I met with Kevin Green recently, the Chief Exec of the R.E.C.(Recruitment & Employers Confederation.) Among other things we discussed why there has been limited adoption of social media by third-party recruiters. I acknowledge that there are some great examples of agencies who are doing some great work. Steve Wards Cloud Nine is just one example) but they are definitely in the minority. For every Cloud Nine Recruitment, (who do there social better than most), there’s a thousand others who don’t, and some who are just anti.

Most recruiters have some presence on LinkedIn, but the nature of the platform makes it an obvious choice. The individual recruiter profiles on the most part are rarely updated, with limited activity in any of the “social” features like questions, comments or updates in groups, sharing etc. Using LinkedIn more as a directory of talent, than a social platform.

I think there are a number of reasons for the apparent apathy or disinterest in the agency sector, it comes down to trust and expectation.

The recruitment sector is not a trusting one. The value of an agency at sale lies in the information they “own”. The cost of entry in setting up on your own is low. Many of todays agencies were built on the back of relationships built at old employers, rather than new business, and as a result, few owners genuinely trust their employees. The issue of “ownership” of LinkedIn accounts, Twitter following etc comes up every time I speak to agency owners. It is a big issue, and a big barrier, the information is just too public and too portable.

My feeling is that this stance is unhealthy. If you don’t trust your people, you won’t get too much back from them. The reality is that all the information and data is very public. It’s not like the old days, where the only place you could find a number or make contact was in the Rolodex, and if you left the Rolodex, and latterly the database with your employers, you lost most of your contacts. All but the best relationships, which had a habit of resurfacing, were gone.

Social media is different. The data is owned by the platforms. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc, own the data, not the Agency or the Recruiter. In theory they can do what they want with it, and this does not sit well. Public data is just that, it’s not exclusive, and you can’t prevent access as easily as taking away access to the database.

Individual recruiters feel that “my network” is “my network.” They put time in building it often out of office, maintaining it and establishing relationships and influence. The relationship is unlikely to stop even if the name of the employer changes, and an active network is likely to be much bigger than the old “database” relationship. Even if I give you my account, I’m going to be tweeting or updating again tomorrow in my own name. You can’t ban me from the network, and people are going to want to reconnect. Agency owners really don’t like that. Easier not to start than face the prospect of losing data.

My opinion is that the agency sector has to be a bit more realistic about this. I’m working now in sectors where the company accepts that their staff are probably going to move on every few years, it is the way of work, even more so in the agency sector. At the same time, they recognise the power and potential of social media. They counter this by creating an environment where relationships and networks are not exclusive. By sharing contacts and making sure that time is put in to building relationships across the organisation reduces the risk should an individual recruiter choose to move on.

The recruitment business can own and retain the company accounts. The company page on LinkedIn should be registered to a company e-mail account rather than a recruiters personal account. The same applies to groups and Facebook fan pages. These can be considered corporate properties, with clear ownership. The grey area covers accounts held in the individual recruiters names.  These accounts and identities are something the recruiter is unlikely to give up when they leave, and this scares the management of the recruitment business. The reality of this is that you have to accept that the information and the opportunity to reconnect is there. Most recruiter contracts already contains a restrictive covenant which prohibits dealing with clients and candidates for a period of time after leaving. Correctly enforced, with a reminder on leaving, is enough. Over restrictive policies and attempts at ownership of personal networks will only serve to prevent individual recruiters building effective networks. The chiefs will just need to learn to trust.

Theres a real fear in business in general, not just recruiting, that when you let people get active in social channels without strict controls,they don’t have the good sense to understand what content or comment is inadvisable, and will damage the brand. That they will share business secrets and behave inappropriately. My experience of this has been quite the opposite. When you empower people to get social, and have clear guidelines that focus on what people can do, rather than what they can’t, they don’t disappoint. Recruiters, in my experience understand their responsibility towards their candidates and clients, and the need to respect confidentiality. Why then should this change because a recruiter starts posting on Facebook or any of the other social channels? It simply doesn’t, but the fear of what recruiters will say and do scares recruitment businesses from getting active, and the blocking of social channels at work.

Recruiters have processes and policies already in place governing confidentiality and data protection. Integrating social media as an extension of these processes, removes concerns in these areas. Fear of recruiters sharing confidential information is another reason given for steering away from social media. If it doesn’t happen now in public places, on e-mails, calls and the like, why would it happen when recruiters get social? The social places feed in to the recruitment process, and confidentiality is protected. No need for fear.

