Sourcing and hiring the right talent in China remains as challenging today as it has ever been. HR professionals are under increasing pressure to utilise social and professional networks as additional resources for recruiting, company branding and disseminating corporate messages as these platforms become more pervasive.
Admittedly these tools are not only potentially disruptive to traditional recruiting practices, there is also the danger that a badly managed social media campaign could actually damage an employer’s brand, yet for those that get it right the benefits can be huge. Mark Baldwin, Managing Director of OXUS Employer Branding and one of the Chairs of the Beijing HR Working Group, explores the potential of social media as an HR recruitment tool, and provides guidelines on how to get the best out of it.
Social media is the interaction between people sharing ideas and content. Much of its power as a recruitment and marketing platform derives from the fact that candidates trust information received from a friend or colleague way more than corporate, commercial messages delivered through paid advertising. Of course, for some, directly advertising jobs may still be the right approach, especially if your company does not have the time or resources to engage fully, so don’t rule it out, but be aware that you may not get the most out of the medium this way.
In addition to platforms such as Sina Weibo, Renren, Linkedin, QQ and Youku, social media also encompasses blogs, BBS platforms, podcasts and myriad others. Recruiters have long used such services—especially BBS for campus recruitment—but until now few have taken a strategic approach to social channel management. Interactions occur across all of these platforms—people may be talking about your company whether you are aware of it or not—so a comprehensive HR strategy for social media should consider all channels.
One of the overriding characteristics of social media is ‘open participation’. Social platforms encourage the creation of groups and communities, where people of similar interests or backgrounds come together. The ease by which HR can identify and engage individuals and communities of talent already formed into networks based around common interests is a major feature of new media.
While a few professional networks—notably Linkedin—officially offer database searches, recruitment advertising and employer branding ‘products’, logging in to simply post recruitment advertising undervalues the potential of these platforms to engage and connect your employer brand with talent.
Despite this it seems there are still many corporate HR people who are content to pay their recruitment agencies nice fees for simply finding candidates on Linkedin, a resource that is available to everybody free of charge.
To turn social and professional media to a competitive advantage HR should focus on three key areas: managing your reputation as an employer; building talent pipelines of self-selecting candidates and integrating all channels into existing platforms—corporate career site, applicant tracking system (ATS) and processes—to better manage the candidate experience.
The role of a company’s employer value proposition (EVP) and execution of the employer brand is the key to long term success here. Organisations seeking to engage talent communities and manage their reputations on social media must have a clear strategy to guide all messages, content development and discussions. Neglecting this and accepting an ill-thought-out messaging approach is likely to damage your reputation over time, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve.
What a company communicates, potentially across multiple channels via employees’ and followers’ re-posts, should be consistent, differentiating and drive a deeper understanding of the employment experience. Crucially messages must be felt to be ‘true’ in the eyes of current and potential employees.
Without consistency you face the danger of confusing and alienating the talent you’re aiming to engage. Without some degree of truth you risk a back-lash from employees or candidates that have had a bad experience during the hiring process. Those who have direct experience of the company are likely to react badly to false corporate claims by publically refuting or ridiculing the organisation, potentially causing long-term damage to your reputation.
The lesson here is that what you claim online should follow-through into actual behaviour within the company. If you tell candidates on Weibo you have a friendly and open culture, recruiters dealing with candidates better make sure they are friendly and open. Integrating the employer brand values into the corporate website, recruitment process, and recruiter behaviour needs to be taken more seriously to ensure consistency between what you preach and what you actually do.
In the brave new world of ‘big data’ metrics loom increasingly large. Social media gives you a cheap way to test talent brand perceptions against your EVP, as well as the standard measures of cost and speed of hire. Think more about ‘engagement’ and quality of ‘fit’. Try to measure whether or not your campaigns are changing, or at least challenging, misconceptions and whether or not people are reposting and recommending your company to their networks.
What you are ultimately trying to achieve is to grow a larger, more suitable talent audience that identifies with your brand messages, not simply generate more and cheaper random applications.
The following table outlines a structured process of developing a social media branded recruitment strategy taking all stages of the Employee Lifecycle into account:
The Employee Lifecycle
By breaking down the Employee Lifecycle across the following areas, companies are better capable of identifying areas for improvement or areas of potential differentiation that can be leveraged to greater effect in their communications and processes.
Consideration: Would talent consider a career in your industry, in the roles you seek people to fill and in the locations in which you need them to be based? Social Networks offer employers the chance to understand perceptions about how their own opportunities are viewed by potential talent.
Evaluation: How do your vacancies and image compare to your competitors. Is C&B competitive? Are your benefits adequate and does your company offer a compelling story?
Application: Look at the entire process of engaging talent through the screening and selection process. Are your interviews well managed and on brand? Are communications professional? Are you helping or harming your reputation in how you manage this critical area?
The Experience: Are the audience talking about you as a great place to work or not? What is it about your working experience that might be working for or against you in terms of talent attraction and retention?
Advocate: Do current employees speak in positive terms about your company as a place to work? Are employees active on social media, who’s in their networks? Do internal communications reinforce why people stay and is this reflected in posts?
Exit: Do leavers and alumni speak warmly of their time with you or about how glad they are to have finally left? Can they come back if they want to? Knowing your business as well as they do, are they still encouraged and empowered to refer candidates to you?
Planning a Strategy
Listen: Begin by finding out what people are saying about you online. Review your company’s own efforts (HR, PR, marketing); benchmark against competitors. Do this ‘manually’ by using search engines and search functions on chosen platforms, or by using specialist social media monitoring software.
If you work for an SME or a B2B company, find out how talent perceives your industry, the opportunities on offer and the issues that are important to them at work.
Align the findings with your messaging strategy and resourcing plan. Plan how to generate content (can you leverage your marketing departments content, do you have experts that will contribute?). Target messages and decide which platforms to use.
Work to develop campaigns that tell your story. Create and distribute interesting and relevant ‘long-tail’ content to boost reach and improve search engine performance.
Engage: Register accounts (using real names) and join the conversation. Contribute articles and company news and comment on others’ posts. Guided by your EVP establish your presence and gain the acceptance of the communities by being relevant to their concerns. If your EVP focuses strongly on innovation for example, seek to share stories or comments about recent innovations in your company or industry. Different platforms will be better suited to different areas. Sites such as glasdoor.com, where talent shares experiences about their own employment experiences, guide consideration and evaluation; Sina Weibo is great for sharing information about the current working experience through the mouths of today’s employees to a wide audience.
Grow: It is at this stage that advertising targeting-specific communities with job ads can work well. Cross-marketing is also valuable: the ‘follow us on Weibo’ icons are invaluable in growing the communities you have set up. Adding ‘invitations to join’ on job board advertising, email signatures and careers websites can help to grow your social media following.
Enlisting your employees in the cause is key—probably the difference between success and failure. Invite hiring managers and employees to follow and participate, telling the story in their own words. Run internal campaigns to increase awareness of your social activities, be proactive by building a group of alumni (past-employees) willing to advocate on your behalf.
Steer: Now that you are actively involved in a number of platforms with communities of self-selected potential candidates, focus attention towards managing audience perceptions and establishing the employer brand. Identify gaps in current and desired perceptions and decide how to address them. Use hiring managers, leaders and staff to let candidates know what the company is like and what it’s doing: how the recruitment process works, how the wellness programme works, post photos of the annual staff party, the list goes on. Lots of small things add up over time, increase the pipeline and build the brand.