Why agencies don’t (or won’t) do #SocialRecruiting. Fear,Policy And Control.

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.



CloudNine Recruitment Group

APSCO Whitepaper

Bersin Associates “UK Talent Acquisition Factbook”

The Recruitment Agency Expo


12 comments on “Why agencies don’t (or won’t) do #SocialRecruiting. Fear,Policy And Control.

  1. Good post Bill. One particular experience from an event late last year. Social media event for recruiters, half agency, half inhouse. Delegates had listened all day to discussion of openness, trust and so on. Final Q&A session, agency recruiters wants to know about recommendations on LinkedIn. He feels he can’t all either placed candidates our existing clients, as he doesn’t want to expose them to competitors.

    I know LinkedIn have changed the exposure level on those details now, but the fact he want secure enough in those relationships says a lot…

  2. Hi Bill. Good post.
    1) Social media is ignored at your peril in the recruitment arena.
    It is no longer the bright new shiny object.

    2) The move from the traditional reactive operating platform to a proactive positioning will take time, as you noted – those who embrace will enjoy the creation of long-term sustainability.
    Those who don’t will still eek out a living but the tide of change is so great (in my opinion) that those who are already adopting new methodology will be winners.

    3) New revenue streams need to be devised – according to Kevin Wheeler in Auckland NZ December 2011 (at Frog HQ) these steams have yet to be developed/are under way. Ultimately this will is where the impacts of change will be driven from/requested/felt the most.

    4) Reward & recognition systems need rethinking in the agency environment. And there are big questions to answer: What activity is important now? What should be rewarded? What are the key measures?

    4) Fancy not trusting your employees with social media. Recommendation: a clear/crisp social media policy to get all on same page… and prepare to be surprised…because many will not take part because they are hanging on to item 2).

    5) The talent community is already operating in the social media space confidently – and they expect agencies to be too. These savvy, technologically competent, sophisticated individuals are demanding their needs be met.

    5) The tipping point is exhilarating, scary, essential, exciting, nerve wracking… but is totally worth the effort.

  3. HI Bill

    Great article containing lots of truisms.

    Whilst exploring this subject it might also be worth thinking about the journey too from the actual “Recruiters” point of view as well as the “Recruitment Company”. The “Recruitment Company” also needs the Recruiters to walk the walk even if and when they do agree to it.

    This animation of Roger the Recruiter in the Social Media Universe may entertain and point out from an Agent’s point of view why they have been slow to adopt.

    This animation originally appeared on your blog on 15 April 2011 and I believe is still relevant today. https://recruitingunblog.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/why-havent-more-recruiters-jumped-on-the-social-media-bandwagon/

    I will say it is worth doing though and persevering with. The benefits are there for those who try and persist.

  4. Maybe companies should consider the individual in questions who is looking for work, and cant get work due to a lack of commecial experience, mainly ex military, students, 16-18 years olds and many jobseekers who wish to change their career. How can a CV be presented to an employer during an interview or even through a job website if it only gives the information of a previous career or nothing at all.

    Example: I left the British Army after 12 years and had only military skills that showed within my CV nothing more, even though I had 5-6 years of working as a painter and decorator I couldnt display this information as the job/work I wanted to start in was computers. The training of both these previous careers doesnt help me nor the employer, but I had alot more about myself than anybody actually saw, so some of these comments are not relevant in my eyes.

    Give a person the chance to shine with being able to showcase themselves to a prospective employer or agency and this will greatly enhance their chances, and give the employer more confidence in hiring an individual who has the will power and discipline to want to work.

  5. nice bill, Have a Relaxing and Fantastic Sunday!

  6. Hi Bill

    Top post and I think it covers a lot of my experiences as a Marketer working in a recruitment agency. I’ve worked in the industry for 8 years this June (that makes me feel old…) and barriers have always been put up for new attraction techniques whether it was the adoption of Linkedin initially, through to using social media in the present day.

    Shaking off (a bit) the short-termism attitude of the agency is needed to increase the adoption of social media and you are completely right about drip feeding it into company policies and processes. My advice to those who are working, or heading up a marketing function in a recruitment agency like I am, is to give consultants, managers and owners what they want. Pick a social media avenue, do some work yourself around it, track engagement, results and ultimately revenue and you’ll be surprised how quickly you will get ‘buy-in’. Then take it from there.

    I think (as a recruitment agency industry), we are a bit off of the likes of talent communities which will be increasingly important for the in-house teams, but a couple of ‘mavericks’ could see that change quickly when they start to rely on metrics other than call-time, mailshots and webjobs!

    We’ll get there – I’m determined to that’s for sure!

