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Social Media Strategy: How to leverage Social Networking Sites while maintaining a fair and inclusive recruitment process?

Australian research, May 2013

The Power of The growth in popularity of social networking sites has revolutionised the recruitment experience for both candidates and employers. But what about the impact it has on diversity? How can organisations leverage their knowledge of networking sites while creating a fairer and more un-biased recruitment process?

Australian Trade Research, Australian Interactive Media Industry Association, May 2013

The growth in Social Networking Sites (SNS) over the last few years has transformed the recruitment experience for both companies and candidates. Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn now reach over 1 billion users, with unprecedented levels of private information being publicly available within a click.

In their paper 'Yellow Social Media Report: What Australian businesses are doing with social media', The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (2013) covers the full spectrum of the social media environment in Australia, revealing new patterns of usage and behaviour and corresponding these trends with business strategies being employed by contemporary organisations. Reflecting on these latest trends with our human capital lens, we explore the implications for recruitment and highlight the potential unconscious bias that may help recruiters make quicker decisions and make sense of the vast amount of socio economic information available to them.

Method

The 'Yellow Social Media Report: What Australian businesses are doing with social media' (2013)  is based on the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association's (AIMIA) and Sensis® most current research on the growth of social media and its impact on business strategy. The results of the report are based on 932 telephone surveys conducted by Sweeny Research, selected from a random cross section of Australian respondents. In order to obtain a sample size which accurately reflected the Australian population, quotas were applied on the age, gender and metropolitan and regional locations of respondents. On the business side, over 2,000 interviews were conducted with small, medium and large organisations, with similar quotas placed on the size of the organisation and the industry to which it belonged.

Aim

The purpose of the research was to highlight the latest usage and behavioural social media trends and explore how Australian businesses are integrating this knowledge into their business strategy. By comparing the 2013 results with the previous three annual editions of this report, AIMIA was able to cross analyse developments in the most specific areas and growth opportunities.  

Findings

The 'Yellow Social Media Report: What Australian businesses are doing with social media' report reveals that there are significant discrepancies between users and usage levels of social networking sites based on age, race and gender.

It highlights that not only are 'females more likely than males to use social media', they are also more likely to be frequent users. The most significant variations however were by age group, with 87% of all social networking site users being under the age of 40. The report particularly indicated that that while Facebook was visited more frequently buy younger users, LinkedIn attracted larger number of users aged 40-60.

Facebook was also found to contain a higher proportion of female users, most in their 20s and 30s. Not only were there more female Facebook users, these female users were found to engage with the functions of Facebook like posting statuses, photo sharing and 'liking' statuses and pages at a more frequent rate than their male counterparts. LinkedIn was the second most popular platform and was found to have more male than female users.

Facebook continues to dominate as the most popular social media site, being used by 95% of social media network participants, with the majority accessing it at least once a day. However, unlike Facebook usage, which has decreased by 2% in the last year, LinkedIn membership had grown by 4% from 16% to 20%. Interestingly, more and more social networking site users are using their platforms as a way to access information or 'follow' particular brands and businesses, from 15% in 2011 to 25% in 2013.

Implications for Recruitment

The findings create a valuable opportunity for businesses to connect with customers and potential employees and calls for companies to rethink their Social Media Strategy.

When turning to social networking sites such as Facebook and Linked to advertise job opportunities, raise brand awareness and conduct research on potential candidates, recruiters need to be clear about the audience they are reaching through such mediums. Understanding the demographic distribution of social network users is important when aiming to attract a balanced and diverse talent pool. Gender trends indicate that by turning to LinkedIn, recruiters will be more inclined to access a comparatively older male dominated talent pool, whereas Facebook might provide access to more information about younger female candidates. This information is valuable when considering experienced candidates versus starting a graduate recruitment campaign.

With social networking sites like LinkedIn being specifically designed to reflect a positive, professional light on their users, recruiters may find that the information they uncover online reflects more positively on their male candidates over their female candidates. Furthermore, LinkedIn is a platform which allows its users to develop and strengthen professional networks and connections. In effect, it enables its high number of male users to have a better chance of developing relationships that will aid them in their job hunt and career development.

Recruiters now have ready access to this information and should exercise caution when making judgements about candidates on qualities that do not relate to the position at hand and question whether their private lives will be a true indication of their ability to perform their job or their behaviour in a professional environment. Because of the less formal, more socially based nature of Facebook compared to LinkedIn, recruiters may find that they are able to uncover more 'less desirable' information on the indiscretions, personal lives and character of their candidates.

On the contrary it may also lead recruiters to unconscious bias such as Homophily or "love of the same" when uncovering information about candidates that they associate with or relate to their own personal preferences. This may provide candidates with an unfair advantage over others, especially when online search is part of pre-screening for interviews. Furthermore, information revealed through social networking sites may also lead to Confirmation Bias amongst those performing the selection processwhich refers to the tendency for people to the seek or interpret evidence in ways that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. Therefore, it is important for recruiters to be aware of potential bias and ensure that they look beyond professional social networking platforms when searching for information about potential candidates online.

Previous research (Hampton et al. 2011) found Facebook to be the most racially diverse platform in the U.S. and LinkedIn had the most educated pool of candidates with the average user holding at least one undergraduate university degree, and 38% of network users holding a graduate degree. Facebook on the other hand was found to have the lowest educational distribution amongst social networking sites, with only 12% holding undergraduate and 6% holding graduate qualifications. These insights from the US raise important diversity concerns with LinkedIn potentially providing recruiters a stronger group of more formally qualified individuals, Facebook may contain a higher level of users who experience more barriers during the recruitment process due to educational limitations. More research on the educational background of social network users in Australia is required to draw out implications for the Australian candidate landscape.

The exponential growth in the popularity of Social Networking Sites has changed the recruitment landscape and will continue to influence the way we search for information about candidates and potential employers. It raises concern about privacy for candidates on the one hand, but provides opportunities particularly for female candidates to raise their professional profile on LinkedIn and make relevant information available for recruiters to access.

By effectively using insider knowledge about the demographic trends behind emerging technologies such as social networking platforms, companies can embrace the inevitable trend and use their knowledge to create a competitive advantage, improve their commitment to corporate social responsibility and develop a stronger pool of diverse candidates. To access the full report, see Sensis® and the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA).

Hampton et al. (2011), 'Social networking sites and our lives, Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project'.

For more information on how Australian consumers are using social media, check out Deloitte's upcoming State of Media Democracy report which is due to be published in June 2013.

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