Remember when e-mail was introduced to recruitment businesses, or the internet. I remember the fear and the conversation that surrounded these introductions. There was real belief that recruiters would spend their time surfing and messaging friends. That never really happened. The reality is that recruiters have performance targets that have to be hit. That doesn’t change with social. Those recruiters who waste time will do so, with or without Facebook and Twitter. It is fair to say that social media can be a time suck, but a few days lost is all it takes for recruiters to realise this and get on track. Time in the channels is all that’s needed to find the most effective ways of working. Any bars on access to the channels (not uncommon in agencies). Recruiters are never going to learn how the channels work, or build worthwhile networks without access. It’s back to the trust factor, trust and you won’t be disappointed.

A.P.S.C.O, the Association Of Professional Staffing Companies, who serve the UK recruitment sector, published a social recruiting white paper just before Christmas on Social Media Policies for Agencies, in conjunction with community software business SiteForum and lawyers Osborne Clarke.  This white paper perhaps sums up the attitude of many of the industry leaders, and was clearly put together by the lawyers, suggesting a need for self-regulation for recruiters who adopt social media practices.  The policies take a heavy-handed approach to outlining ownership and control. My view is that all the policies you need are already included in contracts of employment, Internet policy and communications policy. While these may need to be extended slightly to be explicit about social media channels, new policy creates a new beast, better to take an approach of guidelines and training. Education over regulation. I think the suggested policies are more likely to increase fear rather than alleviate it.

Any recruiter, corporate or agency who has adopted a social recruiting approach, will comment that it takes time before you get any return for your effort and time invested. It takes time to build the right networks and understand how to get the most out of them. This has been a big factor in agencies starting out on a social route and then dropping it when the returns don’t come straight away. Too high expectation leads to quick disappointment. My advice to recruiters is slow integration. Get comfortable in the social channels, and don’t drop what you do now. Small steps lead to small wins, and these wins give the confidence to increase activity. Build the network first, day by day, and go from there. It is perhaps time that has been the biggest barrier to individual adoption. To get the most effective use of social media by recruiters, the business should be looking to put in place a social infrastructure, built on technology, tools and training. Theres lots of tools that make help recruiters to be effective with social recruiting. This is the guidance that recruitment businesses need. To look at case studies and learn from what others are doing, rather than setting policy and restriction.

I understand the argument that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Theres plenty of recruiters doing a good job without adopting social media. Some are quite vocal about why social just won’t work for them. I understand that there are some recruiters who work in a niche and have well established contacts. They make a good return, and don’t see the need to change, after all, change means disruption, and in the short-term, that costs. My concern for agencies is that the market is changing, especially in the UK. In U.S. analyst Josh Bersins excellent research report: ” U.K. Talent Acquisition Factbook” comments:

“There is no doubt that recruiting is expensive, costing U.K. companies approximately £5,311 per new hire, on average. (See Figure 3.) U.S. companies, by comparison, spend $3,479 per hire, or the equivalent of £2,158 in British currency – just one-half the amount spent by British companies. Much of the difference in cost is due to the U.K.’s heavy reliance on agencies, which charge as much as 30 percent of a new hire’s ”

The report goes on to say: ”

“The once-entrenched agency model is starting to break down. Over the past year, one-half of all U.K. companies said they reduced their spending on agencies. For example, Tesco, a large retailer in the U.K.,completely changed its recruiting process in 2009 and today relies less on agencies. By bringing more recruiting activities in-house and embracing new social media tools, Tesco has reduced its cost per hire by 70 percent. Other progressive companies are following a similar path, turning to professional networks, social media and candidate relationship management systems as sourcing alternatives.”

The recruiting function in many UK organisations are moving from being largely administrative to pro-active sourcing. I spoke with Gary Franklin, founder of The FIRM, (The Forum For In House Recruitment Managers), who recently conducted similar research amongst the members. Gary’s view is that the trend to move sourcing in-house and away from agency use to being the default setting for business, is less about cost of hire and more around the most efficient and effective way of hiring. This applies to large and small companies alike, and whilst this doesn’t mean no business for agencies, it certainly means less.

A shrinking market means that agencies need to be looking at new ways to generate revenue, and no avenue should be closed. Social recruiting is one avenue that should be explored whilst it is an option rather than a necessity. Change is coming quickly. Recruitment agencies need to overcome their fears and start exploring what works for them.

I’m going to be speaking on this topic in the opening key-note at the Recruitment Agency Expo at Olympia on the 14′th – 15′th Feb. there’s going to be quite a big crowd of recruiters coming and will be a great event. Tickets are free for those who pre-register. (You can register on the link at the bottom of the post.) Come along and give me your view.

You can also take part in the conversation at #trulondon on 22′nd – 23′rd Feb. Steve Ward of CloudNine and Elkie Holland of Prospectus will be sharing their stories of social recruiting. There’s a lot to learn and a long way to go, but this could just be the year for agencies to question why they are not being social.

Bill

Links:

CloudNine Recruitment Group

APSCO Whitepaper

Bersin Associates “UK Talent Acquisition Factbook”

The Recruitment Agency Expo

#TruLondon