  7. Great and very relevant observations Bill.

    The simple fact is, that social media communications is an opportunity for the little guy, to get even.
    The policy and fear factors really are evident in large scale recruitment organisations who have little or no control or trust in their recruiters – and exercise a revolving door policy in employment that encourages paranoia about `information` – which as you say, is our currency in many respects. APSCO & co may want to put these guys into a panic about social media – they forget that the most potent form of recruitment success is through multi-dimensional communication. With people. Who want jobs and may hire. Not lawyers. So if they’re missing the trick – well, unlucky. Not my problem. The best equipped, are so often the most blind. Or scared.

    In the smaller, more agile organisation – this paranoia is less evident, because the control is closer to the owner/s, and there is greater trust and security in team members. That’s why the likes of myself and Elkie can be so expressive & confident in social media comms. This opportunity is there to be taken, if a recruiter can shake off the `short-termism` barrier – and think about the effect of building more contacts through developed communications.

    The danger is letting relationship-building get ahead of fee-making. Finding the balance is still tough. An element of short-termism still needs to be applied – it is still business, after all. Agility is the key – having the shift of gear. The point about gentle integration and slow build is apt – because frankly, no other way works correctly of effectively.

    The key to all of this though – is WHY do we choose social media communications? WHY does it make sense?? How should it benefit us??

    Well – #trulondon is there for that. I’m pleased to share my story whilst there. I’m not perfect, and I’m not a millionaire (yet) – but the methods are in place.

  8. HI Bill,

    As always a thought provoking post. I think, however, the fact that social media seems to be more en vogue with Corporate Recruiters than agencies, is something that epitomises the differences between the functions.

    In short, Agencies will have a problem with innovation, trying new things, social media etc because of the key drivers of their business. Their business drivers are month by month revenue. Don’t make your numbers as a Consultant for a month or 2 and the pressure will come on. There is just no time to try things. As you mentioned, to really get Social media going for you, it takes time to build engagement, to build interest, to build a pipeline, as a Consultant, with the boss breathing down your neck for the next invoice, it really doesn’t become the panacea we’d hope for. It does not automatically turn into dollars/pounds/euros etc (if it did… there would not be a debate!)

    Alternatively, in-house Recruiters are judged differently. Time to hire, quality of hire, quality and depth of your talent pool etc. The drivers to engage and build your (and your companies brand) are bordering on essential. The pressure for immediate results is not really as in your face as that of an Agency person. However the ability to build longer term relationships with potential hires is definitely bigger and the drive for quality is higher too.

    It is still just another avenue for Recruitment, those who say it is the be all and end all, are missing the point, on the other side of the coin, those that don’t believe it and passionately argue against it’s value are missing the point too. It should be a part of your strategy, and it will be different (ie style of channel or search mechanism) depending on your audience, but depending on time available and pressures on will dictate how you bring it into your strategy.

  9. Great article. I was recently brought inboard to develop the social media and online marketing for Yolk. Luckily all our staff really embrace it and see it as a means of connecting with clients and candidates on a personal level. There was an initial period where people worried it gave away possible leads to competition as everything is publIc but you’ve got to embrace it and you’ll be rewarded. We’ve recently spilt on twitter accounts so one just promotes vacancies while the other we use to just for fun really, to get know people, to learn about the industry (I followed a tweet to this article). For smaller agencies I think it is important that you embrace your independence, engage with people on a personal level rather than try to act to corporate.

  10. I would define recruitment companies as crack dealing gate keepers.
    From the view of the candidate: Recruiters have what the they needs but for some reason which escapes us all….they no longer obtain what they need directly. This middleman exerting little to no effort (in comparison to the real work being performed by the candidate when allowed past the gate) will then make from 15 to 55% for the life of the contract.

    From the view of the Client, they just want a decent CV since, in most cases, they no longer have an HR department and it may be against the rules to advertise directly. The quality you receive is like receiving a bag of half cut-bad quality drugs and the recruiter knows it as much as he knows that, in many cases he will still be able to push his “sh!t” because the client is desperate for a multitude of possible reasons such as having no time to keep waiting so take the best of a bad batch anyway.

    The whole industry could (& I hope some day, will) be made redundant by a well designed App on LinkedIn. I would not miss such a parasitic bunch who are only comparable to unscrupulous salespeople, mortgage brokers, real-estate agents, pimps and slave drivers.

  11. Hey Bill, we (4MAT) are going to be at the Recruitment Agency Expo event too! Do you know if there is a Twitter hashtag in use for it?

  12. Great post, thanks! Very timely and useful issues to discuss. I’m very interested in hearing your talk at the Recruitment Agency Expo.

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