The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

July – December 2018

The impact of social media on recruitment: Are you LinkedIn?

social media

Tanja Koch, Prof Charlene Gerber and Prof Mias de Klerk

  • OCT 2018
  • Tags Reports, Management
27 minutes to read

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Tanja Koch, Prof Charlene Gerber and Prof Mias de Klerk

Where do you search for top talent?

As the competition for talent increases, organisations need to know where to focus their resources to attract the best talent. Research shows that the so-called ‘spray and pray’ recruitment methods are no longer sufficient. The main reasons are that these methods only focus on the small and limited active pool of potential candidates; they do not give organisations access to sought-after talent in the semi-passive and passive candidate pools.

In the quest to find these candidates faster and cheaper, new sourcing tools have been created through electronic and social media. With the exponential growth in social media users, specifically the social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and the microblogging site Twitter, strategic tools were developed to help identify, attract and recruit both active and passive potential candidates.

Many organisations use external recruiters as consultants to source potential external candidates. This is where the specialised use of appropriate processes and technologies becomes an important aspect of the recruitment plan and strategies of recruitment consultants. For this reason, it is important to find out how recruiters use social media in order to gain a better understanding of its use and value. The very nature of social media enables recruiters to lure passive or semi-passive job candidates to attractive employment positions.

It appears that South African researchers have given little attention to how social media has changed recruitment. Hence the question: Is the use of social media in this country is a significant development or is it just a hype?

Research shows that the so-called ‘spray and pray’ recruitment methods are no longer sufficient.

What does the literature say about recruitment?

Recruitment is an essential part of talent management. A failed low-level hire may cost a company double the person’s annual salary, rising to around six times the annual salary at higher levels.

Several studies have shown that organisations with better talent show better performance. An organisation’s ability to attract and retain talent is therefore a key determinant of its effectiveness.

The ‘war for talent’ is not new. The term competency deficit is used to describe one of the reasons why organisations find in difficult to source the right employees. Competency deficit refers to a situation where not enough employees have the skills needed to perform a task. This can be ascribed to, say, inadequate education and training, and a growing demand for new skills and high-level managerial talent. In addition, employees change jobs more frequently, the organisational environment is becoming more complex and the competition for talent is increasing globally. This means the gap between skilled jobs and qualified high performers is growing.

This is why the view of recruitment has shifted from an often-outsourced administrative function to a key differentiator in the competition for talent. In fact, it has become a strategic function.

Potential candidates can be classified into active, semi-passive and passive candidates. Active candidates are those who are actively seeking employment. Semi-passive candidates are those who are interested in a new position but are not actively seeking new employment. Passive candidates refer to those not seeking a different position. Both passive and semi-passive candidates would potentially consider a new job if they are lured with attractive opportunities and enticing conditions.

The act of sourcing candidates is generally performed by an internal or external recruiter. Some researchers say that organisations that excel at the sourcing stage show better recruitment results and, therefore, better financial performance than their competitors.

Still, the best method for recruitment remains debatable. Less than a decade ago, candidate sourcing was still focused on more formal practices, such as job advertisements, employers’ websites and job boards. Until recently, recruitment advertising in newspapers and trade journals and on organisations’ websites were seen as the main tools used to attract candidates. In addition, traditional sourcing activities – such as asking candidates for referrals, visiting job and trade fairs, and using organisations’ own candidate databases – were popular. Now research has shown that placing an advertisement in popular media or on an organisation’s website has a limited chance of attracting the right candidates. Advertisements in popular media usually only attract active candidates, resulting in a small and limited candidate pool.

Research shows that the so-called ‘spray and pray’ recruitment methods are no longer sufficient.

This recruitment method, aimed primarily at active candidates, was also called the ‘spray and pray’ method. It means that recruiters ‘sprayed’ job advertisements across pages of print media and on websites, and job seekers in turn ‘sprayed’ their CVs in the direction of recruiters, with both parties ‘praying’ for a positive outcome.

The impact of the internet and social media on recruitment

The growth of social media and internet capacities and capabilities has changed the recruitment game. Recruiters now have at their disposal internet job boards (internet sites that allow organisations to upload their vacancies and candidates to upload their CVs), internet data mining (the use of Boolean searches) and web crawlers (programmes that search the web for information about employees). They can also use flip searching (a process which identifies employees who link to specific internet sites to search for passive and semi-passive candidates) and social networking (leveraging connections on social media) such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Social media can be defined as the use of web-based conversational media among communities of people who meet online to share information, knowledge and opinions. Four key motivations drive the use of social media: connect, create, consume and control. A wide range of social media platforms are available – such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. However, research has indicated that Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are mainly used in the sourcing process. LinkedIn and Facebook could be classified as social networking tools, in other words, tools that allow users to share information about themselves, often through an online profile that they have created themselves. Twitter falls under the subcategory of microblogging tools.

