Up+with+People+1970My very first business trip ever, I went to Atlanta for the National Black MBA Association annual event, thrilled by the prospect of a transcontinental flight crammed in coach, a non-nondescript high rise hotel room and a 40 dollar a day per diem – a pretty sweet deal, I thought, considering I was completely unqualified.

It had nothing to do with the fact that as a white guy who went to film school, I was pretty much the polar opposite of a black MBA. I knew how to get around picking up the phone – a skill which is apparently now referred to as “social recruiting” and involved a lot of researching various professional associations and diversity organizations.

I knew enough to know that my hiring managers and business partners wanted diverse candidates, but while I understood the compliance requirements, I didn’t understand the business rationale – or the reality that diversity recruiting is one of the most valuable components of the talent acquisition toolbox.

I just knew I had to stand and press flesh with a seemingly unending procession of these highly educated, highly skilled, highly coveted diversity candidates, and when our conversation about careers was over, I was required to prompt them to upload their resume to our career site to be considered- even though, yes, they had just given me a copy.

It got easier as the day went on, that mandatory deflection from personalized interaction to online application, because they’d heard it before, from almost every recruiter at the dozens of companies whose corporate logos made the expo hall look a little like the side of the stock car.

That’s because OFCCP, EEOC and a variety of other legislative acronyms require all candidates to go through the same online application process, which requires self-reporting of ethnicity and gender for information gathering purposes by the US Government.

Lest that sound too Orwellian, these rules also say you don’t have to tell if you don’t want to. And it really doesn’t matter, because no one involved in the hiring process can see that information anyway and it’s aggregated anonymously.

Candidates fill out that information without really thinking about why they’re asked for this information, but not so with the companies collecting them. That’s because diversity plays a significant role in how we approach hiring, much like social media, and both are ubiquitous, and critical, components to a successful talent acquisition strategy.

Which makes it odd that diversity compliance is one of the biggest concerns of HR professionals about using social media for recruiting. Sure, you can see the candidate’s picture on their profile, but that’s no different than being able to see them face-to-face at diversity hiring events. Neither is the outcome, as the call to action for both recruiters in real life and online must be to drive online applications to ensure compliance.

Speaking of compliance, a quick disclaimer: I’m a blogger, not a lawyer, and this post shouldn’t be construed as, you know, legal advice, or anyone’s opinion other than my own. Companies want diverse candidates, and most make much more than the required “good faith effort” to get top diverse talent, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to market their employer brand to a highly targeted, hard to reach demographic.

And justifiably so; after all, having a diverse employee population creates a true competitive advantage – and bottom line results – by having a workforce that mirrors the marketplace and customers they serve.

The focus on capturing the voice of the customer and understanding the market by diversity practitioners also happens to be one of the primary business cases for social media marketing. The major difference is that companies perceive social media as a risk, and diversity a reward, when in fact they’re just two sides of the same inclusion coin.

The demographics of social media users largely parallel those of your consumers and candidates, only skewing slightly younger and more diverse in terms of visibly identifiable minority representation. In other words, the workforce of the future looks a lot like the social networks of today.

When you come down to it, a diversity association or an affinity group, both terms entrenched in the HR best practice playbook, fit any working definition of “talent communities.” The only thing, in fact, that’s new about talent communities is that they’ve gone online.

Social networks form the same way as real networks – among connections tied together by shared background, experience or interest. Those commonalities often fall along the lines of visible diversity – things like race and gender that form the traditional target of diversity recruiting initiatives.

But not always. And that’s the great thing about social media. Like any great incubator for innovation, it’s completely inclusive, providing a platform for people of all backgrounds to intersect and interact.

It’s a conversation any organization that’s serious about recruiting top diverse talent has to be a part of. It’s not enough to write some copy on your careers site or stick up some cheesy stock photos of multiracial teams on your job postings– diversity is a value that has to be lived and acted upon.

Social media has the power to show your company’s commitment to inclusion in real time – and that when it comes to diversity, your employer brand is more than skin deep.

By Matt Charney

Matt serves as Chief Content Officer and Global Thought Leadership Head for Allegis Global Solutions and is a partner for RecruitingDaily the industry leading online publication for Recruiting and HR Tech. With a unique background that includes HR, blogging and social media, Matt Charney is a key influencer in recruiting and a self-described “kick-butt marketing and communications professional.”