The ROI of Social Media: Branding, Not So Much For Sourcing

roundtables at expoJody Ordioni wrote a prescient view about the ROI of social recruiting which posted Monday morning. Monday night I discovered first hand just how prescient at a recruiting roundtable that marked the opening of the ERE Recruiting Conference & Expo.

I moderated two separate discussions of social media issues in 90 minutes that ROI concerns were uppermost in the minds of the recruiting leaders who joined our conversation. (More than 25 different topics were available at roundtables set aside in the ballroom of the Marriott here in San Diego where the conference is being held.)

It wasn’t surprising that these leaders who hailed from firms both very large and more modest size struggle with proving the value of social media as a source of hire. LinkedIn, I should point out, was an exception. Most of the 20 or so recruiters at the roundtable, and several others I spoke with later at the evening receptions, were enthusiastic users of LinkedIn Recruiter for sourcing. Most, though, admitted that getting their senior corporate managers and leaders to be active in posting and commenting on LinkedIn Groups is a struggle.

What was more of a surprise, and what makes Jody’s article so spot-on, is that I heard emerging among recruiters a recognition that social media is a marketing and promotional tool. The effectiveness of sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, even Pinterest is probably not in the number of hires or even applicants a company can trace directly to one of the social media sites. Instead, as recruiting consultants Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler reported last year, social media is a channel of influence.

You can’t not be there, one of the roundtable participants observed, because candidates, potential candidates, and those whom you hope to attract and someday hire will see your absence from the social media landscape as a negative. Doing it poorly is equally negative.

When a company fails to post regularly, and especially when comments and questions go unanswered for days or never, or when a company indiscriminately dumps all its job postings into Facebook’s news feed, it says, in the words of one recruiter, “This is a lame company that has no idea what social media is all about. Who wants to work for a company people think is lame?

The list of values developed by each of the two groups of roundtablers was remarkably similar. Each group started out by taking a stab at listing financial contributors: saving agency fees, efficiency from sourcing a higher quality of candidate from social media versus job boards, and talent pipeline development. There was also discussion of the difficulty of tracking with accuracy the true source of candidates.

Ultimately, the direction of the conversation moved to what it is social media is uniquely capable of doing, which is telling the employer story and building its brand. One of leaders from a national retailer with a household name pointed out that the company has a large IT unit that has the same hiring difficulty as all tech firms do. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites provide a place for the company to promote its IT group, and the job it does. It’s a way, the recruiter explained, to develop interest in an aspect of the company that most people — including the IT professionals the company needs — don’t even know about.

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Certainly at more staid firms, such as the one represented by a banking recruiter, senior management frets over the Wild West nature of much of social media, and has to be sold on the reality that even negative comments offer opportunity. But the bigger issue, by far, is getting managers at every level to become socially active. Having a VP post a link to a business article they wrote or which they found useful, carries more weight than if a recruiter does it. Getting them to do it, though, requires constant effort.

But, agreed the roundtablers and others I spoke with later, its worth the effort. It establishes the professionalism of the organization, as well as the engagement of its leaders and contributes to the stature of both them and the company.

The paths each employer takes to accomplishing its social media brand building are as diverse as the individual recruiters at the table. Senior leadership contributes to LinkedIn Groups; a couple of employers assign Twitter duty to interns; and for the active Facebook users, the careers site is maintained by the recruiters themselves.

However, the emerging consensus is that the ROI of social media will not be measured in hires. It isn’t now, and probably won’t be for some time, if ever, as a direct source of hires (LinkedIn excepted). Its value is in branding and reputation building.

“It’s how a small company like us,” a recruiter told me during the evening reception, “gets noticed. We use Facebook for a conversation. Not a lot of people knew about us before we got active in social media. Now they do.” Social media works for him because today the traffic and applications coming through the company’s website has “more than quadrupled. And the quality of people we’re getting is so much better. And the only thing that changed was we got aggressive with social media.”

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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