Using Social Networks for National & Global Recruiting and Sales: Three-Stage Adoption Model

Using Social Networks for Recruiting and Sales shows how firms can increase quality of recruits and sales leads while cutting costs.

Using Social Networks for Recruiting and Sales: Alumni-Driven Adoption ModelSocial networks can help organizations, whether commercial, nonprofit or government, to significantly improve their efficiency in business processes like recruiting, sales and service. This is what we call “Enterprise Process Innovation” because, by using social networks to create and nurture relationships with alumni, your employees can diminish the time required to accomplish tasks within these processes. It’s well known that most alumni, former employees, move to firms that are related to your business (adjacent in the value chain) or complementary in some way. Yes, some move to competitors, but they are usually in the minority. Social networks, by significantly reducing the cost of having relevant, quality conversations, make robust employee-alumni networks actionable as never before.

All organizations (I’ll use “firm” to denote for profit, government and nonprofit) have business processes that benefit from relevant insight and introductions from other people: insight about the situation of the prospect, where the best sources of new recruits, etc. Alumni 2.0 is an evolutionary approach to transforming firms’ relationships with employees. The legacy employment model is utilitarian: firms hire when they need skills and fire when business drops. End of story. Some firms make half-hearted attempts with sub-par email newsletters, but these don’t even begin to tap the potential of vibrant employee-alumni networks.

Here I will lay out an incremental, three-stage model that starts simply, pays dividends quickly and evolves to support more complex business processes over time.

Stage1: Recruiting

egsn_number_1When your firm does business across large distances that require significant travel costs during your recruiting process, you have the opportunity to use social networks, social apps and video to significantly reduce these monetary and time costs. You do this by developing a public network by using microblogging (i.e. Twitter) and/or social network messaging (i.e. LinkedIn/Facebook) to share thoughts, challenges and job opportunities, so they get to know your firm behind the curtain, they come to know the culture and increase their comfort level with you. And those who don’t fit will lose interest, reducing attrition rates. Then you can use video for first stage interviewing. This can lower your recruiting costs considerably. Here’s how to do it.

  • Let’s assume that Recruiting is in Human Resources, which supports many parts of the firm. For the pilot, select a department or group that tries to recruit people who have a high comfort level with social networks and video. Further, select champions carefully, pick people who feel comfortable with innovation and uncertainty.
  • Put together an engagement strategy. Work with the sponsor organization to develop specific profiles of people they usually try to attract, and rank their priority.
  • Take your candidate definitions and create keyword families and complex searches that you use to find candidates talking online. Rank social venues based on the quality and quantity of conversations you find.
  • Select a small group of employees in the sponsor organization; develop voluntary guidelines for their profiles and interactions in the venues (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, blogs). It’s important that they share exciting projects, challenges and job opportunities that are active or emerging, as well as appropriate “behind the curtain” tidbits about why it’s fun to work there. To minimize gaffes, you need to be clear about what’s okay to share and not. It’s also important that you select potential recruits’ future work colleagues to participate in the pilot, not HR. If you are a volunteer nonprofit, have volunteers and management share this information; if you are a software firm, enlist engineers. The point is, you provide a stream of information that is interesting and relevant to the type of candidates and their influencers you want to attract.
  • Conduct first interviews using video instead of phone using Skype or an enterprise solution. Most people have video on their laptops now. Make sure this interview is conducted in accordance with your culture.
  • If the sponsor organization does a lot of recruiting, consider making 3-5 videos of key people talking about what they’re working on and why it’s important, how they work with other people. You can point prospects and candidates to these. When possible, let people share some more personal information, too.

Recommended Goals

  • Experiment with sharing certain types of things, and track what resonates best with high-priority prospects. Use the high quality conversations that were found by your keyword families/searches as a starting point.
  • Don’t overlook social aspects of work and what people like to do in their spare time. This can be huge. Let’s say that a large portion of your engineers like a certain video game; let them mention it if they want.
  • When opportunities open, ask people to suggest candidates. Ask them what they think about the job description; based on their feedback, tweak it to make sure it’s clear to candidates. Thank them when you use their advice, and even when you don’t.
  • Celebrate wins online.
  • Two great examples I just discovered today Social Media, Virtual Meetings Help Firms Enter Markets and Save Capital.
  • Financial metrics: the main goal here is building and maintaining a stream of quality leads and hires. Put these numbers against your legacy process (travel, recruiters, job ads).

