Interactions online: the next intelligent steps

Simply searching through social networking sites and groups is the easy part. But as DeeDee Doke discovered, users are finding the next steps of true knowledge gathering are not as easily navigated

Without question, the ability to reach out and touch the previously unfindable candidate or client has been the main selling point of social networking sites to recruiters.

However, search was just the start. Options to network beyond the person, company and speciality specific search have grown exponentially in the belief that meaningful discussion among like-minded people can widen the net even further — as well as allow peers and business associates to tap into the expertise of strangers and generate provocative debate.

But aside from search, is the online networking experience all it could be?

Simon Page: Director, Parity Resources You invite people to join a group and they accept. Then you try to engage them in discussion and it really is like pulling teeth

Simon Page: Director, Parity Resources You invite people to join a group and they accept. Then you try to engage them in discussion and it really is like pulling teeth

Take the case of IT recruiter Simon Page. Page had realised that clients expected more from him and his consultants at Parity Resources than ever before — greater value for money and a more bespoke service for their individual needs. But what precisely did clients want?

With a recession underway, ever-tightening corporate budgets and steady growth in the number of in-house recruiters, Page needed to take action. So he went online to create a discussion group on professional networking site LinkedIn to explore the changing relationship between recruiter and client.

Three months later, the Redefining Recruitment Partnerships group founded by Page has nearly 60 members. The membership consists of corporate heads of resourcing and a few agency representatives operating in sectors other than IT. But Page, Parity’s director of permanent recruitment, is now stymied by another problem: limited participation in what he hoped would be a spirited forum for debate.

“It’s the key frustration for me,” he told Recruiter. “You invite people to join a group and they accept, and come equipped with platitudes about how they feel very passionately about the subject. Then you try to engage them in discussion, and it really is like pulling teeth.”

When Page looked at the number of online discussion groups to which his participants belonged, another realisation hit: “They all belong to so many groups that to engage in all of them would be a full-time job.”

He also had to admit that he himself often automatically hit ‘delete’ when he received updates from other online groups he belonged to.
Page is far from alone in his frustration. Online professional networking has entered the ‘difficult second album’ phase — after the euphoria that accompanied the onset of vastly expanded networking opportunities online, overload has struck. Users are overwhelmed with so-called ‘networking opportunities’, and sifting the great from the merely indifferent and the downright useless is a never ending job. And then there’s the question of whether just ‘showing up’, or joining a group or setting up a site profile while doing little with it, is better than not doing anything at all.

On LinkedIn alone, 2,751 registered groups are related to recruitment and 3,172 are related to HR, a site spokeswoman told Recruiter. “The purpose of groups is to encourage collaboration between professionals,” says Michael Pilcher, LinkedIn’s director-Europe for corporate solutions. “More than about recruitment, it’s about finding the right knowledge and expertise; it’s about making you a better professional.

But as a result of the proliferation of groups, the ‘collaboration’ involved can amount to the equivalent of one hand clapping. “Personally, I’m in far too many [online networking] groups — there’s an absolute plethora of them,” says LinkedIn user Matt Alder, head of digital for recruitment advertising agency Penna Barkers and recruitment blogger. He adds: “Intelligent discussion is only going on in a minority of them.”

Consultant Adam Gordon of Gordon BDM, who advises recruitment companies on social media use, points out: “There are too few barriers to creating a group.”

Nicky Brocklehurst: Consultant, Discovery Channel There are so many groups on there, I’m still finding out which are useful to me

Nicky Brocklehurst: Consultant, Discovery Channel There are so many groups on there, I’m still finding out which are useful to me

At the Discovery Channel, recruitment consultant Nicky Brocklehurst successfully uses LinkedIn to recruit, via the site’s people and companies search function. But she too acknowledges that getting involved in the next tier of activity is a hit-and-miss affair. “There are so any groups on there, I’m still finding out which are useful to me,” she says. “I’ve been invited to so many and it can take a while to find out which ones are good.

