Lessons Learned in Social Media Recruiting

By Ladan Nikravan

For many business leaders, the nadir of a recession is hardly time for creative experimentation. But as the economy sputtered in 2009, James Molloy, a recruitment manager at software firm VMware Inc., decided to take a chance.

With buzz around the value of social media in recruiting gaining steam — led by the growing popularity of professional networking website LinkedIn and social networking sites Facebook and Twitter — Molloy wanted to see if using these channels in talent acquisition was worthy of further attention.

“We wanted to either prove that what people were saying and writing about social media recruiting was true,” said Molloy, now the Palo Alto, California-based firm’s senior manager of candidate development, “or that perhaps it was appropriate for marketing and other teams but not HR.”

So Molloy and his staffing team at the cloud and virtualization software firm’s Cork, Ireland, office created a Facebook page and started to post jobs. He also had staff members post the openings to their own personal Facebook profiles.

“It was a grassroots experiment with little cost and commitment,” Molloy said. “We didn’t want to invest or formalize anything before we had a sense of what was going on.”

As it turned out, a lot was going on. Almost immediately after creating the Facebook page, Molloy said the activity started humming. People were sharing, “liking” and replying to the job postings, and these were people who hadn’t previously interacted with VMware’s recruiters.

The social activity spurred by the post caught the attention of VMware’s senior executives, and since then, the company has formulated a well-crafted social recruiting strategy that it says has bolstered its visibility in a crowded talent market and yielded successful hires.

Nevertheless, building a formal social recruiting strategy meant dealing with a lot of unknowns — like how to properly convey the VMware employee experience through storytelling on different social channels, as well as figuring out how to manage the firm’s brand online.

Now nearly five years in, company executives say the lessons learned since taking a chance on that first Facebook post has redefined its approach to recruiting.

“We’ve created communities,” Molloy said. “We’ve empowered our staffing employees to leverage a new tool, get their voices heard on the Web, and we’re reaching top talent we didn’t before.”

“That little experiment changed our recruiting strategy.”

Increasingly Social

Americans spend more time on social media than any other Internet activity, including email, according to a 2014 report by BIIntelligence, a research unit of business news service Business Insider. What’s more, about 60 percent of social media time is spent on smartphones or tablets, not desktop or laptop computers, the report said.

By roughly 2009, as the proliferation of these platforms continued to grow, recruiters began using the medium to push job content, with the idea that the engagement through social media would raise companies’ profiles among active and passive job seekers alike.

When VMware’s senior management heard the news of the initial Facebook success, they decided to formalize the process and have Molloy work with staffing professionals in the company’s Austin, Texas, office.

As a first step in 2010, VMware brought on Will Staney, previously the director of recruiting and strategic programs at business technology company SAP, as a social media administrator.

“We got to brainstorming around what it would take to come in and build a Web marketing strategy, a social recruiting strategy,” said Staney, now the head of talent acquisition at telecommunications firm Twilio Inc. “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we built an online marketing strategy tied to strategic recruiting initiatives that showed what it’s really like inside the company and expand the employer brand online?’”

In the beginning, video was central to VMware’s social recruiting push, thanks largely to its ability to provide a compelling experience for online users. “With social media, you’re telling the human side of the company,” Staney said. “Ultimately, you get better-fitting candidates when you can get all the details of who the company really is.”

In late 2009 and early 2010, staffing team members were given cameras and asked to create videos for specific vacant roles. Staffing professionals would interview individuals currently in those roles or members of those teams. But the team found the shelf life of those videos was too short — once the position was filled, the video was useless.

To solve this problem, the company hired a videographer to create videos that would share what it’s like to work at VMware. It also hired Price Peacock in 2011 as a social recruiting community manager to manage the company’s online employer branding efforts.

With a videographer on hand, VMware’s social recruiting strategy changed. The company began creating videos not based on available jobs but on social recruiting campaigns, created in collaboration with the staffing, social recruiting and employment branding team. It also made sure videos illustrated VMware’s office culture.

