Social media aids in PR agency recruitment

Agencies are increasingly using social media to recruit new employees.

Agencies are increasingly using social media to recruit new employees.

Last March, Michael Buckner joined Waggener Edstrom (WE) as global director of talent attraction and acquisition, and established social media as a main recruiting strategy. By May, LinkedIn had led WE to Jon Coifman, now a VP in its new environmental practice.

Coifman had been national media director for the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council for seven years and wasn't looking for a new job. Still, he created a LinkedIn profile after getting at least a dozen invitations from colleagues. Three days later, WE called.

“The ‘romance' began online, but the marriage was sealed face-to-face,” Coifman says. “The process went on a couple of months, which underscores the point that social networking still has to feed into old school recruiting.”

About 6% of 2008 WE hires (14 or 15 people) came through social media. “Several other hires were the product of networking, whose nexus can be traced back to social media contacts,” Buckner adds.

Because LinkedIn has always been business-focused, it's the most obvious site for recruiting. But Buckner notes that Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly effective.

“The basic premise of recruitment is... look where candidates live... and breathe, and social media is [increasingly] becoming that place,” Buckner says. “It's particularly important in PR. The vast number of [our employees] and our competitors' [employees] are on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. In 2007 it was cool, but people weren't sure how to use it [for recruiting]. Now it's becoming a tool.”

WE launched a careers page on Facebook in December, and it uses Twitter to post jobs, connect with potential candidates, and promote the agency.

“[WE] is a cool place to work, and we weren't doing a great job of getting that word out,” Buckner says. “The Facebook page... create[s] buzz and... speaks to... why someone would want to work here.”

Twitter led Brett Weiner, partner at LaunchSquad, a 35-person San Francisco tech shop, to Megan Soto, who was hired as an account associate last summer. Soto Tweeted about a campaign for Launch-Squad client Vivaty, a virtual world startup. Weiner was impressed because she expressed sincere enthusiasm for the client and the agency's work. And, she clearly had social media skills, which Weiner says almost all clients want.

“I joined Twitter to learn social media and get feedback on my PR blog,” Soto says. “I was shocked that [one Tweet] got [the agency's] attention. [Being recruited in] an online setting surprised me, and a lot of people are still surprised by it when they hear.”

Soto was one of about 12 people hired last year. Weiner expects to hire six to 10 more this year, and says he'll continue to use social media to recruit.

Social media advantage
Dukas Public Relations launched Dukas Public Relations Interactive in November and is hiring for the practice. EVP and GM Todd Barrish says the firm is “constantly looking for ways to use social media tools in day-to-day work” to increase understanding and ability to execute for clients. Social media skills are obviously a requisite for interactive work, and Barrish notes that candidates responding through social media channels have an advantage.

Social media sites provide many benefits in recruiting, including the fact that they're inherently community oriented.

“Very few [people] just come to you,” Buckner says. “We have to... find them. Good PR folks flock [together]. Every form of social media has a grouping mechanism – it's a great tool for recruiters.”

Barrish notes that social media outlets are also free, while headhunters can be expensive. For smaller agencies, such as LaunchSquad, social media really extends reach.

“With all employees using social media, we have... more connections than a few years ago, when [recruiting] was a controlled process by an HR manager,” Weiner explains.

Weiner also uses social media as a research tool to determine cultural compatibility; find contractors with highly specific expertise; and search for references from people he already knows versus relying on the references candidates supply. Social media has also helped WE decide against hiring someone. Buckner counsels candidates to be cognizant about their digital footprint.

“Be careful what you put on Facebook because it will follow you,” Buckner says. “It's becoming more... of a professional networking tool.”

Careful planning
It's also important that agencies approach social media thoughtfully. Dukas is studying Twitter to really understand it before reaching out there. Barrish says the agency currently follows “influential” PR bloggers on Twitter to identify potential candidates who are following those bloggers.

“If you rush into it and it isn't perceived well, there's a record of that,” Barrish adds. “When you start this, it's forever. It has to be accepted into the DNA of your organization. You [must] stay up-to-date... or risk looking stale.”

Buckner calls outdated Web pages “the kiss of death.” WE's entire recruiting staff is on top of social media every day, and it will continue to be an important tool for the agency

“We're still hiring, but we're much more cautious,” Buckner says. “Social media is a wonderful way to build relationships. You're already linked to these people. We stay in touch and give updates about what's going on at WE.”

Social media recruiting

Tailor all outreach to potential candidates

Use multiple sites and link as much as possible

Keep social media pages up to date with company info

Empower employees to use social media at work

Understand social media sites before engaging

Be fully transparent and clear about intentions

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