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Recruiting with social media: Tips, tools and challenges

Using social media in your company's recruiting efforts can help you find hidden talent pools and both active and passive candidates. Here's what you need to know.

In today's competitive hiring landscape, recruiting with social media is a must.

"Gone are the days of 2008 to 2011 when qualified candidates swarmed to job postings," said Chris Hesson, manager of technology training and development for MRINetwork, a global recruitment organization. "Odds are the candidates that are best qualified to solve the problems you face -- or take your organization to the next level -- are employed, fairly well-compensated and not clicking the 'apply here' link."

Indeed, the labor market continues to tighten across all sectors, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment. In May 2018, the unemployment rate plummeted to 3.9%, an 18-year low.

A modern approach to recruiting with social media

"A big company that is slow to evolve [its social media recruiting strategy] can easily lose talent to a small, lesser-known company [that] is on top of digital trends and leveraging all channels to tell their brand story," said Hannah Berg, senior manager of brand marketing at WayUp, an employer brand pages platform. "Social media recruiting is about breaking the fourth wall and building a loyal community that keeps candidates engaged, even when they aren't actively looking for jobs."

As a digital extension of traditional networking, social media remains a valued means of recruiting the most coveted talent. However, existing strategies that large enterprises use may become stale and ineffective over time.

If your ideal candidates frequent Pinterest, your HR team should be on Pinterest; if they are generally not on Snapchat, don't waste your time [on that platform].
Chris HessonManager of technology training and development, MRINetwork

Recruiting with social media involves more than just revamping your current efforts. Given the splintering in social media venues today, it's wise to weigh your options again with an eye toward current audiences and a focus on the specific types of candidates you seek.

"Simply put, if your ideal candidates frequent Pinterest, your HR team should be on Pinterest; if they are generally not on Snapchat, don't waste your time [on that platform]," Hesson said.

Identifying the social platforms your ideal candidates frequent begins with finding where similar employees currently "hang out" online.

For example, if "you want to know where other rock star programmers spend their time online, ask the ones already on your team," Hesson advised.

And don't overlook professional organizations and related messaging platforms.

The current social media recruiting landscape

Companies are using a growing mix of social media platforms to recruit job candidates, according to a survey by The Creative Group, a creative staffing services firm. Currently, the surveyed enterprises say these are the mediums they use specifically for recruiting:

  • LinkedIn: 55%
  • Facebook: 39%
  • Pinterest: 21%
  • Instagram: 16%
  • Twitter: 14%
  • YouTube: 14%
  • Snapchat: 4%

 The companies were also asked the primary purpose of recruiting with social media:

  • Post jobs: 42%
  • Promote the company: 21%
  • Illustrate how the company is a great place to work: 21%
  • Review publicly available social media profiles of job applicants: 16%

LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook remain the sweet spots for advertising job openings, according to Will Musto, director of technology and marketing at The Roman Healthcare Group, a recruiting firm specializing in infection prevention and quality services. Periscope, he said, is "mostly dead," and Snapchat is "truly a nonentity in this conversation and probably a dying platform, given Instagram Stories are usurping [its] user base."

For most companies, advertising on social media still cannot entirely replace traditional methods of recruitment, not even with the aid of advanced algorithms.

Industry watchers might get excited at the thought that machine learning can help identify top candidates through, or partly through, social media analysis, but Musto said, "Machine learning isn't there yet, although there are certainly products that are getting closer and I think we will see machine learning actually be a successful method for recruitment in the near-future."

While recruiting with social media spans the gamut of purposes and venues, vetting candidates is still primarily done on one social media outlet -- LinkedIn. Indeed, 87% of recruiters vet candidates on LinkedIn, according to the Jobvite Recruiter Nation Report 2016, which looks at recruiting practices across a number of industries.

Tips for recruiting with social media

Begin by making sure you are fully taking advantage of the available tools offered on each of the social media platforms. It is important to check back regularly to see if new tools have been added or old ones upgraded. Here are a few tools you may find particularly helpful:

  1. LinkedIn Talent Solutions provides tools to enable recruiters to post jobs, source talent and build a brand, all in one place.
  2. Hashtag searches on Twitter can help you find passive candidates using keywords, such as a job title, with the hashtag symbol in front of it. TweetDeck will enable you to do the same thing but with real-time tweets, rather than just searching past tweets. Facebook works similarly with its search function. The advanced search feature on Twitter will let you search using more filters, such as geography and key phrases.
  3. Use the search bar on Facebook to find its recruiting tools by simply using keyword "recruiting." Examples include creating an event in Facebook to promote a job fair and using the Invite Friends feature to connect with employees, which then helps your company connect with their friends. Consider using the Facebook Live feature to make videos to attract prospects.
  4. You can host live Q&A sessions and broadcast company events on Periscope. Other social media platforms, ranging from Facebook to Reddit, also offer similar tools.

