Hiring in the Digital Age

Social media has opened new channels for promoting your business and recruiting employees.

Using social media like LinkedIn and Facebook to recruit employees is a lot like that big, button-laden TV remote control in your living room: You know there are a lot of capabilities at your fingertips, but sometimes it's tough to figure out how to use it effectively.

Enter Todd Nilson, the managing director of Social Syntax, a communications-consulting firm in Milwaukee that helps companies integrate social media strategies into their marketing plans and other operations — including employee recruitment.

Nilson says there's no better time to hop aboard the social-media recruiting train. Many already do so; some statistics show that up to 72 percent of recruiters and hiring professionals use LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) to recruit employees.

"People still use job postings or newspaper ads, but the majority of professional organizations are using online resources like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter," he says. "The good news is that (easy) access to good social-networking resources puts small to medium-sized businesses on the same footing as the largest corporations."

Time is money

Social media promotes more efficient time management. Calling colleagues for referrals is fine, but they may not remember names of candidates right away. With LinkedIn, however, recruiters can view first-level contacts and their connections immediately and ask for introductions, Nilson explains.

"Also, people move around a lot these days, and LinkedIn provides a good, easy way to be found," he says. "Plus, it's better than a resume because it can include live endorsements.

"You also can search for specific geographic areas and skills, or look at professional special-interest groups pertinent to the position you're trying to fill," he adds. "Or you can use the LinkedIn 'answers' feature to search for people who have answered questions about a particular topic."

Nilson says Facebook is not as valuable as LinkedIn for recruiting, although organizations can create their own Facebook page and post job openings as well as videos that explain job responsibilities and required skills and experience.

On the other hand, many recruiters use Facebook to screen candidates, even though privacy settings can make that difficult. But beware: The same laws that protect job seekers from discrimination on the basis of things such as race, sexuality and religious affiliation also apply to using social networks for vetting candidates.

Verification is critical

Experts emphasize that recruiters also should realize that, like many things on the Internet, what they see on Facebook may not always be true or up to date. Then there's that little thing called privacy, although people with looser Facebook security settings certainly can't cry foul if a recruiter turns up something unseemly.

"The thing is, it's awfully hard to prove discrimination," Nilson notes. "And, for instance, if a Facebook search reveals that candidate John Smith is into pornography and a company backs off from hiring him ... how do they know that John Smith was the same John Smith they were thinking about hiring?"

Nonetheless, a good forensics analyst could build a circumstantial case for discrimination. For example, an investigation could show that a company's human resources person visited a candidate's Facebook profile, then the candidate received a call 24 hours later saying he or she didn't make the cut. Other sites also track visitors, and litigants could subpoena records to build a case, he says.

"There are scenarios in which it (a discrimination case) could work," Nilson observes. "It's unlikely, but the takeaway here is that employers need to be careful and responsible. Just like with any reference, recruiters need to take things in as a part of the whole."

Tweeting for new employees

Twitter (www.twitter.com), a social media and networking tool in which people "tweet" messages of no more than 140 characters, is also a useful recruiting tool. Recruiters can search for keywords that appear in peoples' "tweets" and then follow those people.

"Say you're looking for a sewer inspector, for example," Nilson says. "I go to a site search on twitter.com and look for a hashtag, which is a way to find keyword topics. I look for all the results of people who use CCTV as a hashtag, and I can 'follow' them, and they don't have to follow me to see that. It's like sending them a message, and asking them if they're looking for a job, or know someone who is. It's a very direct approach."

Employers can enhance their recruiting efforts by using social media to promote their organization as an attractive place to work. They can accomplish this with strong employer branding through a good career page on their website that includes things like video testimonials from employees or photos of fun company or charity events. Moreover, they can magnify their online presence by posting videos on YouTube (www.you tube.com) and photos on Flickr (www.flickr.com).

"You need to increase a company's visibility and the credibility of its website ... make it easy for people to find you online," Nilson says. "Just as companies are looking at candidates, candidates are looking at companies and actively researching them."


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