However, finding the right way to portray VMware’s unique culture through video wasn’t easy at first.

“Not everything worked right away,” Staney said. “At first, they told me not to talk about things like our beer bash, but those were the details that were widely successful to the community. I eventually showed them this was worth talking about by proving social engagement ROI with metrics towards the results in engagement and brand awareness.”

Such videos outlining VMware’s social culture have become common practice. During the 2014 holiday season, for example, adepartment with several job openings had a gingerbread house decorating competition. The videographer shot coverage from the event and linked it with any job opening in that department. The videographer then posted the video on social media channels.

Similarly, video coverage was recently adapted for what the company calls VMware vForum events — industry events on cloud computing, virtualization and mobile technologies. Peacock’s team recently added captioning to the VMware “Fun Facts” video and localized the content after staffing members in the Asia-Pacific region requested it so the video would resonate with people whoattended the events there.

“Social isn’t just about pushing job content,” Molloy said. “We’re sharing our story and creating relationships.”

Sorting It Out

With a social recruiting team in place and video production underway, it was now time to create multiple social media channels. The team also needed to develop a process for how the employment branding and HR teams would work together.

The team decided that job postings would be written in partnership between recruiters and hiring managers. The employment branding team is responsible for blasting those positions on social media. Additionally, Peacock routinely speaks with the company’s heads of HR to make sure her team is meeting their needs.

“We might have a call with James’ team, and they’ll tell us there’s a sales push,” Peacock said. “We’ll determine what roles they want to highlight, what office sites they’re hiring for, what social channels are relevant for the audience they want to engage.”

“I’ll work with our marketing team to create any necessary supporting materials,” she added. “I’ll get our graphic designer in on projects to create additional Web elements. My job is to make sure we’ve got a consistent global strategy but one that meets our local goals.”

For instance, Peacock said she recently worked with Molloy to create an “Architects of What’s Next” campaign.

“That campaign really revolves around the idea that our people at VMware are working together to architect what’s next for information technology and also themselves professionally and individually,” Peacock said. “We infuse the Architects of What’s Next campaign messaging, look and feel into our social recruiting efforts, whether that be through the videos we push out on YouTube, the visual marketing collateral, and infuse some of the campaign messaging into text when we’re highlighting job opportunities in the social space.”

Peacock, meanwhile, is also working closely with individuals like Anu Datta, head ofhuman resources for VMware’s Asia-Pacific region to make sure the company’s employment branding needs are met globally.

Datta said social media for the Asia-Pacific region has evolved over the past few years, and that the strategy is a bit different than the rest of the world. Countries such as China and Japan, for instance, use different social media platforms, such as WeChat and Sina Weibo. Naukri.com is a popular job board site in India.

“Social media is a platform for us to brand and broadcast our hiring needs, but we need to regularly evaluate our platforms to make sure we’re resonating and connecting with our target audience,” Datta said.

Through this strategy his team has started seeing some new benefits. “Through some of these social media platforms we are seeing an increase in our employee referral program,” Datta said, “as we have candidates approaching our employees for career opportunities.”

Molloy’s team has also seen referrals go up, primarily because of a practice herecently put into place. He manages a team of 30 individuals in Austin, and every week, each member of his team shares an open position with the team, who post it to their own social media profiles. A team member aggregates everyone’s posts and shares so everyone on the team is aware of what’s being pushed out and can also post the content if they wish.

Most of this information is also on Social Cast, an internal social network that allows Molloy’s team to share this information with each other and with the employment branding team. “If you follow relevant people and share relevant content, just by the nature of how social networks work, you’re sharing relevant information to relevant people you didn’t touch before,” Molloy said. “That gives you a ripple effect that lets you spread your content farther and wider than ever before.”

To make sure his staff was following and sharing with relevant accounts, Molloy first trained his team in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and then the U.S. on the importance of sharing to those outside of personal connections.

