The convergence of PR and social media is inevitable, and the ways in which those of us in the industry use social media continue to expand. One area that has seen some interesting changes is recruiting, and the role played by social networks. Nearly everyone is familiar with LinkedIn, a very conventional yet very useful tool for both the recruiter and the professional looking to make a career change now, or just interested in building out a network of people in the industry. Facebook, too, which in 2007 opened its doors beyond its college/university roots to professionals is finding increasing adoption among recruiters.
More interesting still is the use of what I would call emerging tools, either newer social networks or social media tools that might not be immediately associated with a career search, but which you might want to look into any way.
Lately, I have been spending a lot more time on Twitter, which can best be described as a global instant messaging system. I won't offer a Twitter tutorial here, but here's the quick downlow on it. Twitter was launched in 2006, and in 2007, after winning a high profile industry award, the service really began to take off and soon became a phenomenon. Twitter comes under a new social media heading called "microblogging," tools that let you blog simply, quickly, and tersely. Twitter is basically IM, limited to 140 characters. Like most social media, Twitter is free. You sign up, establish an identity and then add people that you are "following" on Twitter. Twitter describes its various features and actions in a very unique way, which might be part of the "bad press" it has received. Your posts are called "updates" or "tweets." You are "following" the people whose updates you add to your "timeline," and the people who add you to their timeline are called "followers." (If you want to see what Twitter looks like in action, just go to the home page and click "Public Timeline.")
For a long time, many people criticized Twitter as an endless stream of narcissistic and mundane chatter. Recently, however, as people have learned to adapt Twitter to more important tasks than communicating that you have just fed your cat, the service has begun to see a number of interesting commercial uses.
Many recruiters are now using Twitter to better connect with candidates. A search on the term "recruit" on Twitter's home page returns 87 people somehow associated with recruiting. (Not all of them are recruiters. Check the user profiles for more information on each person.) Among these is Lindsay Olson, PRJobs on Twitter, a public relations recruiter. I "met" Lindsay through Twitter. I was impressed by how she uses Twitter. Lindsay "converses" with people on Twitter in a very natural way, letting them see the daily worklife of a recruiter. In this way, Lindsay develops credibility, and builds friendships with a large number of candidates and connections to potential candidates.
I interviewed Lindsay by email on how she uses Twitter. She confirmed my view, which is that any "commercial" use of social media requires an understanding of the etiquette and unique attributes of the medium, and a willingness to downplay hype and conventional marketing tactics:
"As a recruiter and business professional utilizing social media technologies in my business, I think the single most important way of communicating this way is by joining the conversation as a peer, and interacting on a personal level. If you are just throwing links to your jobs and your business out there, your followers get sick of the shameless self-promotion. I think the day in the life of a recruiter is somewhat of a mystery to many people, especially potential candidates, and have found Twitter to be an excellent tool to share my profession. I feel that sharing my successes, failures and experiences in recruiting is helpful for people to understanding how to better interact with a recruiter as well as potential hiring companies."
Many recruiters, and business people in general, have been reluctant to use social networks for commercial purposes due to privacy concerns. In fact, I contacted one recruiter, who uses Facebook and LinkedIn but not Twitter, and she agreed to speak with me for this piece, but only as an unidentified background source.
I asked Lindsay about this and she said that it is not "a concern as long as our clients' and candidates' confidentiality is respected in public," which she makes a part of the rules she holds herself to in her use of all social media.
I strongly recommend looking into Twitter and other "alternative" social media as part of your career networking plan. The world of Web 2.0 -- blogs, podcasts, wikis, social networks, etc. -- is a highly connected and visible one. This high visibility environment has its etiquette, and brings with it the learning curve of any new technology, but the rewards of being so visible and so well connected to the right people can far outweigh the effort required to get up to speed.