking for jobs of what it's really like to work there," she notes.

However Smith at least is sceptical about Twitter - calling it a "blunt instrument". "You can't say very much in 140 characters," he says. "It may develop in the future but compared to other social media networks I'm not convinced it's useful enough - not specifically targeted enough for what recruiters are trying to do which is pinpoint a specific person for a specific job."

Virtual worlds are also of limited use in his view - unless a company is targeting a very specific niche. "The people that join Second Life or these other fringe gatherings is a very very very small percentage of the total population," he notes. "So [organisations] that a spending huge amounts of money to build a shop front in Second Life are spending a lot of money without much likelihood of return."

Reaching the right candidates is always crucial in recruitment and this is where social media can be both a help and a hindrance - depending on whether a company is using these tools to browse for potential candidates, or to actively advertise a vacancy.

"If a candidate has a blog that reveals an incredible amount about the candidate," notes Smith. "Blog's can be very professional, they can be very unprofessional... The more a candidate reveals about themselves online, the more a client is interested potentially to hire them - or not to hire them if they look unprofessional or if there are pictures of them being sick in the gutter... You might think they might not be suitable for my company."

However when using social media as a channel to actively advertise jobs organisations need to consider how effective that channel or message is going to be at reaching the right type of person. "You'd need to make sure... you've got suitable screening questions in place so that you do filter out people that frankly are not appropriate," notes the CIPD's Robinson. "And that possibly wouldn't have selected themselves in through other [recruitment] means."

The degree of targeting offered will depend on the social media tool being used - Twitter offers relatively weak targeting, with any jobs you tweet being broadcast to individuals who have opted to follow you, rather than people you have selected. If one of your followers then retweets the job ad it could potentially end up in front of anyone else on the network, or even the internet. So the process is organic and therefore rather scattergun.

At the other end of the scale is LinkedIn which, in addition to generally being focused on employment opportunities and employable individuals also has a paid-for "premium recruiting tool" - enabling highly granular targeting of active and passive candidates. A LinkedIn spokesman claims there are "hundreds of different ways you can get a job through LinkedIn". It follows there are multiple ways organisations can advertise jobs or approach potential candidates via the site too.

However the bottom line is it's still too early to comprehensively assess the usefulness or otherwise of many social media tools for recruiting staff. What that means is that now is the time for experimentation - for carrying on with tried and trusted recruitment methods but kicking the tyres of the new too.

Robinson says: "Don't dismiss [social media]. This technology is here so rather than resisting it or fighting it you might as well look at how you can make it work - if you can make it work - for your organisation, approach it with a positive mindset.

"Let's not throw out all the traditional [recruitment] methods, let's not just jump on the bandwagon totally but let's make it a planned approach, working out who are we trying to target, how are best going to target things and make sure you do some sort of assessment evaluation of how effective different methods are."

One thing's for sure - the recruitment process will continue to evolve, with the proliferation of social media being just the latest wave of a shift initiated by the rise of the internet, online job advertising and job search sites. And it's not stopping there either - the next frontier for filling your empty seats could well be the mobile device sitting in your pocket.

"There are now apps where people can register with recruitment companies [on their iPhone]," notes the REC's Smith. "That's quite new and novel - and that may be a sign of things to come several years ahead when smartphones are more the norm."