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

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.

FOT Background Check

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 .


  1. Todd Rogers says:

    A true student of Darwin will see SN as one more environmental adjustment which enables those prone to survival to outpace those who are wondering who moved their cheese. Learn to be adaptive and things such as SN, job boards, or what ever tomorrow holds will be blips as opposed to the latest/hottest thing.

  2. William says:

    Great points on social media, Josh.
    Chasing our own tail vs productivity or (just as bad) effectiveness. The “why” (there is plenty of how-to’s) needs to be articulated so we can all make informed (and “rational”?) choices on what, if any, social media to use.
    {In full disclosure, my name is indeed linked to my Twitter}

  3. Rob McIntosh says:

    Loved it !
    Would be curious to know if I reposted my ask on LinkedIn Q&A again if people would start to show more of the ROI, as I am still yet to see the hype = results:
    LinkedIn as a source of hire…….Hype or Helpful
    Not LI bashing or any other SN tool as they all have a place now and in the future….but please make the investment = validated results and get out of the anecdotal spiraling discussions that made business leaders think we don’t get it.

  4. I do agree that Social Networks are a means to an end for recruiters. Certainly it’s a good idea to create a presence, but in the end, we all have work to do. So since they are constructed in a manner that makes them easy hunting grounds for talent, they are useful and will continue to be as long as people feel compelled to include their job/expertise information in every online profile they construct. Everyone should get some AIRS training and XRay and FlipSearch the buggers to death.
    And to Rob’s point about who has had hires, check out the recent ERE Webinar that Josh and Amybeth Hale were a part of, I could’ve sworn that Amybeth said she and her team at Waggener Edstrom had multiple hires via LinkedIn.

  5. Ryan Mettee says:

    SN does not put internal and external recruiters to shame . It merely provides them a tool to more easily access a larger candidate base, much of which is organized into interests, groups etc. For recruiters, they are ready to start eating – the food is right in front of them.

  6. Kelly O says:

    All of these “shiny new” Social Networking sites are tools. It still takes an individual motivated enough to recognize the tools for what they are, and use them appropriately.
    A backhoe is a much-needed tool in construction. But I have not the first clue how to use it, so it wouldn’t be in my best interests to just jump in one and start working on my dream house. Same theory stands for LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like. Find out if it’s applicable to what you want to do, learn how to use it, and then make use of it in appropriate ways.

  7. Stop the Insanity says:

    We can all sit here and gripe about evolution but like any and all industries, technology is the conduit for business change. All you recruiters out there that are still sitting on your laurels and not educating yourselves on the value of social media tools will be extinct in a few short years. If you think LinkedIn, Twitter and other corporate social networking sites (internal or consumer) are passing fads, then you are probably in the same camp as the ones who called the world flat, or perhaps disagreed with the value of an automobile back in the 1800s…wake up before its too late…have any of you Einsteins thought about what you are actually doing right on this website? Aha! Moment of enlightenment…right or wrong, you are all on here to learn and express your opinions…sounds like value to me…

  8. Everyone, good evening – I wanted to thank everyone for comments. Of course, I know this is a controversial topic and one that generates much conversation outside the lines. SN is in nascent stages and it will continue to be a growing arena for us to invest time and resources.
    Today, WE are the early adopters and innovators in the business world. As evidence, please consider that the pragmatic market has not quite caught onto LI, but please consider that LI is not what many would consider a social media construct (this is up for debate in many circles).
    My suggestion is that we need to consider when we are going to end our addiction to the drugs and start dealing them. I know this is a weird analogy, but is the best I can think of to communicate that only when we calm our personal addiction, will we begin to create business value and ROI.
    We can and will begin to create this value, but we need leaders to emerge with success stories that will catch the eyes, ears, and minds of upper execs — otherwise, commercials such as the above will continue. Many see the issue today as one in which SN serves as a conduit to make work a party (not to say that’s always a bad thing), but we must remember our job is to recruit first, and make friends/generate followers second. To end on a positive note, we can do this!

  9. Jim Durbin says:

    I think you miss the point of the commercial. It’s not just making fun of social networking – it’s suggesting that IBM has the tools and expertise to use social networking to have a real business impact.
    Their new social networking platform is built on using the enterprise to help connect people. If anything, it’s a shot at the third party tools.

  10. Joshua Kahn says:

    Hey Josh,
    thought provoking post. Nice job at SourceCon too, you’re a very comfortable, well-spoken presenter.
    Isn’t as simple as understanding appropriate use? It seems humans are predisposed to pick up any new thing or anything and feel the need to proclaim “This is it!” or “this isn’t it!”. Once ‘it’ is in its appropriate box, they move on. The reality is everything has some use, it depends on the other factors of the situation. Even cigarettes can be good for you if you have irritable bowel syndrome and smoke them in very small doses until your symptoms improve. However, ciggy’s aren’t so great for you if you smoke 2+ packs a day for 20 years and are prone to asthma. The gist is, no ‘thing’, on its own, is inherently bad or good in and of itself. It all depends on the situation (i.e. – who, what, when and how).
    This patent lack of ability to apply ‘appropriate-ness’ and context to social tools and doodads by *ahem* “thought leaders” and decision makers in corporate America was best described to me as these folks viewing it all as ‘computer magic’. As in, “hey, let’s go to Facebook and create a group for Underwater Pipeline Mechanics! (its magic!)”.
    Anyhoo, cheers,

  11. Barbara Ling says:

    “Thought-leaderdom”? Neat word!
    I think social networking can be broken down into two main components – that for personal use and that for business. For example, I have two facebook pages – one at which I post all of my business-related information (blog postings, how-to articles, etc.etc.etc.), and another in which I share more mom/kid-oriented stuff.
    My first site gives me the credibility in my industry should potential customers/clients look me up…my second site is simply just for my own enjoyment.
    SN is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. The smart recruiter/sourcer/etc. will use it to build up their authority in their chosen niche. The not-quite-as-smart recruiter will simply use it as a personal chat mechanism if that.
    Data points,

  12. Rithesh Nair says:

    Great Article!To the point. I always believed that spending time on social media is NOT waste of time but spending ALL the time might be a waste.

  13. HodgesLucia says:

    It’s understandable that cash makes us disembarrass. But how to act if somebody doesn’t have money? The only one way is to try to get the personal loans and just bank loan.

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