Updated: Jan 17
Social media recruiting is the enterprise use of social media platforms to identify, engage and vet individuals who the organization may want to hire.
This HR practice, which is sometimes called social hiring or simply social recruiting, uses social media sites and other internet-based options, such as blogs, to reach potential job candidates.
The growing ubiquity of social media is prompting HR departments to develop fully formed social media recruiting strategies and include them as a formal part of their organizations' overall human capital management strategies.
Employers can use social media recruiting to reach a wider pool of candidates than is possible with traditional recruiting efforts and at the same time target individuals more effectively. An employer's talent acquisition strategy and the number and types of platforms it uses in its recruitment efforts will affect how broad or targeted the mix of potential candidates is. Many social media sites enable HR professionals to easily tailor messages to each candidate group.
To pursue social media recruiting, organizations create a presence on social media sites as a way to bolster their brand, showcase their corporate culture and, ultimately, interest people in applying for jobs.
HR leaders see such tactics as a way to more effectively and efficiently attract both active and passive job candidates. Active candidates are looking for work; passive candidates aren't trying to find new jobs but are receptive to considering opportunities.
The emergence of social media recruiting in the first two decades of the 21st century tracks with the rise of social media itself. Employers quickly recognized that vast numbers of working-age individuals -- particularly those in the Millennial generation and now Gen Z as that cohort enters the workforce -- spend significant time on social media sites. According to the marketing and consumer data company Statista, the average daily social media use of internet users worldwide was 144 minutes per day in 2019, up from 142 minutes the previous year.
The growth of both social media and social media recruiting has similarly given rise to HR professionals who specialize in this area. The symbiotic relationship between social media and enterprise recruiting efforts also means that social media platforms now make recruitment features and tools available to organizations. Additionally, HR professionals can use third-party software to manage, enhance and support their social media recruitment activities.
Why use social media for recruitment?
Employers have little choice but to include social media in their recruitment strategy because job candidates are using the technology to find jobs. The employer rating and job site Glassdoor reported that 79% of job seekers use social media in their job searches. It also found that the average candidate uses 18 different resources to research a potential employer before applying.
However, social media recruiting hasn't fully replaced job boards, advertising on corporate websites and other conventional recruitment methods; rather, it is supplementing them.
A 2019 survey from recruiting software vendor Jobvite reinforces the point: Although online job boards remain the most popular vehicle for posting openings, 35% of the respondents said they learned about new employment opportunities on social media.
Indeed, social media use among professionals in general, and job seekers in particular, continues to climb, with HR leaders acknowledging that they must meet workers where they are if they hope to reach the broadest and best pool of potential employees.
Benefits of using social media over traditional recruiting
The technology that powers social media -- most notably advanced search capabilities, filters and automated suggestions that generate connections between individuals -- also drives many of the key benefits of using social media versus older recruitment techniques.
First, social media enables recruiters not only to reach vastly more people but at the same time pinpoint professionals who have the credentials they're seeking. The vast reach of the internet means a strategic social media recruitment effort can reach millions and theoretically do so nearly instantaneously. At the same time, social media tools enable recruiters to identify candidates with desired credentials, such as particular degrees or skills. Social media allows recruiters to spread information about job openings and the organization so that passive and active candidates receive such messages. Traditional recruiting methods, such as online job boards or advertisements, most often engage only active candidates who are looking for that information.
Second, social media allows recruiters to use other people -- namely fellow employees, professional connections and associations -- to amplify their messages through online networking. Contrast those capabilities with traditional recruitment methods, such as cold-calling potential candidates or employee referrals, that rely on the time-consuming process of making one-on-one connections.
Third, social media enables these broad yet targeted capabilities at a lower cost than such conventional methods as job fairs and generic advertising campaigns. And social media often delivers these benefits more effectively than conventional recruitment methods.
How social media recruiting works
The tools needed to navigate the vast social media universe range from rudimentary to advanced. Some products do little more than help users discover a candidate's contact information, email and phone number. On the other hand, there are also platforms that have incorporated machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to narrow searches, target messages and generate leads.
Some vendors specialize in locating passive candidates. Their software takes relevant candidate data collected from multiple sources to create a single profile view that can be integrated into a recruiter's applicant tracking system.
Algorithmic-based technologies can use job descriptions to find people on social media who may meet requirements, then rank them. It's then up to the employer to reach out to these passive candidates and see if they want to talk more about potential jobs.