Stage2: Alumni

egsn_number_2We are all very familiar with schools’ strategies of “creating durable relationships” among schoolmates that transcend time. True, most schools talk more than they act, but the concept of creating “alumni” relationships can be very useful to most firms. Have you ever thought that, unless you are a new startup, you have vastly more alumni (people who have worked with you and moved on) than employees? Depending on your firm culture and trust level with employees, a certain portion of “alumni,” if they have accomplished something meaningful while they worked with you and/or if they created valuable professional relationships, retain a certain amount of goodwill toward you—and vice versa. In Stage2, you want to nurture this base of goodwill to benefit alumni and your firm. Stage2 works as long as a large portion of your employees does not leave harboring bitterness due to their employment experience. However, the experiences of alumni of most organizations fit the bell curve, which holds that most have a reasonably positive memory of their experience with you, while some love you and others hate you. Secondly, the beauty of social networks is that employees aren’t only relating to your firm; they have the opportunity to relate to other individuals, whether other alumni or current employees. So even if they aren’t favorably disposed toward your firm, Stage2 can work when they feel goodwill toward former colleagues.

For you to tap Stage2’s full potential, you need to adopt a new way of thinking about your relationships with employees because your firm needs to take the lead in serving alumni in their goals. This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, but you need to show through your actions that you care about alumni, and you will help them accomplish things that are important to them now. When your help takes place in a transparent digital social venue like LinkedIn or Google+, you can affect a large group of alumni relatively quickly. Think about yourself: how would you feel if you asked for and received some very helpful information from a former colleague that helped you land a new job or contract? Even better, other alumni see these things happening, which can build goodwill quite quickly. Here’s how to do it.

  • Since, unlike Stage1, Stage2 creates a digital private space, you need to get a social business/media policy in place that vets and defines what can and can’t be shared. Most glitches occur when there are misunderstandings. This is usually a short engagement with a firm that’s experienced with it (CSRA does it in 1-3 weeks).
  • When the policy is underway, you need to create an alumni engagement strategy. In many cases, since Human Resources has led Stage1, they can provide continuity and lead Stage2 as well, but any area of the firm can lead. Selfishly, the sponsor organization needs to define and rank the importance of alumni. Who’s most important to your business goals? Getting this right lays the foundation of your authenticity and ability to commit to alumni long-term. In addition, it’s important to scope the pilot small, so don’t pursue large complex initiatives that involve multiple areas.
  • Take your alumni definitions and create keyword families and complex searches that you use to find alumni talking online. Note, whether they are your alumni or those of a competitor doesn’t matter; you want to prove out your definitions and find people online talking about issues/challenges/topics that are relevant to your business and are related to the conversations you would like to have with alumni.
  • Based on these conversations, rank social venues. This will tell you in which venues you need to invest (i.e. LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook, Google+, Xing, Viadeo..). Create a private, password-protected LinkedIn Group, Facebook Group or Google+ Circle.
  • Select a small group of employees for your pilot; develop voluntary guidelines for their profiles and interactions. You can coach and mentor them on how to look their best on LinkedIn and how to search for and help fellow alumni using LinkedIn Answers and Groups. They will need guidance and mentoring for what to share and how to spark and maintain conversations online. As they interact in LinkedIn, their networks with alumni will grow naturally. When you do Stage2 right and build trust with employees, the fact that their networks are growing will create alignment between the firm, employees and alumni.
  • For example, if you are a U.S.-based B2B, LinkedIn will probably rank highly for your alumni. You have to be clear that your employees are masters of their own destiny and their profiles and interactions are their own. You need to be comfortable with the realization that these relationships might lead to some employees discovering opportunities outside your firm. If they feel that you want what’s best for them and this is truly your attitude, you will win their trust and commitment. You can’t fake this and don’t even need to because you will get much more than you lose (see goals).
  • Once alumni see that you sincerely want to help them reach their goals outside their formal relationship with you, their goodwill toward your firm, employees and other alumni will increase significantly.
  • Think about the impact: what if you could significantly improve the attitudes of the hundreds or thousands of alumni you have toward your firm? That’s the end-game here.

Recommended goals

  • Talk excitedly about challenges and emerging job opportunities you have, and ask alumni to recommend people. During the pilot, you want to establish alumni as a reliable source for recruits.
  • Ask alumni in certain geos about their favorite local networking events, meet them there and exchange introductions with people onsite.
  • Define and track how many meaningful introductions your team makes on behalf of alumni. This is most important because it shows how you care. These actions have to be meaningful to alumni.
  • Toward the end of the pilot, use private LinkedIn Answers or a Group to ask alumni how they would like you to help them. Don’t do this at the beginning, only after you have begun to develop trust in-venue (i.e. in LinkedIn).
  • When you end up hiring people recommended by alumni, celebrate in-venue.
  • Encourage alumni to reach out to employees to help them online with their current challenges. Encourage alumni to connect with employees and to use their LinkedIn networks for support in their current roles. You can coach the pilot employee group on how to be proactive with this. Remember, when alumni in LinkedIn see your employees helping alumni with current challenges, it will transform their attitude towards you. It will also transform employees’ attitudes because you will show that you care about the relationship past employment. This will activate a strong network that transcends employment. And many established firms have thousands of alumni who are increasingly online.
  • During the pilot, mentor employees in training and mentoring other contributors to create a scalable team.
  • Scale the program by repeating the pilot process in other organizations.
  • Scale the program by asking for referrals for consultants and contract workers (same idea, but not recruiting employees).
  • Think about using the program to help employees find other jobs when their jobs get eliminated and there’s no role they want internally. Although most organizations will find this challenging, consider what it will mean to current employees and alumni: by actively helping them to find opportunities, you are sending a powerful message that you care about them.
  • Financial metrics: similar to Stage1, but here you can address a wider range of recruits, where Stage1 is limited to people who are comfortable with public Twitter and Facebook interactions. So you want to build and maintain quality leads and hires. Compare these numbers against your legacy process (travel, recruiters, job ads).

