It’s no secret that marketing has pervaded almost every corner of society. In an era of branded stadiums and high-rise buildings, apps and highly targeted social media strategies, the ability to grab so-called “mindshare” and market share is everything.
Of course, it’s tempting to think about human resources outside the tractor beam of today’s marketing frenzy. For decades, HR executives and recruiters quietly went about their job of matching candidates with positions, often through old-fashioned networking based on contacts and handshakes.
But that was then. As social media has emerged as a force and sensibilities have changed — particularly among millennials weaned on electronic devices and social sites — the dynamics of hiring and recruiting are shifting. “HR professionals must start thinking about themselves as marketers and embrace the tactics used in the B2B and B2C spaces,” said Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at applicant tracking firm iCIMS.
Call it the rise of the consumer candidate. An iCIMS report, “Recruitment Marketing: Fad or Future?” found that 90 percent of HR professionals agree that having a strong employment brand is more important today than it was five years ago. What’s more, 84 percent agree that recruitment marketing is a worthwhile investment for companies. Yet, only 48 percent have made any plans to hire someone to oversee such a task.
Today, an effective recruitment marketing strategy means moving beyond LinkedIn and job boards and viewing marketing in a more holistic and broad way by including videos offering chats and using platforms like Snapchat to connect with job seekers. It may encompass so-called “nurturing” techniques used by traditional marketers — essentially keeping a prospect “warm” through email and other communication until they are ready to make a move. This, in turn, requires more detailed tracking and analytics tools for social media, email click-through and open rates and more. Finally, there’s a growing need to build a strategy around reputation management and online reviews at sites like Glassdoor and Fairygodboss, a job site tailored specifically for women.
“About 80 percent of recruiting professionals have said that their techniques have changed or evolved over the last three years because of the influence of marketing,” Vitale said. Additionally, Ryan Healy, founder and president of Brazen Technologies, which offers a chat product used for recruiting, said: “Today, it’s necessary to think about candidates as leads or prospects and make sure they engage with your brand in one way or another. Increasingly, job candidates do not come through listings and other traditional methods.”
Shaping the Message
In reality, marketing has always played a role in hiring and recruiting. Brand image and the way an organization presents itself at job fairs, industry conferences and other events can influence how job seekers perceive a company — and whether they choose to apply for a job. But today, the stakes have been ratcheted up exponentially. “It’s important to create a funnel along with content to attract and interest potential candidates,” Healy said.
This may take the form of an e-book, e-brochures, videos, blog posts, wikis, social media content and other materials. In some cases, these materials could appeal to an audience by focusing on a topic of interest, such as lifestyle, sports or personal tech, rather than directly promoting the company. It may also incorporate videoconferencing and live chat functions that let a person ask questions, exchange thoughts and discuss opportunities in real time with a company representative. “The goal,” Healy said, “is to create content and contact points at the top of the funnel to draw people in — even if they aren’t ready to apply at that time.”
Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and other online tools are also key components.
As individuals click on highly targeted ads and view the associated online materials, they may get a sense of what the company is about, what it offers and what types of candidates it hopes to find. For instance, a Facebook user may view an ad in their news feed based on previous click activity online. Clicking on the ad might send the individual to a YouTube or website video that features a hiring manager, engineer, business executive or field technician discussing their job or depicting a day in the life. In some cases, the video could be tied to the field in which the candidate has displayed interest, whether it’s engineering, sales, accounting or what have you.
At the center of everything is an ability to track prospects and ensure that they are receiving what they need, when they need it. Just as conventional marketing attempts to monitor a prospect and keep the person engaged until the candidate is ready to pull the string on a purchase, HR marketing hopes to create a spark that may eventually lead to a fire. It’s often not about a specific time period or hard sell; it’s about creating a framework that allows users to engage and learn at their own pace — and stay in the pipeline.
“At some point, sometimes months or years later, you may have the right position open and the person may decide it’s the right time to make a move,” said Brian Kropp, HR practice leader for consulting and technology firm CEB.
Not surprisingly, a growing number of organizations take the concept seriously. “You can’t just put an ad in the newspaper or an online job board and have people apply. There’s a need to connect with people in a more organic and meaningful way,” said Shaunda Zilich, global employment brand leader for General Electric Co. “As a company, we have to realize we are not only selling products and services; we’re also selling opportunities for employment — and people now choose companies based on their lifestyles and interests, including social issues and corporate responsibility. You have to catch them at the moment they’re receptive with the right message.”
GE uses everything from television ads designed to market the company broadly to targeted social media messages and advertisements, including on social media sites such as Snapchat and Facebook. “We see a lot of activity through the ads we place on Facebook. We’re meeting people who may not necessarily be looking for jobs, but sometimes they become interested,” Zilich said.
