The rise of social media as a recruitment tool

Over the past decade, social media has metamorphosed into a dynamic form of worldwide interpersonal communication and community building.

April 4, 2013

By Yolandi Nortje, executive of Intuate Group

Over the past decade, social media has metamorphosed into a dynamic form of worldwide interpersonal communication and community building. In fact, according to a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Project report, which drew on surveys from 21 countries, social networking has spread around the world with remarkable speed. In countries such as Britain, the United States, Russia, the Czech Republic and Spain, about half of all adults now use Facebook and similar websites. These sites are also popular in many lower-income nations, where people, once they have access to the internet, tend to use it for social networking.

Historically, it used to be enough to have an online presence on the internet, via a company website for example, for the one-way broadcasting and distribution of information. Today, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are driving new forms of social interaction, dialogue, exchange and collaboration. Social networking sites (referred to more broadly as social media) enable users to exchange ideas, post updates and comments, or participate in activities and events, whilst sharing their wider interests. From general chit-chat to disseminating breaking news, from making a date to following election results, from humour to serious research, social networks are now used for a host of different reasons by various user communities.

Social media are increasingly blurring the boundaries between work and play, and leveraging them as a recruitment tool is the latest leap in their usage evolution. Today, instead of using job sites, companies and recruitment agencies are filling openings faster by relying on new tools that scour social networks and target workers – some of whom aren’t even looking for jobs.

LinkedIn got into the field early, launching Recruiter in 2008. It allows head-hunters to access and search its more than 187 million profiles and contact potential candidates. This division generated $138.4 million in the third quarter of 2012, a whopping 55 percent of its total revenue, by charging companies $8,000 a year for one to two users of Recruiter; whilst headhunting firms usually charge about 20 percent of a new hire’s annual salary.

According to a June 2012 survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals by recruiting software maker Jobvite, two thirds of companies already use Facebook to find recruits, while 54 percent use Twitter to learn about potential candidates’ views and interests. In November 2012, Facebook launched a social jobs app that aggregates more than 1.7 million job listings from Monster and other sites and allows members to share them with friends.

But how does all this play out in the South African context? It is irrefutable that internet penetration in South Africa is rising, and with it the use of social media sites by South Africans. Currently, there are more than 1, 9 million locals on LinkedIn, of which 23 percent are at an executive or senior management level; and almost five million South Africans on Facebook, of which 3,5 million are between the age of 25 and 40 years. For that other social media giant, Twitter, South Africa boasts over 55, 000 active users, with the site being the seventh most visited in the country.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index, which is an annual survey, showed that even though a small percentage of people actually secured their most recent job through social networking (one percent), 24 percent of respondents said they had looked at social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, seeking job openings or promotions. Those most active in searching for jobs online were in KwaZulu-Natal, where 29 percent used social networking to look for employment opportunities, followed by Western Cape (26 percent), Eastern Cape and Gauteng (both 23 percent). These inviting trends are bound to induce hiring companies to invest more in social media recruitment this year, as opposed to relying on the traditional job boards.

However, the survey also revealed that while social media was active as an employment tool, so too was apprehension about the damage it could have on careers. More than a quarter of respondents admitted to deliberately editing content on their social networking pages to avoid career problems.

In the experience of Intuate Group’s People Solutions, there are advantages to the use of social media sites for recruitment purposes. From an internal point of view, it creates less duplication of effort for recruiters when the social media strategy is correctly set-up and implemented. Less time is spent advertising positions as the links between the different networks allow for automatic updating. By leveraging social media sites, recruiters have access to millions of candidates, allowing them to gain greater insight into to the candidates by combining the impressions gleaned from personal interviews and from their profiles on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This methodology means that candidates can be better characterised and ensures that the client benefits by getting the right candidate for the right position. For the applicants, these sites provide excellent opportunities for self-marketing.

To conclude, an increasing number of employment-eligible people spend a good part of their day on one or more of these popular social networks, with the larger platforms touching people’s lives multiple times every day. But whilst it is easy to see why these networks are becoming key sources for employers and recruiters to find potential employees globally, actually using social media to find and source talent is still relatively new for many employers, HR managers and recruiters in South Africa. When used effectively, social media can give an unprecedented boost to a company’s recruiting capabilities.