In 2017, Facebook witnessed an average of 1.32 billion active users per day, with more than 14 million users from South Africa. LinkedIn had 467 million members in 2017, of which 5.5 million were from South Africa. Twitter had 317 million users in 2017, with over 7.7 million from this country.

This is why recruitment has shifted from an … administrative function to a key differentiator … In fact, it has become a strategic function.

Social media and recruitment

As the number of users on social media increases, the use of social media channels in recruiting is gaining momentum. This trend is the result of organisations recognising the potential of these channels to attract active as well as passive and semi-passive candidates.

There is evidence that recruiters and organisations are realising that more and better candidates can be discovered quicker and at a lower cost by using social networks. Specifically, a strong association has been found between the use of LinkedIn and the ability to identify and attract passive candidates.

By using social networks for recruiting, access is enabled to a wide range of candidates, at an increasingly lower cost. In particular, social networks give recruiters access to the sought-after pool of highly competent but passive candidates. Social media and networks can therefore give recruiters a competitive edge in reaching their recruitment objectives when this is done effectively.

It is clear that recruiters believe social media enables them to find better quality candidates. Indeed, 93% of recruiters use social media to support their recruiting efforts. It was found that 50% of recruiters use social media in paid-for job advertising while 37% advertise vacancies via tweets or alerts or use free job advertising via targeted social media platforms like Facebook. Furthermore, 30% of recruiters develop a database of followers and/or supporters by posting regular updates while 18% use the social media platform’s job search engines to advertise vacancies or to accept CVs and application forms. Surprisingly, only 7% of recruiters use it to screen the suitability of potential recruits on their social networking pages.

But which of the social media platforms are the most effective to use? Although Facebook is globally the largest social media platform, it is not the most popular or effective for recruitment. Jobs posted on LinkedIn receive more views from potential candidates than those on Facebook and Twitter combined, and garner twice as many applications per job advertisement in general. Over 95% of recruiters who use social media in their recruitment process indicated that they use LinkedIn, compared to 66% utilising Facebook and 52% engaging with candidates on Twitter.

One of the main reasons for the higher level of use of LinkedIn relates to its being seen by the public as almost exclusively for building professional relationships. Although all three of these social media platforms are being used in the sourcing process, they tend to be used differently. LinkedIn is mostly used for posting advertisements, searching for candidates, and contacting and vetting candidates. Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, are mostly used to showcase the employer brand, generate referrals and post advertisements.

Advertisements in popular media usually only attract active candidates, resulting in a small and limited candidate pool.

Recruiters believe that LinkedIn gives the most insight into candidates’ employment history, education, years of experience and how they present themselves. Jobvite’s annual Social Recruiting Survey is one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind. The 2014 survey was completed by 1855 recruiting and human resources professionals. Overall, 79% of recruiters indicated that they placed a candidate through LinkedIn while 26% used Facebook and only 14% used Twitter. Although LinkedIn has one of the highest success rates of any website, it seems that it is still used less than more conventional recruitment platforms like job boards, career portals and corporate websites. One of the reasons why many recruiters still prefer conventional sourcing tools could possibly be ascribed to recruiters’ limited knowledge of how to recruit effectively on social networking sites. Also, although web-based job portals generate many applications, they do not necessarily reach all the candidates, especially passive or semi-passive candidates.

How was the research conducted?

To gain insight into the possible impact of social media on recruitment in South Africa, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 recruiters from a range of industries. The participants were selected by means of judgement sampling. The first group consisted of six recruiters with more than eight years of experience. This was done to include experienced recruiters who became involved in recruiting at a time before social media was used. The second group of six recruiters was selected to have less than four years of recruiting experience. This means they have only been recruiting in an age where social media was already in use. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes and subthemes.

What did the study find?

The use of social media in recruitment was found to be high among participants overall. Also, the use of LinkedIn was much higher among the participants than the use of Twitter or Facebook.

There is evidence that recruiters and organisations are realising that more and better candidates can be discovered quicker and at a lower cost by using social networks

Only one of the 12 participants (8%) used Twitter for recruitment, which is much lower than the 52% recorded by the Jobvite survey. The use of Facebook by the respondents was also lower, with only 16% (2 of 12) mentioning the use of Facebook in comparison to the 66% found in the Jobvite study. However, all of the participants used LinkedIn compared to the 94% found by Jobvite. Four main themes were identified, as discussed below.

Theme 1: Twitter has little impact on recruitment

Although Twitter is not the most popular social media platform in recruitment worldwide, a large body of research has shown that Twitter is used extensively internationally by recruiters in the sourcing process. However, participants in this study indicated that, of the three social media tools, they used Twitter the least. This is mainly because they feel they do not have sufficient knowledge of Twitter to use it effectively in recruitment. They also said time constraints, the size of their Twitter network and number of followers prevented them from adding Twitter as a tool in recruitment.

