The growing influence of social media

The growing influence of social media


Datamonitor recently produced a report on the growing use of online social networking in a variety of business contexts - but how relevant is it to the world of recruitment?  This was the topic of an Online Recruitment Marketing Council event, hosted by Guardian Recruitment Solutions and held at the Scott Room in the Guardian Newsroom complex on the evening of Tuesday 22nd July.

Introduced by Onrec sales director Matt Burney, Ben Theophanous - a consultant and business development executive for Datamonitor's Professional Services Division - proceeded to run through some of the report's headline findings.

Online social networking is now ‘an established form of connecting' in the context of changing media orientations, and popular with a broad range of socio-demographics.  Both membership and usage continue to rise globally as more people gain access to the internet, with many interpersonal (in addition to technological) factors helping to drive this growth.

Ben identified four specific types of social networking platforms - people-based sites (e.g. LinkedIn), virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life), content-based sites (e.g. YouTube, forums, chatrooms etc) and special-interest sites (e.g. Wikipedia).  The lesson for marketers is that they need to recognise and plan for people's changing media orientations - and interactivity is now key, given that people are no longer simply passive consumers of media.

With the internet now rivalling TV as the ‘lead medium', social networking - with its high levels of participation, engagement and reach - is effectively redefining marketing communications.  But targeting consumers with online ads has proved problematic for marketers as the channel offers no equivalent of the prime-time TV commercial.

In addition, with the growth of ‘peer-to-peer influence' (i.e. people being more likely to be influenced by like-minded others), any evidence of consumer trust in the use of social media to find out information about companies is ‘mixed' at best.  In fact, there's a growing wariness about the increasing commercial influence of social networking sites - and there's also the possibility of an eventual backlash against the ‘superficiality' of virtual connectivity (think ‘Facebook fatigue', for example).  When you also take into account the wide range of socio-demographic, geographical and cultural variances influencing people's social network choices, it's clear that we're looking at a medium with no shortage of commercial challenges.

Some of its more likely applications would seem to include exploiting pre-existing online communities to increase brand exposure, identifying and leveraging brands that consumers are passionate about, and using social media platforms to tell ‘more detailed brand stories'.  Of course, all this should be done through engaging content that can easily be shared virally.

So how applicable is all this to the world of recruitment?  A very lively debate ensued at this point.  Some people said they'd be "quite offended" to be sold to at all via social media (the typical view being ‘Facebook for social, LinkedIn for business').  A number of more practical reservations were also raised, such as potential access and diversity issues relating to the use of virtual worlds and the risk of being seen to ‘manipulate' audiences by deliberately creating viral content.

But if any consensus emerged, it was that the potential value of social networking sites to recruitment probably has more to do with employer branding than direct response.  (Even though graduates may ultimately ‘grow out of' Bebo and Facebook, they and their ilk could still be useful vehicles for developing that key initial brand awareness... )

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

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