How Social Networking Has Made Recruiters the Laughing Stock of Corporate America

Josh Letourneau Driving Productivity, HR Technology, Joshua Letourneau, Recruiting, Social Media

Today, I offer a tough pill to swallow for all Internal and External Recruiters: Our obsession with Social Networking (SN) has officially made us the laughing stocks of Corporate America.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Not only do most Senior Execs agree, but juggernaut IBM even invested millions in making a commercial and purchasing the coinciding media time to air it.  Unfortunately, the cat was out of the bag when the IBM commercial hit prime-time programming.

Yes, SN is new, fun, and hot.  Since it’s so nascent, there are new “thought leaders” emerging each daySocialnetworkingguidelines  with exciting ways to replace actual person-to-person dialogue with tweets, posts, and instant messages.  The right of passage to thought-leaderdom is fuzzy at best, and vendors of new products are spamming us like never before with marketing advertisements, free webinars, whitepaper secrets, etc. . . and despite the ever-growing digital corpses of the next big thing in our midst, we haven’t even seen the worst of it yet.  Put simply, astute business minds are riding this wave while it lasts, extracting every penny they can before the wave finally crashes into the beach as another wave forms right behind it.  Such is the very essence of entrepreneurialism.

Perhaps the most intoxicating lure of SN is the notion that it allows for the full intertwining of our personal and professional lives.  As human beings, we long to connect with others . . . and for those Gen-Y’ers and Millenials early in their careers, efforts to morph work into a big party are no real secret.  Marian Salzman, CMO at Porter Novelli, perhaps puts it best: "You really can’t ask them to live and breathe the company . . . because they’re living and breathing themselves and that keeps them very busy."  As such, it’s easy to see why we would embrace SN’s value proposition at a core psychological level.  It is not only the new killer app, but moreover, it’s 2008’s beautiful drug.

But haven’t we seen this before?  If we were to hop in our time machines, we’d travel back to the mid-90s’ when email was touted as the way to remove actual in-person or phone conversation.  Did it work?  No, not really.  Then we’d head over to the late 90s’/early 2000s’, when the introduction of job boards shook the foundation of the industry as the livelihood of all recruiters was threatened by technology and the Internet.  Did it work?  No, not really.  From there, we’d journey to the mid 2000s’, when CRM–centric recruiting tools were touted as the way to “reach the perfect candidate at the perfect time with the perfect job.”  Did they work?  No, not really. Indeed, history has a habit of repeating itself.

All the aforementioned turned out to be just what they are: Really cool tools to be used when and where necessary.  But each and every time, the market was bombarded with the groupthink mantra that so aptly blows early-stage sales through the roof: “Can’t you see?  This time, it’s for real!!!  Early-stage WOM (and the recruited sneezers that make virality possible) are pursued as aggressively as the Spice Melange in Herbert’s "Dune."  As Geoffrey Moore can attest, good luck crossing the chasm without early-stage WOM.

And now, here we are, circa-2008.  Our new craze is SN, and wow, what a craze it is.  To compound matters, we have Gen-Y (those born in or before 1982) leading the charge . . . and let’s be honest, Gen-Y loves to be marketed as the technologically superior generation.  Just like before, God forbid anyone challenges the new wave of the day – either you’re on your surfboard riding the wave with the cool kids . . . or you’re looked at as a dinosaur who can’t swim.

This time around, however, there is a new twist.  Instead of the surfers laughing at those who decide to stay on the beach during high-tide, the tables have turned.  We’re now the joke, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being laughed at unless I’m the one poking fun. It makes me shake my head to know how hard real recruiters work each day and then return home only to see TV commercials like the above invalidate our efforts.

And yet, I do have a business mind . . . so I recognize that there is little ROI seen from blowing days cruising around Social Networks.  We’re not fooling anyone when we’re sending friend invites, generating user content, or tweeting out details of our personal lives instead of making calls, physically meeting candidates, and closing deals.  Let me be clear: There is a huge difference between utilizing technology as a way to grow and harvest a pivotal talent pool and what we see happening today.  Until real business leaders start demanding accountability and returns from today’s big thing of SN, the party looks like it will go on much longer than 6 in the morning.

In the end, romancing the new, shiny object has been fun . . . but the time has come for us to get back to work.

Josh Letourneau is the owner of Knight & Bishop, an Executive Search and Human Capital Intelligence firm, with an emerging focus on Social Network Analysis (SNA). Nope, not like MySpace, but more like who is connected to whom in organizations and how does that impact their influence on decision making and P.O.V.s. And you can learn more about all of this on his new blog .