Another company flexing its muscles in the recruitment marketing space is Gold’s Gym, which operates about 500 company-owned and franchised facilities worldwide. Wendy Moran, director of talent management, said that the fitness company also has focused on developing content that intersects with prospects and what interests them. “You really have to think of people as customers of the brand and develop content that is relevant for them.”
That has translated into everything from e-newsletters to posts, ads and content at Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The firm also posts video clips at YouTube that focus on lifestyle issues such as nutrition and exercise. “People who subscribe to our YouTube channel are passionate about fitness,” Moran said. “These people are actively engaged with the brand, and some of them will apply for a job. By connecting with them on a personal level, we increase the odds of making a good match.”
At Lake County Schools in Florida, the competition for teachers has pushed the district of approximately 41,000 students and 45 schools to combine traditional recruiting with digital marketing. Like many districts, it recruits college graduates at job fairs. It recently used a “Star Wars” theme, for example, to attract attention and build brand awareness at an open house. “We are a relatively small district, and most people have never heard of us,” said Instructional Recruitment Partner Quiana Peterson. “In many respects, we are at a disadvantage.”
The district also places ads on Facebook and LinkedIn, and participates in the Troops to Teachers program that reaches out to veterans. When district recruiters spot someone who displays interest, they use Brazen’s chat function to engage in a one-on-one chat session through a conventional web browser or their smartphone. “We take a very personalized approach and try to build a nurturing kind of relationship,” she said.
Online sites such as Glassdoor have also altered the HR equation by serving up ratings and reviews. To be sure, job seekers have a much broader picture of a company than at any time in the past — as well as exposure to online diatribes and rants. Just as reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor may or may not deliver an accurate picture, comments posted online may encourage or dissuade a candidate. Studies show that consumers — and job seekers — increasingly depend on reviews to guide decision-making.
“It’s critical to monitor ratings and reviews and understand what’s out there. It’s now a foundational component of business,” said Jeff Tomlin, co-founder and CMO for Vendasta Technologies, which offers a digital platform for small and medium-size businesses’ reputation management.
Ratings “are an important part of the business landscape. It’s something that businesses cannot ignore,” added Rick Ducey, managing director at marketing and media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey. He said that organizations must take a proactive stance by monitoring sites, addressing comments when possible, and acknowledging that they might also provide valuable feedback about how to improve.
In the end, how can HR professionals and recruiters formulate a strategy that works? Building a hiring framework based on marketing principles requires an organization to rethink, rewire and reinvent an array of processes and systems. In many cases, conventional marketing tools from Salesforce.com Inc. and Oracle Corp. are too rigid or not designed for the needs of human resources. Meanwhile, applicant tracking systems may or may not have all the necessary features and hooks to social media and other tools. And a collection of best-of-breed software tools may pose challenges related to IT integration, managing data and tracking prospects.
It’s also crucial for an organization to understand today’s digital environment and how pieces and data fit together to create a more relevant and customized experience for the end user. This includes using search engine optimization, Google Analytics and pay-per-click advertising data in a more sophisticated and integrated way. As Kropp puts it: “Today, the best quality employees are often bombarded by recruiters using LinkedIn and other tools. It all becomes a lot of noise. However, if you are creating value and you have the processes and systems in place to deliver the right content and information at the right time, the fishing pond becomes a lot less crowded.”
Make no mistake, times have changed and HR professionals must change with them. GE’s Zilich said that today’s recruiters and hiring executives must be more open to experimentation and more aware of reputation management. “Marketing has become a crucial part of hiring and recruiting,” she said.
Creating an ongoing dialog with the talent pool is mission critical, added Gold’s Gym’s Moran. “It’s not about the number of followers or subscribers. It’s making sure you have the systems in place to keep in touch with prospects — particularly those with the right knowledge and skills — and deliver value to them. At some point in the future, they may want to work for you.”
In the Pipeline
Building a talent pipeline is nothing less than critical. Today, 75 percent of job seekers want to join a talent pool in order to stay more informed about company news and information, according to an iCIMS study from earlier this year. Moreover, 6 in 10 indicated that they would be interested in joining a talent pool for receiving updates from an organization where they would like to work. Meanwhile, a 2014 Glassdoor survey found that 76 percent of today’s job seekers want details about whether the firm is an attractive place to work.
Not surprisingly, human resources organizations face a number of key challenges in pulling off the task and building a recruitment marketing program. According to iCIMS, half cited budget constraints, 29 percent said they lack the necessary technology, 28 percent lack an understanding of how to approach marketing, 26 percent cited company disinterest, and 18 percent said they cannot garner necessary support from the marketing department.
Finally, 65 percent of HR professionals agreed that hiring a dedicated recruitment marketing specialist would make their company’s recruitment efforts more successful. “It’s not a question of whether to use marketing techniques, the issue is how to approach the task the best way,” said Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS.
By Samuel Greengard