radarI’ve spent the last six years recruiting with social media, and watched as platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook continue to experiment and evolve to the point where these emerging networks are not only a peripheral tool, but an essential part of any recruiter’s job.

Social media not only represents a real replacement for expensive, often ineffective job boards, but in my experience, they’re actually more effective than their traditional counterparts, in my opinion.

Social media, like any recruiting tool, is not a silver bullet, so should you make it your main source for, well, sourcing? Probably not.

But limiting social recruiting efforts for targeting exclusively external talent also limits social recruiting’s potential payoff. While you’ve probably considered some aspect of using social media to develop, drive or expand an existing employee referral program, increasing the quantity of quality referrals from current employees and candidates, but also, from their extended networks as well.

Straight from the Source

The best way to do that, of course, is through creating brand ambassadors who can extend your relevance and reach by representing your recruiting function, creating an amplification effect that not only gets the word out about open opportunities, but builds buzz while building your employment brand. But getting the word out means rethinking what word of mouth really means.

In his article Viral 2.0, author Jonah Berger writes, “If every one of your existing customers brought in just one new customer, your business would double. You’d be ecstatic (and so would your boss). So while 10 million views is exciting, focus on the much more useful (and reachable) goal is getting more people to talk and share.”

The same can be said about candidates. A recruiter with good connections doesn’t need hundreds of leads, but instead, only a handful of actual advocates to get the word out in a way that’s more authentic – and infinitely more powerful – than blasting out an automated e-mail to your entire candidate database, no matter how many contacts it contains.  But how do you go about turning those connections into connectors?

The key is adding value in order to extract it; like all relationships, you’ll only generate referrals and build your bench of brand ambassadors if there’s a solid foundation of trust, and the only way to do that is by proactively and regularly reaching out to build mutual respect instead of just more fans or followers. This means instead of asking your candidates to join the conversation, you actually need to have, you know, conversations.

Take LinkedIn, for example. Every recruiter can vouch for the fact that it’s unlikely any one of us actually abide by that whole “only connect with people you know well” thing – there’s a good chance that it’s really just replaced your Rolodex, but no matter how you use LinkedIn for recruiting, it’s unlikely you actually really know everyone in your network.  Yet for some reason, that doesn’t stop many recruiters from asking every single person they’re connected to for referrals or leads.

So why in the world would they be inclined to refer anyone to you when they know nothing about your organization, or, more importantly, nothing about you? And why would you trust anyone they sent your way to be any more qualified than any other source?  If you don’t really know your network, then it won’t work any better than any other online recruiting channel, job boards included.

A network of social connections in the form of a moleculeBuilding Relationships, Driving Referrals

The same can be said about candidates. If you have good connections with a handful of candidates who could refer you potential employees, that is much more powerful than sending out a blast email to 10,000 contacts who you barely know, if at all. Look at your LinkedIn connection list.

Do you know every single person you are connected to on that list? Probably not. So why would they be inclined to refer anyone to you when they know nothing about your organization and more importantly, you?

My main sources, like most recruiters who probably won’t admit it, come from LinkedIn – and there, it’s often referrals from other candidates through a few key connections I’ve consciously developed and nurtured.

In building these relationships beyond just accepting an invitation to connect, I’ve found that it’s more important to explain what the company does than the kinds of opportunities you recruit for.  If that’s compelling enough, then often you don’t even have to ask them for referrals. They’ll come to you.  The same goes for third party recruiters and consultants, too – it’s important to remember that ultimately, the success of social referrals rests not with the recruiter, but with their colleagues and candidates, internal or otherwise.

GEM Recruiting AI

Don’t make the mistake of just pumping your most promising connections for referrals; if you take the time to understand what they do and what they’re about, then you’ll not only stand out from almost every recruiter, you’ll be able to actually find referrals who fit your company’s culture instead of just a job description, as is too far often the case.  If you’re not willing to put in the time to nurture these relationships or be responsive to their needs, forget referrals – you shouldn’t even waste your time connecting with them on LinkedIn (or any other network) in the first place.

Being upfront and honest about your company’s vision and values sometimes means that you’ll encounter connections who aren’t worth taking the time to develop these relationships, or who likely won’t be of assistance to future recruiting efforts.  That’s OK, but make sure that you let them know and leave open a door, because you never know when “not right” really means “not right now.”

That kind of trust, coupled with the amplification only brand ambassadors can provide, will, over time, likely create a ripple effect in the marketplace that makes people want to come to you as a trusted resource, not just another recruiter asking for referrals.

Turning Connections Into Candidates

Sure, we use job boards like The Ladders and, yes, we still have a Monster account – like I said earlier, substantially relying on any source, social or otherwise, is never a good idea.  Instead, effective recruiting means spreading your sourcing across every available resource, database, platform or channel.  Even if you’re already actively advertising on the “Big 3” social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), the best connections (and valuable referral sources) can often be found in closed, more traditional networks like college and employer alumni groups or professional associations.  It really all comes down to knowing the market and mentality of the candidates you’re recruiting for.

For instance, I recruit consultants, all of whom fall into a fairly tightly defined niche – Big 4 external auditors, IT professionals, management consultants and compliance & risk management specialists, like Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) consultants.  With these target candidate profiles, I know that most auditors spend their days on site with clients, not hanging out on Google Plus, or that most management consultants are unlikely to “like” a Facebook company page.

That means as a recruiter, it’s my job to know the organizations, affiliations, job market conditions and professional expectations of my candidates in order to source and develop a full candidate pipeline. No matter what you’re recruiting for, knowing this sort of information is critical, or no matter how good you are at finding candidates or building a following on social media, you won’t have the ability to effectively engage them in a conversation or leverage them as a candidate or connection.

There will always be a busy season for auditors and a month end for accountants, there will always be long term project commitments preventing project manager placements, but time ceases to be a challenge when you get your name and brand out there, because when you approach these relationships the right way as a recruiter, it’s just-in-time all the time.

It just takes a little time, and a systematic, strategic approach to sourcing and social media.

CarloLeBoffe_LinkedInPhoto_183x183About the Author: Carlo Leboffe possesses 7 years of recruiting experience in both staffing and corporate recruiting roles. Prior to joining MorganFranklin Consulting, where he is currently a Senior Recruiter, he served as a Recruiter in the Accounting & Finance division of Mergis Group, a division of Spherion (now Randstad).

Carlo’s recruiting experience and marketing background includes recruitment of accounting and finance professionals to include audit, tax, corporate finance and consultants at all levels as well as c-level executives.

He also possesses social media and communication strategy experience, and his continued focus on new recruiting techniques and strategies has included the introduction of a targeted recruiting strategy using Facebook which led to increased brand awareness for Mergis Group.

In addition, Carlo has led trainings which included a company-wide training for social media recruiting and has been recognized as a fast resource with a proven track record of success. He keeps himself well-informed of the DC market and keeps abreast of new recruiting and sourcing trends and technologies to ensure success of business objectives.  

Follow Carlo on Twitter @CarloLeboffe or connect with him on LinkedIn.