Gordon agrees, and suggests there’s no way around spending time investigating who belongs to which groups and the kinds of topics which are explored. Also, he adds: “Strong moderation is a key. The mark of a really good group is setting up a proper plan of engagement, and creating specific values for it so that you’re making sure everyone knows what kind of engagement they’re buying into.”

Then it comes down to time. Whether tapping into the power of networking groups on LinkedIn, Naymz, Plaxo or XING or developing a profile on
the whimsical microblogging site Twitter, making the most out of professional/social media requires thought, consistency and experimentation. That means an investment of time, even for those who confidently use professional networking sites to reach out to potential clients and candidates through a variety of channels.

Maria Brown: Associate director, Reed Specialist Recruitment I could easily spend two hours a day on it. It’s really taken networking and discussion to a whole new level

Maria Brown: Associate director, Reed Specialist Recruitment I could easily spend two hours a day on it. It’s really taken networking and discussion to a whole new level

“I could easily spend two hours a day on it,” says Maria Brown, associate director for Reed Specialist Recruitment (Middle East). “It’s really taken networking and discussion to a whole new level.”

In the Middle East who you know is arguably as important as what you know, and Brown energetically works Reed’s presence on networking sites. She personally runs Reed’s Middle East-focused LinkedIn news/discussion groups where she posts news articles, streams jobs, hosts discussion forums, answers questions and handles referrals — all of which generate hundreds of contacts a week for the company. “We’rehugely well known here,” she says.

Brown has also started using Twitter but a lesson she learnt early on was that developing a meaningful presence on the site is a commitment to Tweet regularly. “If you go silent, people wonder what’s happened to you,” she says. “You have to make sure that you’re consistent.”

Although Penna Barkers’ Alder says “there is no right or wrong way to use Twitter”, getting a grip on the best possible use of the microblogging site is a job in itself.

“So many people set up a profile and think ‘Now what?’,” says Emma Mirrington, talent acquisition manager at broadcaster BSkyB.

Mirrington and her colleagues started using Twitter in March 2008, ostensibly as a recruitment tool. “I must admit where we’ve been successful is more in terms of following experts in recruitment and getting help to form an attraction strategy instead of in actual recruiting,” Mirrington says.

James Thompson: Recruitment manager, Discovery Channel There’s a definite crossover, a change at a certain point of life, when people move towards more businessfocused sites

James Thompson: Recruitment manager, Discovery Channel There’s a definite crossover, a change at a certain point of life, when people move towards more businessfocused sites

Brocklehurst’s colleague at the Discovery Channel, recruitment manager James Thompson, points out that it’s important for the time-poor to know which sites will work for the types of candidates you’re trying to recruit. “Twitter is one of those things I’m trying to get my head round,” he says.

“We used Facebook at [pharmaceutical company] AstraZeneca to keep in touch with undergraduates and postgraduates, but people grow out of Facebook. There’s a definite crossover, a change at a certain point of life, when people move towards more businessfocused sites and stop being party animals.”

Page believes he will eventually achieve the level of participation he wants in his online discussion group, but acknowledges he has to “differentiate the offering so it has something of such value” that it becomes a ‘must participate’ collective. Using it as a lobbying vehicle is one option with possibilities, he suggests.

Alder says he personally looks to sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn to help him “have conversations I wouldn’t be able to have otherwise”. Alder’s clients want to have those kinds of conversations too — with candidates, clients, suppliers and peers. There’s interest stirring among his corporate recruitment clients to experiment with Twitter this year, for instance, he says, with a view toward fully using it next year.

However, a concern for Alder is his clients’ perception among his clients that Twitter is free — and it is fee- and charge-free, as are basic memberships on LinkedIn and other professional networking sites — but that’s not the whole story. Alder adds: “There’s a real cost in terms of time and resources.”

 

power points

  • Define what you hope to achieve
  • Be consistent with your online professional networking strategy
  • Be selective about the groups you join
  • Participate in one or two groups

Next Issue: How recruiters are coping with the CV deluge

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