It's important to note that you shouldn't just set the messaging and leave it. You'll need to make sure you are actively monitoring all social media and responding to messages and inquiries promptly.

"Social listening tools, like Hootsuite, Iconosquare and Sprout Social, allow employers to narrow in on what people are saying about their brand," WayUp's Berg said. These tools also provide insight into the kinds of people who follow specific employer accounts and their social media uses, including time of day and which type of device they use, she added.

"Tools like Iconosquare even tell you if users are tapping through or exiting your Instagram Stories, providing valuable insight into what kinds of content is or is not engaging your audience," she said.

Another key tip to successful social media recruiting is to make sure that you determine content is on message for the candidates you seek and that the messaging is consistent across all of social media. You'll also want to carefully check everything for compliance with all new and old regulations.

"It is essential that the images and stories companies share on Instagram align with polls, articles and other content shared on Facebook and LinkedIn," said Joanna Tropp-Bluestone, founder of Negotiation Geek, an advisory firm for enterprise clients on communication and change management and for individuals on developing their career path. "One way to ensure this consistency is to create key messages to be conveyed to ideal candidates across platforms once you have a strong understanding of the things that truly matter to your ideal candidates."

Challenges of recruiting with social media

The rise in regulations around the globe also presents stiff challenges in using social media for recruitment. Examples include laws pertaining to privacy, such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

"With GDPR, there is less bang for your buck in online social media advertising today, as an advertiser, than there was a few months ago. This will level out as organizations figure out how to work with the GDPR regulations, but for now, it's a hurdle to look out for," Musto warned.

Other examples are laws governing fair hiring practices, such as those that forbid discrimination based on age, race and other factors that are typically found on social media profiles.

"Recruiters must be aware of federal and state laws that have placed restriction on permission of data for employers. Employers are no longer able to request logins for social media profiles," said Marco Piovesan, CEO of InfoMart, a global background screening company.

"Additionally, there are concerns about discrimination because many candidates will have information about their race, gender, age, religion and other points of issue on their profiles," Piovesan said. "That also means that conducting social media background checks on your own can lead to legal and ethical problems."

In short, given the labyrinth of regulations, recruiting with social media can be filled with new liabilities. Modernizing the strategy means updating compliance efforts accordingly.

Sourcing tools for recruiting with social media

Once you have modernized your messaging and content on social media, look to new tools and strategies to hone delivery.

One example is geofencing, which can be used for location-based advertising on mobile devices. It can be tied to social media or used for other purposes. Jamie Winter, vice president of consulting and hiring and promotion practice leader at APTMetrics, an HR consultancy, gave the following examples of how geolocation can be used for recruiting:

  • A hospital can send recruitment ads to the mobile phones of doctors or nurses who live or work within a certain distance from the hospital.
  • Hiring companies can build geofences around locations, such as professional conferences, meetings, college campuses or even competitors' locations, especially when there is a layoff or a large move. Companies looking to add diversity to their workforce can also geofence diverse neighborhoods or cultural events.
  • Companies can continue to recruit even after an event has ended, no matter where the attendees go, geographically speaking. Targets can see recruitment ads when they are on site or 30 days after the event, regardless of where they are located.

Another example is IP targeting, which works like geofencing except it targets home desktops instead of mobile devices. You can use a company such as the IP targeting company El Toro to get unique IP addresses -- and serve recruitment ads to those computers -- based on your current target lists, a geographic area, event attendee lists (even events that are long over with) and other criteria.

The approach to modernizing your social media recruiting strategy is three-pronged: understanding how new technologies can be paired with social media, following audiences as they shift between the different social media channels and crafting the right messages. In short, many of the lessons learned in social media marketing apply heavily in HR, too.

"LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest, among numerous others, enable HR organizations to engage in two distinct forms of marketing," Hesson said. One is promotion of a specific role -- which asks the question: "Are you qualified to work here?" -- and the second is the promotion of company culture -- which answers the question: "Why should you work for our company?"

 "Unfortunately, too many organizations are caught in the short-term expediency of the former and neglect the latter," he said.

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