The Dawn of Communities: Why Social Hubs are the New Competitive Edge

Brandon Metcalf   April 24, 2015  

Seven years ago, when I was at CVPartners, I taught a class about a little-known social network called LinkedIn. I thought that my co-workers should understand how to use this tool; some of them thought I was crazy.

“LinkedIn is never going to work.”

“Metcalf, no one is going to use this.”

LinkedIn is now the world’s largest recruiting tool, and it has eroded the castle walls that once surrounded the recruitment database. If someone is in your database, that person is also on LinkedIn and is fair game for any other recruiters. The resumes in your recruitment database are still useful, but they no longer provide the same competitive advantage.

Today, I would argue that the data that represents the relationships among you, your clients and your candidates is the most valuable information you have – if you use it. LinkedIn is a phenomenal tool and has increased the value of connections, but they are just 0s and 1s until we layer on trust, credibility and shared purpose, the building blocks of business relationships. LinkedIn doesn’t have the extensive data that shows where you’ve submitted candidates, what clients have interviewed them, what the assignments they’ve been placed at, and so on.

Therefore, I believe that the new competitive edge is communities – private online communities that can provide an environment where connections grow into sustainable relationships. The trick is that they need to be associated with your recruitment database so they can create relationship data.

Just like with LinkedIn, I expect skeptics to ask: “Why would anyone use such a thing?”

The answer is that an online community can build a user base by providing upfront utility to clients and candidates. In turn, as they participate in the community, their actions will generate inestimably valuable data that recruitment firms can use to make more placements and market their services more effectively. Ultimately, recruitment firms can use online communities to fight back against the technology platforms that want to eliminate recruiters altogether.

The Characteristics of a Recruitment Community

Online communities are not LinkedIn replacements – that is still one of the best places to source new candidates. Rather, communities are private social hubs that aim to unify interactions among recruiters, clients and candidates into one system that is managed by the recruitment firm.

Think about the disparate digital channels that recruitment firms deal with today. Many have multiple self-service portals, which allow clients to approve timesheets, expense reports and other back office materials. Most have a website and blog that markets the firm. Communications are spread across phone conversations, email, social media sites, videos and other mediums.

In other words, there’s no single place where recruiters, clients and candidates ‘hang out’. Usually, firms don’t have the budget and staff to make a world class content marketing site – and the few that do still rely heavily on external social media to distribute content and facilitate discussion. Essentially, firms outsource relationship building – the core of their business – to technologies that lie beyond their control.

Ideally, online recruitment communities would put portals, content marketing and social media-style communication into one hub that is connected to the firm’s website, recruitment software and back office solution. If a candidate were to create a profile in that community, or land a temporary placement, that data would be automatically recorded in the recruitment software. With the community as a hub, the full suite of recruitment technologies become one connected entity.

The Borders of Community

In any type of community, people participate because they get value in return. To create this value, an online community must open the borders between a recruitment operation and the people it serves. The first participants will be clients who need to access self-service portals that used to be a separate entity. The portals are carrots that build the initial user base; to make the community a hangout spot though, the recruitment firm must give users a reason to return on a regular basis.

For the purpose of this example, let’s say your firm has built a fully functioning community with all the bells and whistles technology can offer. When clients first come to this community to use the portal functionality, they will discover there is a lot more they can do. For example, clients will each have a page where they can review submitted candidates, view their resumes and references, request interviews and even make offers – all without the direct assistance of a recruiter.

The community will also be a source of news and insight. An IT recruiting firm, for instance, might post the “Top 5 Tech Articles of the Week” and a blog entry about the skillset and experience you should look for in data scientists. Clients will see that they can stay informed and do their job more effectively if they visit the community and absorb the content (if the content and curation is exceptional).

Like on any social network, content sparks conversation. Maybe clients want to critique the data scientist article or raise a question for the author. The community will let them post and respond to public comments. Instead of taking that conversation to Twitter or LinkedIn, the clients can talk with a self-selected group of hiring managers who share similar responsibilities, challenges and work experience.

Finally, in the communities of staffing firms, clients will be able to give temporary staff badges and reviews, which help the entire community identify the best workers. This gives clients a voice and level of influence they have never had in the recruiting process.

Overall, social hubs will draw in users if they empower clients to complete self-service tasks, find helpful news and tips, chat with their peers and perhaps rank staff they’ve hired.

Big Community, Big Data

Some benefits of a community are obvious. For example, if clients approve timesheets and expense reports, schedule interviews and chose candidates all on their own, the recruiters save an immense amount of time. While that alone is valuable, I would argue that community data will provide the biggest competitive edge.

Community data will help recruitment firms sell candidates – and clients – more effectively than ever before. As clients use the community, their actions will create data that can answer questions like: Which candidates receive them most interviews, placements and badges? Which skillsets are hired more or less frequently (e.g. Ruby on Rails v. Java)? Which candidates receive more or less profile views? With enough user-generated data, firms can algorithmically rank candidates with a 1-5 star rating. When clients look at candidates, they can see ratings determined by peer recommendation and the actual choices of fellow hiring managers. This is trustworthy data that will validate the recruiter’s recommendations and hasten placements.

As clients engage in the community, firms can begin to personalize the entire experience to each individual client. For instance, if you see that one finance client always prefers CPA candidates over other certifications, you know which candidates to sell. You could automatically personalize that client’s community home page to show a list of the top 5 CPA candidates of the month.

As clients react to your blog posts and other marketing content, you can gauge what they care about. If your hiring guide to data scientists racks up likes and comments, why not make a hiring guide to mobile developers and other hot positions? If the clients start a discussion on how to pick temporary accounting staff, a blog post on that will likely get traction – and show that you’re listening to their needs.

While I have focused primarily on clients, candidates, too, are important participants and data creators. They can use the community as a self-service portal to access new hire forms or update their profile, resume, compliance documents, references and certifications. Candidates could even flag jobs they’re interested in and give reviews or badges to employers. The firm can use that data to sell employers to candidates understand what positions and employers are most coveted.

Online communities provide a competitive edge that is proportional to the level of participation they reach. So the bigger the community, the bigger the data. The more utility clients and candidates find in the community, the more likely they are to participate.

Human Recruiters Matter

Recruitment firms cannot stay barricaded in databases. To maintain a competitive edge, firms must lower the drawbridge and welcome clients and candidates into a community that provides value for everyone involved.

No two communities will be the same. Firms will have to decide what permission levels clients and candidates have in the community. Some might roll out a fully transparent, self-service tools like those I’ve described above. Others might be more comfortable using their community as a back office portal and marketing platform.

Communities are not merely a way to gain an edge over other recruitment firms – they are also about securing the future of the recruitment industry at a time when technologists are trying to cut out the recruiter. Being a matchmaker isn’t good enough – recruiters must be advisors and partners who understand their clients’ industries and know how to solve business problems with human capital. Communities are both a way to demonstrate expertise and learn from clients and candidates themselves.

By creating ongoing interaction with clients and candidates, communities will create relationships that go beyond the database. The dawn of communities will secure the future of the recruitment industry. The firms that seize this opportunity first will gain the greatest competitive edge.