Theme 2: Facebook has little impact on recruitment

Research by Jobvite indicates that Facebook is globally used to showcase the employer’s brand, generate referrals and post advertisements. However, in this study, only 2 of the 12 respondents (17%) mentioned that they use Facebook as a tool for sourcing candidates. When asked why they do not use Facebook more actively, one participant noted that Facebook represents the personal side and not the professional side of one’s life.

… a strong association has been found between the use of LinkedIn and the ability to identify and attract passive candidates

As most of the participants do not use Facebook to source candidates, it cannot be seen as an effective recruiting tool for individual recruiters in South Africa. This is an important new finding, as this private and/or work life distinction has not attracted the attention of international research as far as could be established. Rather, this finding appears to be unique to South Africa and relates to other research which found that it is quite common that employees and organisations do not consider Facebook to be a legitimate work tool.

Theme 3: LinkedIn has an important impact on recruitment

All of the study participants indicated that they always, or often, use LinkedIn for recruitment purposes. This finding is in line with international research. However, the preference for LinkedIn is marginally even stronger for this sample than what has been reported elsewhere.

Participants in this study used LinkedIn for different sourcing activities. Of the participants, 67% (8 of 12) mentioned that they do not place advertisements on LinkedIn, but rather use it to search for potential candidates to approach. Searching LinkedIn for potential candidates is preferred over placing advertisements on LinkedIn. This finding is in line with international trends.

However, one of the limitations mentioned about LinkedIn is that it does not provide access to candidates’ contact details. This forces recruiters to search for these details elsewhere.

LinkedIn is therefore not used as a stand-alone sourcing tool, but more for the identification of potential candidates. Using LinkedIn to identify potential candidates when screening for headhunting purposes is bound to be subject to the risk of profile inflation by candidates. This risk of profile inflation was not highlighted by any of the participants as a concern and is apparently not viewed negatively by recruiters in this sample.

By using social networks for recruiting, access is enabled to a wide range of candidates, at an increasingly lower cost

International research has found that recruiters believe LinkedIn to have one of the highest success rates of any social media platform. However, it appears that LinkedIn is still used less than more conventional platforms like job boards on career portals and corporate websites, or at least in combination with them. This international trend was supported by the findings of this study for South Africa.

Theme 4: Social media forms an important part of recruitment

In the past, research has shown that placing an advertisement in popular media or on an organisation’s website has a limited chance of attracting the right candidates. However, the findings of this study suggest that traditional advertising approaches are still an important recruitment practice. For all of the participants, the first step when recruiting a candidate is to write an advertisement. The only change in this process is where the advertisement is placed. In the past, recruiters would post their jobs in print media. In this study, 33% of the participants indicated that they now post advertisements on their company websites and career portals, as well as on LinkedIn.

All the participants confirmed that they no longer place advertisements in print media. Although they still rely heavily on advertising to find candidates, the sites where they place their advertisements have shifted towards internet media, in particular career portals and social media such as LinkedIn. This finding agrees with previous research that social media is used in combination with more conventional recruitment platforms.

Research indicated that one of the reasons why recruiters often still prefer more conventional sourcing tools is their limited knowledge of how to recruit on social networking sites. The findings of this study show that this holds true only for Twitter. It would seem that the reason why some participants still prefer the more conventional sourcing tools is time constraints and their perception is that social media adds more work.

Participants felt that social media is providing everyone with access to the same candidates, whereas in the past recruiters had to pay for access to search for candidates on career portals or use their own databases. Therefore, social media does not really give them a competitive edge. Instead, it has increased competition as all recruiters now have access to the same information. This finding differs somewhat from notions in the recruitment literature that the use of social media in recruitment provides recruiters with a competitive edge. It appears that the use of social media simply levels the playing field.

In this study, 75% of the participants (9 of 12) agreed that they combine the use of social media with the more traditional recruitment methods when sourcing active candidates. Specifically, participants indicated that when they recruit for more technical, senior passive candidates, they use LinkedIn to identify candidates and then use headhunting to lure them into becoming interested in the position. This could indicate that for lower level and non-technical positions, the sourcing approach has not changed much. However, if recruiters are trying to attract more senior or technical candidates, especially those they classify as ‘passive’, they would search less on career portals and add LinkedIn and headhunting to their sourcing process.

Although Facebook is globally the largest social media platform, it is not the most popular or effective for recruitment.

The growth of the internet and social media has given rise to more ways to connect candidates and recruiters. This benefit adds a large volume of work to recruiters’ desks because of the vast number of candidates whose profiles are available to search and screen. This increase is compounded by the large number of (often unqualified) candidates who have access to job advertisements through social media. Participating recruiters felt that using social media added more strain to their already limited time.