“It’s no good to share a VMware job to your friends and family unless all of your friends and family are currently searching for or in relevant jobs we’re currently hiring for,” Molloy said. “Our strategy is to curate information, push it to the right networks and share the right details to those networks to get the right eyeballs on our information. Teaching our staff how to do that took time. There’s a danger with social recruiting. It can be all push, push, push. But if you push to the same people and no one is engaging, what good is that?”

Molloy said another training nuance came in working with Peacock’s team to figure out when to post to which social network and how to communicate with candidates that reach out to his team on those channels.

For example, videos hosted on YouTube are primarily shared on Facebook and Google Plus, while links to job postings are primarily shared on Twitter and LinkedIn. Visual elements are broadcasted from all channels, but mostly Pinterest and Instagram.

“Each channel has to have a designated purpose,” Peacock said. “For example, our Facebook page is an opportunity to showcase our culture. We highlight our speaker events, photos from our corporate parties, videos showcasing our latest happenings. We post job postings there every once in a while, but that’s not the page’s primary focus. It’s about illustrating our culture.”

This strategic thinking extends to local and global channels. For example, WeChat is a platform used in the company’s Asia-Pacific region and nowhere else.

“Social media is a platform for us to brand and broadcast our hiring needs,” Datta said, “but we also regularly evaluate our platforms to make sure we’re resonating and connecting with our target audience. In all cases, we look at adopting a more personable and proactive approach when connecting with the external talent community.”

Knowing what channels candidates around the world prefer has helped Molloy get in touch with candidates more successfully.

“People’s preferred methods of communication are changing,” Molloy said. “The holy grail of recruiting used to be having a candidate’s telephone number, but now that’s not how they want to be reached, and it’s not the only way to be reached. You might find a candidate on LinkedIn, but you can cross-reference that person and find their Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and so on. Why not reach them where they want to talk?”

Most recently, Molloy has been getting in touch with many candidates on Google Plus Hangouts and Facebook Messenger.

“In today’s world, people are bombarded with emails, news and other information on a daily basis, and as such, have their mobile devices on them and are serving the Web,” Peacock said. “James’ team wants to connect with candidates in spaces that allow them to easily and conveniently respond back to discuss a particular opportunity further.”

‘Liking’ the Future

As VMware pushes ahead with recruiting in 2015, the company says it is continuing to look for ways to expand and improve the way it uses social media for talent acquisition.

This is the case even as some companies remain skittish. Roughly 30 percent of human resources professionals in a 2014 survey by Human Capital Media Advisory Group, the research arm of Talent Management magazine, said their companies still don’t use social media for talent acquisition.

While VMware declined to share specific numbers regarding cost savings or number of hires from social recruiting, Peacock and Molloy said they have seen numerous benefits from the effort. Both say the number of candidates citing a social media channel as their vehicle to finding open positions at VMware is growing.

“We know that in the past three months, 35 percent of our new hires engaged with our LinkedIn company page before being hired,” Peacock said. “We also know our@VMwareJobs Twitter account has received close to 150,000 clicks. Statistics like this help us target our strategy and share meaningful content in the most appropriate socialspaces.”

For VMware to take social recruiting to the next level, Peacock said the company is focusing on three areas. First, it is focused on enhancing the mobile application experience for candidates.  “We know that 3 in 5 job seekers use a mobile device to search for jobs,” Peacock said. “Therefore, enhancing our mobile solution in our application process as well as our social recruiting strategy is a priority for us.”

Second, Peacock’s team will be providing the VMware talent acquisition team with the resources and tools to leverage social mobile apps, so that it can optimally connect with talent on candidates’ preferred method of communication. Lastly, the team will work to encourage VMware employees to become brand advocates by asking them to use their social networks to promote the company.

“The VMware Employment Brand team is always open to trying new things in the social recruiting space and we’re not afraid to take risks,” Peacock said. “I’m excited to worktogether with our global talent acquisition team and see how our latest socialrecruiting strategies come to life in 2015.”

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