10 years ago, it was still credibly possible to say you weren’t on social media because it didn’t seem relevant to your demographic (whatever you chose to pick as an excusable demographic). 10 years prior, it was even credible to claim you didn’t understand social media or weren’t familiar with the tools, but today, it requires a conscious (and significant) effort to not maintain any digital footprint on at least one social media platform.

One way to view social media is as the evolutionary child of the internet, itself the progeny of traditional print media (newspapers and magazines). Yet, social media does more to change the content environment than the internet did for traditional print. Social media has empowered every person to create, publish, share, consume and judge content from a nearly infinite number of sources. The media content that captured our attention was at one time curated by a select few from society. Now our attention is spread across a diverse mix of credible, uninformed, insightful and misleading sources. And there is more to consume than ever before.

Recruiting with social media

While the tools have changed, certain fundamental aspects of recruiting remain the same. At a basic level, recruiting is an exercise in data gathering. The entire recruitment process is designed to assemble as much information as practical about a candidate, compare it against the idealistic profile for the job and hopefully find enough overlap to expect that person to be successful in the role.

From that perspective, how could a recruiter not be excited by the rise in popularity of social media which creates ready access to volumes of information that 15 years ago would have been unfathomable? Like most things that sound too good to be true, there’s a catch with social media, and it can be a big one.

Looking at the three core elements of recruiting: sourcing, assessing, and selling candidates, there are pros and cons to involving social media in each.

From the sourcing perspective

LinkedIn alone has been a game-changer for the sourcing side of recruiting. The consolidation of huge volumes of easily searchable data on candidates of all imaginable backgrounds who generally have posted that information in hopes of being discovered, is in many situations a big win for recruiting (both for the employers and candidates).

Yet, while access to this unimaginably long list of candidates seems initially attractive to employers, one clear downside is the increase in burden to sort through it. Selecting the best candidate from a small group of significantly different candidates requires much less effort than selecting the best candidate from a large group of very similar candidates who are separated only by small nuances. 20 years ago, employers regularly dealt with the former, in the social media era, the latter is almost always the situation.

Advertising jobs for candidates to opt-in and apply only adds to the burden. Publishing opportunities through social media can access an enormous talent pool, but to increase the likelihood finding top tier candidates, you must also expect a tidal wave of candidates that are not good fits to apply. Again, the result is a ramp up in burden with no guarantee of improved outcome.

From the assessment perspective

The 1-2-page resume convention remains an effective way to limit burden during the screening process. While the best candidates historically left recruiters thirsty for additional information following the resume review resulting in the need to engage with the candidate directly, social media now provides an opportunity to quench that thirst with supplemental information ranging for more thorough work history to examples of work products to media exposure without having to engage the candidate directly. This can be helpful in adding detail to the understanding of the candidate, but it must be utilized with caution.

Protected classes of information such as race, religion, veteran status, marital status, disability and others are not always obvious through a traditional resume but can become obvious through social media. While this does not force an employer to act in a discriminatory way, it does increase the potential for situations that appear like discrimination occurred. Whether or not the discrimination bears legal consequence (protected classes) or not, such influences can undermine the quality of the decision.

Furthermore, recruiters were once the gatekeepers for candidate information in an organization, but with social media anybody has ready access to research candidates. This makes it much more difficult for recruiters to protect the company from intentional or unintentional discrimination by hiring managers and others involved in the decision-making process.

From the Selling Perspective

Having found a candidate that the company wants to hire, they must still convince the candidate accept the offer. The most compelling candidates are likely to also be the ones with the most options. These candidates regularly do significant research and reflection before accepting an offer.

Depending on the company and situation, social media may hinder or support a company in their efforts to sell the offer to a candidate. A company with an extensive readily accessible, positive footprint on social media (in conjunction with internet and traditional media presence) can expect useful influence on candidates. However, negative presence, even if in small amounts, can create enough concern for candidates to opt not to accept the offer.

Both disseminating positive propaganda and addressing negative propaganda are burdensome activities and may not generate a return on their investment. With so much content on social media being generated without oversight or control of the company, there is an unavoidable risk to companies during the selling process due to social media

So, what do we do?

Social media seems to have gone well past the point of being a fad and is likely to stay for the long haul, contributing unavoidable positives and negatives to employers. Recruiters need to be realistic about the role it can play in all aspects of the recruiting process and develop a strategy to capture upside potential and/or limit the associated risks. That strategy needs to consider the unique elements of the industry, candidates and company’s broader social media presence and strategy. The only universal truth will be that the will not be enough resources to exploit all the opportunities available.

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