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Recruiting with Social Media: Setting the Scene

This chapter explores the evolution of recruitment and social media, reviews the opportunities that digital has to offer in marketing and promoting a company and its product or service, examines how social media campaigns can increase awareness and efficiency and decrease costs.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter looks at the evolution of recruitment and social media and the changes people are experiencing in daily business activities. It reviews customers' expectations from a brand or organization and their challenges. It examines the evolution of social media and various online communities and what they mean to a recruitment and human resources department.

Further, this chapter looks at the opportunities that digital has to offer in marketing and promoting a company and its product or service. It also explores the role of social media in digital and the role played in videos, photography, blogs, and other emerging tools. Lastly, this chapter examines how social media campaigns can increase awareness and efficiency and decrease costs.

What Is the Shift, and How Is It Affecting Recruitment?

Recruitment is an established industry worth more than $42 billion at the end of 2008 in the UK alone (Source: OnRec). The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) reports that the UK employs more than 95,865 recruiters. A resource for the staffing industry, Recruiting Life, sponsored by the National Association of Personnel Services, mentions that the United States has in excess of 30,000 staffing, personnel services, and employment companies, with annual revenues of nearly $75 billion.

Recruitment is not a new industry; the first signs of the industry are visible as early as 55 B.C., when Julius Caesar signed a decree, promising a reward of 300 sestertii to any soldier who brought another to join the Roman army. Finding a Roman citizen who could march 20 miles per day in line while wearing all his armor and carrying his food and tents meant that recruiters traveled the length and breadth of the empire to find suitable candidates. Many principles valued today, such as equal opportunities, employment branding, compensation, and temporary staffing, were practiced first by the Romans.

Some recruitment practices have been carried on for generations, although over the years, there has been a shift in thinking about how we hire, retain, and increase the productivity of our staff. Over the years, one thing that has changed is the channels used to communicate, discover, and implement recruitment. The past few years have brought forth another change in companies using an emerging form of communication. This marks the beginning of the social media era, where things we do are open and engaging; organizations are rewarded for being engaging. End users are able to connect with the people working behind the scenes and get real-time information, when and how they want it.

I have just introduced the concept of social media without telling you what the term actually means! The concept of social media means using the Internet and web-based technologies to change broadcasts (one-to-many) into conversations (many-to-many). Think of it from a company's perspective: Social media allow you to connect with several people and discuss as a group, extending the concept of communicating with your customers a step further (see Figure 1.1). The concept is not rocket science; social media simply take the conversations we used to have in the pub or coffee shop into an easy-to-consume format, when we want it and how we want it. Users can utilize social media on their computers via the Internet, through a website on their office PCs, or even on their handheld devices.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Customers connect with an organization and other customers using social media.

A major reason for the popularity of social media is that people are moving away from being spoken at by suppliers, brands, and organizations serving them. Instead, they want to engage with them and discuss their offering. This is true for most industries, including recruitment.

For instance, in the past when a company was hiring, they typically advertised on a major job board or, if they were a bit traditional, in a newspaper or magazine (see the top portion of Figure 1.2). They would then receive resumes and cover letters, the number varying based on the popularity of the job, salary, location, and other such factors. They then would sort through as many as thousands of applications and choose a few candidates. Candidates would come in for an interview and, based on their criteria and the demands of the job, all but one would be turned away, making recruitment lengthy and labor intensive. Today, however, social media allow organizations to clearly state their requirements and start interaction before candidates step into the office (see the bottom portion of Figure 1.2). Typically, organizations place advertisements or mention job opportunities on social media sites. Organizations can conduct research on candidates' pasts and see referrals up front. This helps recruiters ask more insightful questions up front and come to a deeper understanding of them.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 The process of traditional recruitment with social media recruitment, the new way of doing things.

Evolution of Social Media

It's important to realize that the new way of doing things has actually evolved (and is evolving) from the old way of doing things. This section briefly mentions how social media came about, so you can learn a fair bit from its history and evolution.

