Rules of engagement in a digital
A BlueSky PR Think Tank Report
In the summer of 2015, BlueSky PR brought together a group of marketing professionals
from the recruitment and talent management sectors to discuss both the challenges -and
the opportunities - provided by the myriad of different channels through which we can now
all engage. How are firms using these different channels? How are they tracking success -
and what measurement tools are they using?
The findings presented here are the results of a think tank which brought together a number
of senior managers and directors responsible for marketing to discuss the rules of
engagement in today’s digital landscape.
Ash Bakrania, Head of Global Marketing - Arrows Group
Ilana Como, Brand & Marketing Manager, Alexander Mann Solutions
Justin Firth, Marketing Manager - Just IT
Lisa Jones, Director, Barclay Jones
Max Richardson, Digital Marketing Manager - Rethink Recruitment
Charlotte Smith, Marketing Manager - Venquis
Stephen Smith, Associate Director, MarComms - Clinical Professionals
Glenn Southam, Marketing Manager- Staffgroup
Helena Sullivan, Marketing Director - The SR Group
Tracey Barrett – Managing Director – BlueSky PR
The key themes:
How are firms using social media channels?
How is success tracked and measured?
What social media policies do recruitment firms have in place?
The Challenge: Strategy and goal setting
“We need to be asking ourselves, what's our goal Because when
you’re competing for eyeballs, you have milliseconds - your message
needs to be really clear."
While all firms recognised the importance of building up engaged audiences, some were
further down the line than others when it came to strategic goals and measurement. "We
spend a lot of time generating content and posting, but in terms of measuring what the ROI
is, we are not quite there yet”, said one delegate. Others tried to look strategically at the
best use of each channel in order to segment audiences. "We use Facebook for our own
employer branding and EVP, Twitter for interacting with communities and associations - so
things like engaging with relevant conference and exhibition hashtags - and LinkedIn is our
business development tool for engaging with clients and candidates,” said another delegate.
"We have looked at Pinterest and Instagram, but we are not sure what they would add at
the moment, it's about looking at what resource you have in the business and deciding the
best use of that resource."
What became clear during the discussion is that whatever strategy is employed, it takes a
real investment of time before you begin to see any return. “You have to build up a
following, by creating content and testing it, before you can even see if it is going to work."
Segmenting messages to the right audience is clearly key, as is setting objectives and goals.
“We need to be asking ourselves, what's our goal? Is it candidate attraction? Client
acquisition? Is it brand awareness? Because when you’re competing for eyeballs, you have
milliseconds - your message needs to be really clear."
Establishing the facts
However, it seems that often, there is a step being missed out. "We work in an industry that
is very into what is happening here and now and so consequently there are often a lot of
assumptions made. We have a wealth of contacts and data at our fingertips and so before
we even embark on developing a social media strategy, we should be asking questions of our
candidates and clients to find out which platforms they use and what they use them for -
and crucially at what times of day they are using them. That would be a sensible first step
before jumping in with both feet".
While historically, before the era of social media, consultants knew that the best time to
have conversations with candidates was after work, it seems that today’s consultants are not
capitalising on the disruption that social media on mobile has brought. “Why aren’t we
scheduling lots of content that would make their journey to and from work more
productive? How many people do you see looking at their phone on the train – that’s when
they are going to be at their most engaged so we should be grabbing the opportunity.”
There was a sense that the recruitment sector often jumps on the bandwagon with
strategies based on trying not to lose market share – rather than thinking about how to gain
it. “Corporate in house recruiters are on the offensive – investing in technology that will
help them save money on the recruitment process whereas the agency market normally
won’t invest until they think their market share is being eroded.”
Clearly then, there needs to be a realignment between what the recruitment firm has to say
– and when and how potential talent wants to hear it !
The content mind-set
“The content is written by someone in the marketing team so that it
is on brand - but the information has been downloaded from the
guys on the ground. You can get a lot of information from a 20
minute coffee with someone.”