Contacting passive candidates via social media recruiting may require some finessing. One capability that vendors offer is automated checks of current employees to see if anyone has a connection to a candidate -- for example, they once worked at the same organization. Such an approach may be coupled with an employee referral incentive program.
LinkedIn, for example, offers tools for identifying passive candidates. Its Talent Insights analytics can help companies identify potential talent poaching targets. The tool can also estimate attrition rates and the demand for employees with certain skill sets by measuring the volume of the platform's InMails.
Other social media sites have likewise developed tools to help employers. Facebook, for example, developed a business strategy to help companies create recruiting sites. It then worked with Marriott International, a hospitality company that was using Facebook as part of its social media recruiting strategy, to create a careers chatbot that worked with Facebook Messenger. This virtual assistant for job seekers converses with and guides people to jobs they might find interesting. A job seeker could ask the chatbot: "Do you have event manager job openings in Chicago?" and the bot would provide a response and direct the person to any applicable ads.
Which social media platforms to use, and how
For many recruiters, LinkedIn remains the center of their social media universe. Recruitment platform vendor SocialTalent found in one of its global recruiting surveys that 98% of all recruiters use LinkedIn.
However, that statistic doesn't mean all job seekers use LinkedIn. It only means that recruiters value LinkedIn as a resource. Job seekers -- in particular, younger people -- use a variety of social media platforms, so recruiters must have a way to reach them there. The chart shows the percentage of use of the top social media platforms by members of the Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. companies.
UMass Dartmouth tracks social media platform use by Fortune 500 companies.
Large social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, aren't the only worthwhile targets. There are talented people who are more engaged on sites that fill both social media and professional needs. This includes Dribbble, a community for designers, and the software development platform GitHub.
Meanwhile, younger professionals tend to be more engaged in social sites such as Tik Tok and Instagram than older people.
It's important to note, too, that people tend to group online based on personal affinities or shared interests and gravitate to social media platforms that cater or appeal to their particular interests. For example, Twitter and Reddit tend to draw users who want to engage in dialogues (or at least share their ideas) on current happenings, while Pinterest tends to bring in more visually minded people who create communities around shared ideas.
Successful social media recruiters understand such distinctions between sites and can develop messaging that matches the types of engagements typical to each platform, which is key to generating interest and dialogue. They also know when to limit or avoid recruiting on platforms where the activities are inconsistent with or contrary to the organization's brand, image and values.
Understanding each platform's personality also helps HR professionals know which platforms engage the professionals who best match their job requirements.
Good recruiters also know how to take advantage of the different sites' tools to most effectively engage potential candidates.
Talented recruiters are able to cultivate a positive presence for their organizations on social media sites so professionals can learn about and engage the organization beyond the online recruitment activities.
Moreover, successful recruiters monitor the social media market to identify emerging platforms that could become important additions to their recruitment marketing efforts as well as watch for shifts in use that could impact the usefulness of social media as a recruitment vehicle.
Metrics and measuring social recruiting
Recruiters can determine the effectiveness of their work by using key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics, including the following:
how much traffic the social media activity drives to the organization's online employment page or other corporate information;
similarly, how much traffic is driven to the organization's job application page;
how many people who engage with the organization on social media apply for jobs, how many of those applicants are qualified or highly qualified, how many are offered positions and how many accept; and
evidence of engagement (such as likes, shares and comments) between the organization and potential candidates or other professionals.
Common social recruiting challenges
Although people often take a casual approach to using social media sites, recruiters have to be strategic about using such platforms. It is easier said than done. Recruiters often face challenges in effectively using social media to bring in new hires.
Common challenges include:
finding and retaining recruiters who are experienced or skilled in using social media platforms to draw in candidates;
developing and funding a comprehensive strategy where online recruiting strategies align and work well with the organization's overall branding efforts;
maintaining ongoing engagement with professional communities and potential candidates at the right level without draining or diverting resources from more fruitful recruiting work; and
using employee networks and other professional networks fully and effectively in concert with the organization's traditional HR recruitment strategy.
Social recruiting mistakes: What not to do
Recruiters who use social media should be mindful of actions that can backfire and lead to poor online engagement with potential candidates or, worse, the loss of promising leads.
Here are some social media recruiting mistakes to avoid:
bombarding potential candidates with messages;
creating inconsistent or even contradictory messages in the information posted on the organization's website and social media platforms;
being overly active or inactive with engagement efforts;
misunderstanding or overlooking the attributes of ideal candidates as well as where and how best to reach them on social media; and
failing to provide user-friendly pathways to move from social media platforms to the application process.
The Tech Platform