Social media didn't begin on the Internet. It actually began on the phone in the 1950s, long before there was Skype or companies offering deals on broadband and landlines. Like all good innovations, it was a labor of love for technologists who wanted to connect with their audience in a new way. Telephone hackers then used the earlier versions of the hacked phones to find company test lines and conference circuits so they could host virtual seminars and discussions. This was an example of the first form of podcast (a series of audios or videos released episodically and downloaded) or blog (a type of website with regular entries of commentary, thoughts or multimedia). Next to be discovered was a bulletin board service (BBS). The first BBSs were small servers powered by personal computers attached to a telephone modem, where one person at a time could dial in and get access. Think how frustrating it would have been if today's bulletin boards were limited to one person at a time?

Although bulletin boards existed, those in the underground scene were its primary users. The majority of BBSs catered to adult entertainment seekers and software pirates, whereas the general public used television and newspapers to communicate with the world. BBSs came to the public through CompuServe, which wanted to make this a large-scale operation. The costs could make anyone cry: $5 per hour for using a service like CompuServe, and $30 per hour for a long-distance telephone call. I am not sure how many home users would be interested in spending $35 per hour these days. One of the main contributions of CompuServe was releasing the first online chat software CB simulator, which later became famous because of the movie You've Got Mail!, AOL had one of the best product placements and maximized its market share. Since then, many chatting systems and file sharing sites have surfaced, including ICQ, MIRC, and Napster. This led to the start of social networking sites as we know them now.

Rise of Social Networking

The new way of doing things in many ways mimics real life. As in real-life friend circles, professional groups, and societies, social networks have personalities and themes. For instance, Orkut.com is recommended for reaching users in Brazil and India, whereas Kaixin.com is great for finding students and people for white-collar jobs in China. Knowing your community means you can use your time on social media more effectively, saving you valuable resources.

For recruitment purposes, individuals need to know which social network to connect with to yield maximum utility. As recruitment spreads across various niche markets, it's advisable to identify sectors you would serve. Some recruiters have a broad client base, varying from finding personal assistants to nuclear scientists. Given the global economy, more and more recruiters are asked to hire staff in foreign countries, speaking different languages and possessing various skill sets. To maximize the use of social networking, it is vital for recruiters to approach an online community with the right demographic. Also, it's worth realizing that social media are part of an industry that has evolved just recently; we are still in the infancy stage. This also implies that social media are rapidly changing. Maximizing the benefit does require recruiters to keep a tab on emerging social media sites. The following sections cover some sites that are an important part of the history of social media.

Friendster and MySpace

Social networking sites as we know them now began with the launch of Friendster in 2002, which in many ways started a revolution. Adults, 16 and up, could join and connect with friends, family, classmates, groups, activities, and interests. The site was launched in Sydney, Australia, and grew rapidly among younger audience. By the end of 2009, Friendster had approximately 115 million registered members with 61 million unique visitors per month. Now, the site caters mainly to the far east. In early 2003, MySpace grew out of a side project of the Internet marketing company eUniverse (now called Intermix Media). The main reason for the falling number of active users on Friendster was the lack of customization and scaling up of the technology to meet the demands of the growing users.

Many social media commentators described MySpace as the open evolution of Friendster. The latter was restrictive; it limited user self-expression in the form of types of multimedia functionality it supported and the design of user profiles. Members of the site reacted by moving to MySpace, creating detailed profiles, complete with large amounts of multimedia. Users hacked their profiles using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to make them more expressive. MySpace welcomed this form of exploration of its platform. As a result, the cultural enthusiasm was nurtured, and it grew rapidly.


Facebook is the world's largest social network, with more than 350 million users. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard university students. It was a huge hit, and within 2 weeks, half the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Facebook's first major growth as a social network has been attributed to the introduction of Facebook applications. It grew 32% from May to August 2007, with more than a third of the growth coming from its new applications. Applications had a big buy-in from users and application developers alike. During the middle of 2007, the number of published apps continued to grow steadily to more than 32,000. Applications meant users could port data from their other profiles on social networks throughout the web. Further, Facebook applications were becoming a one-stop shop for anything social on the web.