There was absolute consensus around the table that the only real differentiator from the
rest of the noise out there is high quality content. But curating that authentic content is
another matter altogether and it appears that bridging the gap between sales and marketing
is really important. The challenge however, is not only that recruitment firms are full of
sales people who don’t think like marketers, but also that a lot of agencies are led by
entrepreneurs who don't think like marketers either. "They will hire a marketer because
they realise they need one, but they don’t really understand it and so it’s hard to get their
100% buy in. What they really should be doing is saying to their sales people: ‘You know
what, part of your KPIs are going to be around the business intelligence that the marketing
department needs to do its job properly’. That’s the bit that is missing at the moment."
One of the firms represented had tried to implement this very recently: “Team leaders have
to provide me with a certain amount of content or ideas for content every quarter - and this
activity is built into their performance ratings. It is led from the top - and without that KPI in
place, the expectation is that they will just do it out of the goodness of their hearts -- and
that is never going to happen."
Another delegate explained how at their firm, the marketing department interviews
consultants: “The content is written by someone in the marketing team so that it is on brand
- but the information has been downloaded from the guys on the ground. You can get a lot
of information from a 20 minute coffee with someone - because with the best will in the
world - they are not going to sit down and write a blog when they have calls to make and
fees to get on the board! Also, when it’s published it really massages their ego!"
Others cited the use of video blogging – after all this is a people business, while another firm
asked for bulletpoints from consultants on a particular subject which was then turned into a
blog: “The content is theirs – but the words in terms of what we want it to communicate is
Clearly then the content mind-set has to work both ways with marketers having the ability to
tease the information they need out of recruiters – rather than just expecting them to do it.
And that’s about asking lots of questions – not just of recruiters – but of clients and
candidates as well.
“Team leaders have to provide me with a certain amount of content
or ideas for content every quarter - and this activity is built into
their performance ratings. It is led from the top - and without that
KPI in place, the expectation is that they will just do it out of the
goodness of their hearts -- and that is never going to happen."
Measuring the ROI
"The ROI piece is multi layered - recruiters will want to see
something they can use right now - if they are getting more views
on their LinkedIn profile - that’s something that they can convert
into something more useable".
So what are the tangible benefits of all this social media activity and how is it measured?
Getting buy in from the consultants to like and share the content sparked a lot of debate
with many admitting that it was hard to get buy in. “We literally just send a link to everyone
asking them to like and share – all they have to do is click – you have to make it easy for
One delegate explained how he shared the LinkedIn data that was generated from likes and
shares which showed engagement, better leads and email response rates going up. "This
encouraged them to do more of it - it also built into the competitive nature of consultants -
they were vying to see how many likes and shares they could get for content!"
However what became clear from the discussion was that the ROI piece will be different
depending on what level you are at. A leader will want to see a tweet turn into a placement
while more realistically, for consultants, it could be something as simple as an increase in the
number of personal profile views. "The ROI piece is multi layered - recruiters will want to
see something they can use right now - if they are getting more views on their LinkedIn
profile - that’s something that they can convert into something more useable".
Most delegates (because they were marketers) agreed that if someone has been looking at
their LinkedIn profile -- and they were relevant - then the first thing that they would do
would be to reach out and engage. However, it seems that many consultants won’t do that
unless it meets an immediate need - and it was felt that this needed to change if the sector
was going to really start building tangible talent pools.
“A leader will want to see a tweet turn into a placement while more
realistically, for consultants, it could be something as simple as an
increase in the number of personal profile views.”
The right type of engagement
“It’s like our eyes have met over a crowded room and now you're
launching yourself at me with your flies undone!
However, reaching out has to be done in the right way and just because someone has looked
at your profile does not automatically mean that they are interested in a role or a candidate.
One delegate put it very well: “It’s like our eyes have met over a crowded room and now
you're launching yourself at me with your flies undone! We need to give consultants the
right content - and the ability to use it the right way to engage in an appropriate manner -
just in the way you would engage at a physical networking event.”
Clearly then, engaging online is not about selling, but the art of networking for many
consultants seems to be dying out. "Many recruiters do not often leave their desk – if they
went to a networking event they wouldn’t rock up to someone and say hey, you look like a
great candidate, they would talk and ask questions – so why can’t they engage like that
online? Some felt that consultants didn’t really understand the difference between push and
pull marketing. “They need to move from a 24 hour strategy to a 12 month strategy and
understand that if they engage properly through a good content strategy than all they have
to do in 12 months’ time is post a job!”