Stage3: Revenue/Business Development/Sales

egsn_number_3At this point, you have experimented with using social networks for two stages of recruiting. You have learned about what motivates employee and alumni contributors. In Stage3, you turn similar attention to producing revenue opportunities for you and alumni within allowable parameters. Stage3 has employees collaborating with alumni to give and receive information and relationships to accomplish their and your revenue-related business goals. Obviously, how you proceed with Stage3 will depend on your business, so here we can only present some general guidelines. However, the constant is your employees and alumni are giving and receiving help within the context of business and revenue production. This help usually takes the form of leads, introductions to people and insights into prospects’ businesses. The goal could mean sourcing new partnerships, entering new geographies, asking for introductions for new prospects, getting insights for a new product or service, etc. Here is a general outline.

  • The context of Stage1 and Stage2 was employment: helping alumni pursue their career goals and you with recruiting. Sponsor organizations had people talking online about their current challenges and opportunities. Similarly, here the sponsor organization needs to start having interesting, meaningful and relevant conversations online to develop and audience of alumni that has similar interests. If you’re a B2B, alumni are often in adjacent parts of the value chain. These conversations have to be relevant to alumni and your employees for complementary reasons. These conversations will build awareness.
  • Similarly, when pilot contributors are trying to develop relationships with alums who can help them, they can refer to in-Group conversations (on LinkedIn) in which they have discussed certain aspects of the challenge or the value proposition, how they like to serve certain types of clients. These become private reference points that they can reuse repeatedly.
  • They can make requests like, “We’re looking at an opportunity with XYZ, can anyone give us some general insight into their shrinkage situation in malls?” Note that contributors need guidance about what kind of requests they make. They never ask for privileged information, for example.
  • Similarly, they encourage alumni to ask for their help.
  • They need coaching about being transparent about conflicts of interest that will occasionally arise (i.e. when an alum works for a direct competitor). As long as they are up-front and matter of fact, people will understand.
  • During Stage3 pilots, track assists your team(s) gives and gets, and define them according to some value scale. For example, an introduction to someone who makes a buying decision is different from someone giving general information about business conditions.
  • Make sure you focus on supporting alumni and that their requests are met. This is more important than the help you get from them because it will maintain their interest in you and keep your relevance to them high (hence engagement).
  • For more context on how social networks can shrink the business development/sales cycle by 30-50%, see How Social Networks Change the Rules of Business Development and Profit.
  • Financial metrics: compare the types of help you get and how quickly they shrink the sales cycle. For most B2B organizations, sales processes are long and costly, so there is much room for improving velocity. Also track the quality of help you give and celebrate wins online. This is important for building and maintaining momentum.


  • This approach will have a dramatic impact on professional services firms, which have high recruiting costs; similarly, a large portion of their employees are directly responsible for business development, and they are global. This goes for most firms that have high per-employee recruiting costs and that do business in many geos.
  • The way in which you pursue this incremental approach will vary tremendously based on your culture and current relationships with employees. I hope you can appreciate that most of these things are relative. There is no absolute way to do it.
  • You start small in public venues (Stage1) and begin proving out the concepts. When you do this right, it builds excitement and momentum.
  • Trust is the bedrock of the program; as long as you have a reasonable level of trust with a representative portion of alumni, you can build from there.
  • You have to lead by showing you mean what you say: you want to serve alumni by helping them. Address this in Stage2. Under-promise and over-deliver. You have to be honest with yourselves here about cultural limits you may face. If some senior management, who may be steeped in legacy attitudes towards employment, take that into account by keeping pilots small and producing results before asking to scale the program, which will eventually require transformation of employment attitudes and (undoubtedly) policies.
  • Keep in mind that you can duplicate Stage1 in several areas of the firm before going to Stage2. This can be useful if you need to convince upper management of the value of social networks. Nothing sells like success.
  • Also see Alumni 2.0: Employer-Employee Realignment to learn more about the value proposition and business drivers of Alumni 2.0.
  • Although presented in 2009, Using LinkedIn for International Business might give you some additional context for Stage3.

What are your experiences with using social networks for recruiting and business development support?

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