Facebook also has an impressive record of making things simpler and user friendly. Subsequent chapters in this book address the way Facebook has made the concept of user identification easier through Facebook Connect. Similarly, Facebook applications have made it simpler for nontechnical users to add widgets to a profile. It's worth remembering that the new way of doing things is a set of straightforward tools that make having a dialogue on the Internet more manageable. Facebook makes tasks trivial for users, and that is one of the main reasons for its rapid growth.


LinkedIn is a fantastic example of a niche social network that was designed and grown to help business professionals organize and display their resumes online. At the end of 2009, this network had more than 50 million users on the site, which at first site might look little when compared to gigantic Facebook, but it's worth remembering that LinkedIn is a niche network. LinkedIn has carved out its role as a business-only network and has been eagerly adopted by the recruitment industry. In terms of revenue, allegedly, it made $17 million in 2008, and its ad revenue has been growing by 50% year-on-year, but this number is on the rise because LinkedIn constantly updates its interface.

LinkedIn enables companies and recruiters to put jobs on the site and display them to job seekers. The site also enables its members to connect and send messages to other members. If the user is not linked to a member directly, it charges the members to use this feature. LinkedIn also has group functionality. Groups are great when you want people in a community to contribute. Groups also help to incubate ideas and stimulate communication among peers. On LinkedIn, group users can create an invitation only or a public area. Invitation-only groups can be used for internal office communication, a niche network addressing a particular issue, or sector-based communication. Public networks are appropriate when addressing an issue faced by a large audience, where members can discuss a theme throughout. Groups enable users to answer questions in a systematic way. Groups can also be used as a blog to send news bulletins, announcements, or information about a particular topic. This enables other members to comment and interact.

The site is particular about who it lets connect on the social network, and in conjunction with restrictions on the number of messages that can be sent, that helps ensure the platform is hard to spam and misuse. LinkedIn, like other social networks, is slowly opening its platform so members can bring their other profile information inside it. For instance, members can now integrate sites like Twitter, SlideShare, and WordPress into their LinkedIn profile.

At the end of 2009, LinkedIn announced that it was opening the platform, so organizations and individuals can develop applications using LinkedIn data inside their companies. Chapter 2, "Understanding Social Media and Technology," examines how LinkedIn's recent changes have unleashed new sets of opportunities for the recruitment industry, especially for companies that were skeptical about its function. It looks at how recruitment companies using LinkedIn's latest launch can keep their business relationships in the company even if recruitment consultants change jobs.

XING (Formerly Known as OpenBC)

While LinkedIn was growing in the United States, Europe had its own version, known as XING. With headquarters in Berlin, Germany, it is another fantastic example of a thriving business online community. XING is in 16 languages and has paid members in more than 200 countries. The major difference between XING and LinkedIn is that the former is a paid-for network. Users get a basic profile on the community for free but must pay to upgrade and use additional features. XING was the first social networking-only business to go public (IPO) in December 2007.

Recently, XING has been gearing up to directly compete with LinkedIn, with plans to launch in the United States soon. It has been rapidly innovating, acquiring social networking businesses and opening local versions of the site. Of late, XING has been acquiring databases in the form of buying sites in Turkey and Spain and has plans to grow further in Europe. As the industry matures, it will be interesting to see who wins the spot for the top business network: LinkedIn or XING.


Twitter's story is one of radical innovation that has taken the concept of developing social media applications to a new level. In March 2009, Nielson Online indicated that Twitter grew 1,382% year-over-year in February, registering a total of just more than 7 million unique visitors in the United States for the month. In addition, in January 2009, Twitter.com saw 4.5 million unique visitors in the United States, which implies that the website grew 50% month on month, making it the fastest-growing social network, outperforming Facebook. In October 2009, the speed of growth considerably declined, although the reach of Twitter grew outside North America. According to HubSpot, 40% of the top 20 Twitter locations are outside North America.

Twitter is a free social networking platform often referred to as a microblogging service, which allows its users to send and read updates from friends. The updates are often referred to as status updates or tweets. All tweets are restricted to 140 characters, although users creatively include links to other forms of media like photos, video, and websites to maximize utility. Users can tweet using Twitter.com, text messages, mobile phone applications, and various desktop and web applications built by others.

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