Is social media helping or hurting employers?

As social media continues to redefine what we mean by 'social,' employers have long cottoned on to the potential benefits that the digital age could hold for them. While recruitment agencies may be working on plans to either reject or friend the Mark Zuckerberg revolution, businesses are reportedly flourishing with their new found ability to personally source and analyse their own candidates.

While social media has given employers all the power of a magic conch, are the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn really delivering an effective recruitment platform or is it just an illusion that's proving to be more of a hinderance than a help?

Around 60% of the UK has at least one social media account, meaning that you hardly have to be a digital mogul to browse the twittersphere or indulge in some guilt free Facebook stalking. The user friendly ideologies of these services means that the average employer is fully adept at finding everything from skilled employees to their mothers maiden names. It's this ease of access to candidates that makes social recruiting so attractive to a company.

With 31 million Facebookers, 15 million Tweeters and over 10 million LinkedIn professionals in the UK, employers have access to a seemingly infinite database of potential candidates. While this may give employers a kid in a candy shop demeanor, the paradox of choice rears it's ugly head. Having an abundance of candidates, most of them unsuitable, comes with its own problems and this is where the management skills of an agency are much desired. While scouring the social networks comes at no financial cost, the cost of time is plenty and for a busy business, which lets face it is all of them, the hourglass doesn't allow for such endeavours.

Not only do they have the country's labour market at their fingertips, the way in which we freely share information about ourselves gives them a frightful image of who we are, albeit slightly pixelated. This explicit data allows employers to target people in particular industries or with specific attributes. LinkedIn is the undisputed champion of professional searches although Twitonomy (Twitter) and Circloscope (G+) are making targeted searches just as achievable on more mainstream offerings. On the flipside however, social profiles show a clear lack of depth which can often result in misguided instinctive recruiting. Personality doesn't always make the transition into the digital world and true character can only really be assessed with face to face meetings and real life interactions.

As with most things though it boils down to cost and regardless of how competitive a recruitment agency makes it's rates they will seldom be able to compete with the free offerings of Facebook et al. While recruitment agencies will provide value in the sourcing and management of applicants, certainly for demands of quantity, money talks and business leaders may fancy their chances in the social recruitment game if it keeps their wallets firmly closed. However the social media powers that be aren't so naive and Facebook and LinkedIn charge to post job adverts, while Twitter has recently introduced a paid for version which allows the same function. The only platform that remains free to post listings is Google+ although it doesn't have the same reach as its more established network counterparts.

So while there's no questioning the value of social media as a recruitment tool, it seems destined to remain just that; a tool. The low cost access to a superabundance of candidates seems to draw people in like the new customer rates of a broadband package, but the limitations soon become apparent. The excess of unsuitable personnel begs for the specialist services of a recruitment agency, while the shallow judgement of profiles highlights the importance of face to face meetings, something social media seems all too desperate to eradicate.

Whether online platforms can develop fully into a recruitment method in themselves is yet to be seen, although a collaboration between the digital and the real life offerings of an agency or HR professional seems to offer the perfect marriage of database and management.

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