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Six steps for savvy social recruiting

Social recruiting is all the rage, but experts warn that recruiters need to plan and learn how to engage before jumping in.

The power of social recruiting is undeniable. Recruiters and talent acquisition teams are using social media more and more as part of their overall strategy to find job candidate leads and usher the best prospects on board.

When carried out with foresight and authenticity, an appetite for engagement and a little patience, recruiters can maximize their efforts and build a pipeline of strong candidates now and for the future, according to experts in the field.

"Social media gives you a larger and louder platform from which to do your work," said Paul DeBettignies, principal at Minnesota Headhunter in Minneapolis. "I can talk to so many more potential candidates than I could 10 years ago."

With so many candidates active on social media (nearly three-quarters of online adults use Facebook, 18% use Twitter, and 22% use LinkedIn), it's no wonder that 94% of recruiters say they currently use or plan on using social media in their recruitment efforts, according to Jobvite's 2013 social recruiting survey.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are still the recruiters' social networks of choice, but other sites such as Pinterest, YouTube, GitHub, Stack Overflow and Instagram are also emerging as channels used to source talent, according to Jobvite.

However, recruiters shouldn't dive in to these sites with blinders on, experts warn. Use the following six tips to succeed with social recruiting.

1. Create a strategy

Every recruiter starting in social recruiting needs a plan, said Natascha Thomson, principal and founder of MarketingXLerator, a Silicon Valley-based business-to-business social media marketing consultancy.

"It starts with setting your objective," Thomson said. "What are you trying to do? With recruiting, it's really important to think about who you're trying to recruit. Recent college grads or top-notch experienced engineers?"

2. Go where your candidates are

Once you have your target audience in mind, meet them where they are.

"I fish a lot. I could go out on a lake and pitch a bobber somewhere. Or I could figure out where the fish are and go there," DeBettignies said.

DeBettignies recommended asking people in the field where they hang out online. "Is it Twitter? LinkedIn? Facebook? At the end of the day, it depends on who you're recruiting," he said.

And with the ability to use Facebook graph search and Twitter hashtags, there's no reason a recruiter can't find the audience and conversations he's looking for.

3. Learn the rules of engagement

Once the audience is located, it's time to engage. Authenticity is extremely important, said Kerry Noone, who as an employer brand manager at Amtrak helps cultivate a talent community around the brand.

"It's important for Amtrak candidates to know a real person [is] answering their questions and that we do read their tweets and posts," she said. "It's not just us pushing out information."

TweetDeck allows Noone to monitor her stream and search keywords. "Any time anyone is talking about jobs and Amtrak, I'll reply to them and be able to give them more information about what we have to offer," she said. She also recommended HootSuite as another tool to manage social media engagement.

Today, Amtrak focuses primarily on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram for connecting with potential candidates and uses a career tab on its Facebook company page. At this point, Amtrak Careers has nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter, where "we talk to candidates every single day," Noone said.

"You've got to engage with folks. Talk with them, not at them," DeBettignies said. "And whatever you do, don't be boring."

Injecting some humor into communications reminds followers that there's a person behind the brand. For instance, DeBettignies suggested posting about the weather or the commute. "Be human. Be yourself," he said.

Most recruiters are still using Twitter as a reactive tool, DeBettignies added. But in his opinion, that's the wrong approach. "You can go out and meet prospective candidates [on social networks] before you even have a job to post. Then they won't dismiss you as a spammer."

4. Produce and share great content

"People now have a very high expectation that you give them relevant information," Thomson said. "If you don't, you lose credibility. There's so much information out there, you need to be relevant."

So what is great, relevant content?

"Provide content that's not always just job-related," DeBettignies said. "It could be articles related to the field that show you're involved with your industry and with the people you're recruiting."

Repurposing content from other areas of the company is a useful shortcut with its own benefits. At Amtrak, "we talk about things we're excited about, like our new career portal and applicant tracking system, hiring events and benefits, but it's also important to make sure potential candidates know about the culture of the company and ... the company history," Noone said.

For example, Amtrak uses the hashtag #teamamtrak on Instagram as a way to curate posts created by Amtrak employees that show what it's like to work at the company, Noone said.

5. Don't approach social recruiting like a job board

Perhaps most important is to avoid treating social media simply as another job board.

"Don't just spam people," DeBettignies said. "Don't just post and pray. It's the lazy way out."

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Erin Osterhaus, HR analyst at media company and consultancy Software Advice and managing editor of its blog, New Talent Times in Austin, Texas, couldn't agree more.

"Actually engaging with potential candidates is necessary if you're going to use social media in the best way possible and take advantage of what it has to offer above and beyond the traditional recruiting tactics," she said.

And as companies become more and more transparent, candidates want to know about things such as company culture even before they apply for jobs, Osterhaus said. "Once they know who you are and enjoy your posts, then they are more like to apply once you do post a job."

6. Manage your expectations

If done right, social recruiting has the potential to grow recruiters' audiences exponentially. However, it's important to remember that building an audience takes a long time to cultivate.

"If you're a well-known brand, it may be somewhat easier, but this stuff takes time," Thomson said. Recruiters need to be specific about their goals and have realistic expectations, she added.

"It's very important to be patient," Noone of Amtrak said. "You're not going to build a network overnight. You'll win people over one at a time." Eventually, a strong pipeline of passive candidates will emerge.

Recruiters also need to have realistic expectations about cost. "That's one of the biggest misperceptions," Thomson said. "People think social media is free, but it's actually one of the most expensive tools because it's time consuming." This is a common complaint she hears from clients, she added.

But, as she put it, it's an investment, and it should be treated as such.

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