Talent Acquisition

Humans are the Ultimate Variable: Are Social ROI Sayings True?

Anyone here every heard of Glen Cathey? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, he recently ran a blog entry from a young woman who was a social recruiting convert. Megan Hopkins recounted how she’d made 3 hires on Twitter within 6 weeks with enthusiasm and great detail. And an inevitable discussion ensued. Each recruiter or consultant came out of his or her foxhole to extol the virtues of LinkedIn over Twitter, Facebook over the ATS and of course, no recruiting “good old days” diatribe would be complete without the “Um, did anyone think about the telephone for heaven’s sakes?” comments.

I’m joking. Well, I’m sorta joking. We have these debates online (and I love them) to keep us sharp and interested, to focus in on what really makes a great recruiter and how we’ve seen our profession evolve over the course of a decade (and many much longer). These high spirited conversations serve a higher purpose, at least for me. Often we find ourselves regurgitating case studies and time-honored truths without stopping to wonder if they are even relevant any longer.

Social recruiting ROI:

During this discussion, I realized and argued something I’d never really articulated before: social recruiting ROI is impossible to measure across the board because of the inherent variables involved. It is much simpler to purchase LinkedIn Recruiter for $8000 (or however much it is now) than to try and figure out the equation for true social recruiting.

Imagine you are a talent acquisition leader and you need to decide on which activities your recruiters should be spending their time. In order to to get an ROI for something like Twitter or Facebook (not an automating sourcing tool that uses such), you’d have to figure out:

  • Their natural social bent (in a recruiter hopefully this is easier to pin down than in most).
  • Their ability to use such a tool at all.
  • Are they able to write well?
  • Do they operate according to a rigid schedule or are they comfortable with real-time activities and on the fly changes?
  • How quickly can they work/search/communicate on social networks?
  • Are they liable to get distracted by social recruiting?

As a talent acquisition leader, you might decide that a line budget item that you can quantify (i.e. a tool provided by a vendor) is far easier than factoring in the potential human cost (and upside) of all those variables for every member of the team. Social recruiting ROI actually turns out to be very difficult to quantify IMHO. Everyone on your team is different! Which is what I said…not that eloquently:

“Here’s where it gets interesting. Because I would rather send 10,000 tweets than get on the phone and there are others like me. I would also rather get on the phone and automate a bunch of stuff than ever EVER jump into salesforce. Ditto excel which hurts my brain. So the ROI has to accurately reflect the ACTUAL investment. I might be faster at social whooziwhatsit than you, so the investment is inherently less in my case. My point is that were this an equation (for ROI or whatever) energy and effort would both be variables that were dependent on the intrinsic gifts and skills of the person (also a variable); impossible to measure except with the individual variables identified and tested. SO to make sweeping statements about the efficacy is tough, at least for me.”

Of course, there were many other opinions that diverged from mine, most notably those that felt that Social Recruiting is being touted as a total panacea and being allocated the kind of budget that makes it difficult to swallow blog posts regarding Twitter, hiring and sourcing. These are well placed fears. The amount of time, money and aggravation spent on social recruiting, especially more nominal channels like Twitter and Vine, can be laughable. Rob McIntoch put it this way:

“Social media (including twitter) is positioned to be the silver bullet for finding and hiring people. All the consultants talk it up, all the industry articles rave about it, and hence lots of recruiters focus on it. Here is the bottom line from a recruiting leader that is anal retentive and tracks this stuff. I don’t get excited about sourcing on social media channels (yet) because I am looking at the big picture of where do all our hires come from. Based on the ROI (and future) I need to make sure that wehere the money and resources get allocated produce the greatest results overall (quality, speed & cost). While it is commendable and admirable that I see people get 3 hires from twitter, overall the energy, effort (cost & time) invested in these sourcing channels does not, not even closely, reflect the organizations (or recruiters/sources) time and company ROI. Don’t get me wrong, finding some purple squirrel on Twitter to fill some critical role is great, but my point is that too many people in our industry don’ look past the end of their nose to understand where they need to strategically spend their time (and most importantly the company’s) time to fill all the roles. I am not a social media snob, but rather pragmatic about were the broad value proposition is and needs to be.”

Jeremy Roberts pointed out that an agency recruiter or a “lone wolf” may have an easier time using these tools, perhaps even in part, due to some of the reasons listed above.

“I do think it’s important to make sure sourcers and recruiters are using social media to quickly extract data, not doing branding or marketing. Learning the fastest, most efficient techniques to extract data from social should be a small part of a recruiters day. Too many recruiters play on social all day instead of getting the data they need then picking up the phone and making a call. “

However, I encourage people to read the post itself and decide. Hopkins, had a good handle on many of the answers to the questions above and built a mini-strategy for each requirement she had. Her results (and the level of detail) show that she carefully thought through each decision before making it. Gerry Crispin noted that her approach was encouraging but ultimately, tactical:

 “I applaud her initiative and enthusiasm for embracing tools and technologies, experimenting within her capabilities to do so and closing the deal but, this isn’t a conversation that that is going to move any dials on the many challenges we face in creating world-class recruiting strategies. “

There were countless other notations in support of this post and her experience overall. Jim Durbin spoke the fact that third party or agency recruiters use what they have and this was a great use of Hopkins’ time and effort:

“It’s important to remember that third parties use an all of the above mentality. We seek differentiation, and being big on a social platform helps us get reqs, and get referrals. Think of it this way – that recruiter generated I’m guessing at least $60,000 in gross margin using Twitter. It would be hard to say that you could hire 1000 people that way, but that $60,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Social isn’t easy to scale – but you’re paying recruiters, internal or external, to bring you results. Figuring out what works for your team would seem to be the best bet, and Glenn’s recruiter did a damn fine job.”

I agree, in some sense, with all of these points. But as I read through the post, it’s apparent that as Durbin points out, her results are nothing to sneeze at. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s strategic or tactical, because companies don’t do work. PEOPLE do work. Systems don’t source, PEOPLE source. And no one is going to fix a broken system by insisting that what works for one, should work for all. The world is shockingly short of tactical thinkers and do-ers. Go Megan!

By Maren Hogan

Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, a consultancy offering marketing strategy and content development.