This finding raises an interesting perspective regarding notions in the literature that social media reduces the ‘spray and pray’ approach. Social media may give better access to the passive and semi-passive candidate pool and an improved ability to attract these candidates. However, the sheer volume of work and high number of candidates that emerge from using social media may inhibit the effective use of the acquired pool of potential candidates.

Discussion

The findings of this research confirm that the use of social media for recruitment in South Africa is high among recruiters.

One of the main reasons for the higher level of use of LinkedIn relates to its being seen by the public as almost exclusively for building professional relationships

They recognise the potential of social media to attract active as well as passive and semi-passive candidates. Similar to elsewhere in the world, the use of LinkedIn in South Africa is much higher than the use of Twitter and Facebook. The use of Twitter and Facebook in South Africa was found to be substantially lower for recruitment in comparison to what was recorded elsewhere. Although one can only speculate on the reason for this difference, it appears to be related to the international nature of the Jobvite study and the South African focus of this study. As noted, South African recruiters appear to have a different approach towards the use of Twitter and Facebook for work purposes. One can thus not simply assume that international trends apply to South Africa. All the participants mentioned the use of LinkedIn as central to their respective recruitment processes. Therefore, LinkedIn as a recruiting tool focuses on finding candidates and networking while Facebook and Twitter focus on employer branding.

The size of a recruiter’s personal Twitter network also came into play. It would only work if a recruiter had many ‘followers’. This finding is similar to what was found in research elsewhere. Recruiters’ Twitter activity also relates to their knowledge of its use. The majority of participants mentioned that they do not use Twitter because they do not know how to use it properly. So, this sample of recruiters did not see Twitter as an effective sourcing tool in South Africa.

An important aspect that influences the minimal use of Facebook is its perceived image in South Africa as a communication tool on a personal and private level rather than a business tool. Local recruiters distinguish between their private lives, represented by the use of Facebook for communication; and their professional lives, which is represented by LinkedIn. It is clear that Facebook is not seen as an effective recruiting tool in South Africa for recruiters. This finding is a new perspective that holds important consequences for its use in recruitment in South Africa.

LinkedIn is clearly the most popular social media site in the sourcing process and seems to have taken over from company databases. While recruiters would have searched for candidates on their own database in the past, they now use LinkedIn. Once a candidate has been found on LinkedIn, other sites are used to find the contact details and verify information. Although LinkedIn gives recruiters better access to the passive and semi-passive candidate pool and arguably provides an improved ability to attract these candidates, it also leads to information overload. The sheer volume of candidates that comes from using it restricts the effective use of the pool.

All the participants confirmed that they no longer place advertisements in print media

It appears that social media in the recruitment process is becoming a more modern ‘spray and pray’ approach. Recruiters ‘spray’ their attention to combe through LinkedIn profiles, and job seekers in turn ‘spray’ their CVs through social media in the direction of recruiters, with both parties ‘praying’ for a positive outcome. The main difference is that the process may now be a bit easier and more elegant. This is because it is electronically automated. However, this is where the overload occurs.

Advertising on career portals and corporate websites remains a key sourcing tool for recruiters in South Africa. However, the locations where they advertise have shifted towards the internet, specifically career portals, companies’ own websites and to some extent LinkedIn. This contradicts previous research findings that placing an advertisement in popular media or on an organisation’s website seems to have only a limited chance of attracting the right candidates.

These findings confirm the view of other researchers that, while social media can be seen as opening doors and having a profound impact on the way that recruitment functions, it should not be mistaken as the full recruitment strategy. Indeed, a well-designed recruitment strategy and process, and the effective use of available information about potential candidates, may significantly assist the recruitment of employees who have the most suitable competencies.

Conclusion

By confirming the importance of social media in recruitment in South Africa, at least as a parallel process to more traditional recruitment processes, the study confirms the increasing role and importance of social media within the talent management context in this country. The study demonstrates that recruitment through the use of social media in South Africa differs from what is done elsewhere in the world – at least for this sample. One should therefore be careful not to just assume that the trends reported in international literature indiscriminately apply to South Africa.

The majority of participants mentioned that they do not use Twitter because they do not know how to use it properly

The finding that the main impact of social media on the recruitment process derives from LinkedIn is an important aspect that should be taken note of by researchers, recruiters and job seekers. It suggests that in order to be part of an effective recruitment process in South Africa, recruiters and job seekers have to be ‘LinkedIn’. However, training in the optimal use of social media is essential.

  • The original journal article – titled “The impact of social media on recruitment: Are you LinkedIn?” – appeared in the South African Journal of Human Resource Management, 16. Find the article here.
  • Tanja Koch is an alumnus of the University of Stellenbosch Business School and a recruitment consultant.
  • Prof Charlene Gerber lectures in Marketing Management and Research Methodology at USB.
  • Prof Mias de Klerk is a Professor of Leadership and Human Capital Development, and Head of Research at USB.

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