Many felt that this was partly the job of the marketing function as having built up an
audience it falls to marketing to keep that audience engaged. “We need to be giving
consultants content to share and help them to engage by providing them with useful
updates – we can’t just put people on a database – we need to keep talking to them – it’s
just as important as attraction strategies – in fact it’s more important.”
Consultants as marketers
But is this apparent short termism from consultants indicative of a more fundamental issue –
that of a firm’s hiring strategy? “We as marketers understand that building a brand is a long
term process – that it’s an incremental culmination of a lot of different touch points. As
marketers we are often just one – or at best, a few, voices in a sales driven organisation so
it’s really about what type of people we are bringing into the business. Often we are
bringing them in as sales people and we don’t even think to question their marketing mind-
set – the two should go hand in hand.”
So should marketing departments be pushing for this mind-set to be very much part of the
employer brand – and will leaders respond by hiring consultants who can execute sales – but
who think like marketers? And do those people exist? “Until we can prove that the
marketing effort can generate fees then influencing the employer brand in that way is going
to be an uphill battle.”
“Someone might well be following us on Twitter – and that has
been their first touch point and then they see an ad on a job board
so the source for that fee goes to the job board! It’s always the last
touch point that gets recorded rather than the first.”
There was broad agreement that tracking the success of engagement strategies can be
difficult because of the myriad of different sources and channels – and because everything is
so accessible. “Someone might well be following us on Twitter – and that has been their first
touch point and then they see an ad on a job board so the source for that fee goes to the job
board! It’s always the last touch point that gets recorded rather than the first.”
But should we be asking far more questions of our placed candidates so that we can go some
way to measuring how they first engaged – and also to be able to demonstrate the success
of the work marketers are doing to try and attract attention to the brand? Simply asking
them to tick a box if they had been following on Twitter or liked the Facebook page would be
indicative of the fact that the placement wasn’t just down to a job board. Asking the
consultant to list the source may not always – if ever - be the best option!
So when and how should we be asking those questions. “As marketers we don’t do enough
to get the information to make us look better – we are so busy trying to support the people
in our own business that we forget our own personal goals – building up our own brand to
demonstrate the value we are adding to the business and being able to say I have delivered x
amount of candidates into your talent pool so why are you still going to LinkedIn – i.e. the
place your clients all have access to - before your own CRM?”
Clearly where marketing should take hold of the process is post placement questioning.
Asking where that candidate may have seen the brand before so that marketers can actually
begin to collect some meaningful data on engagement strategies. “We forget how happy
candidates are when we have placed them into a job – and perhaps we don’t have to
interview every single one – perhaps we interview 20 out of every 100 – a bit like a focus
group – that way we can really start to demonstrate value by having some real metrics.”
Social Media Policy – Trust or Control?
“Don’t post something that would make your mother cringe – and
use your common sense – that’s our policy!”
However, while social media has clearly presented numerous opportunities to engage with a
much wider audience, those opportunities have also presented threats. So how do firms
exercise control over what is being posted on company social media channels – and should
they? And more importantly – how do they protect their data?
“We ask all new recruits to give us a list of their connections on LinkedIn when they start –
this goes onto their HR file and if they leave they have to delete all other connections, said
one delegate.” Some said that they had a guideline of not tagging their company in their
own personal social media engagement and some had a policy of consultants not having
their own work Twitter accounts so that marketing could control the brand message. Others
had no guideline at all other than what they called a ‘common sense approach’ of not
bringing the company into disrepute – although obviously that can cover a multitude of
different scenarios and also has the danger of being somewhat subjective. “It’s about how
we act as human beings – yes the scope of the fall out is wider – but really it’s no different to
talking to someone down the pub.”
But should we actually be protecting people from themselves? One delegate suggested that
there should be some form of robust training in place when people join so that firms are
providing their recruiters with a safe environment in which to trade and educating them on
the risks rather than assuming they know everything. “So let’s show them how to really lock
their Facebook privacy down, and educate them on the risks of doing stupid things rather
than giving them a policy which stops them doing anything. In other words, let me show you
how we don’t do it – and then once you know how it all works – we’ll give you some really
cool training to show you how you can make money out of it.”
So perhaps what we need is an approach of education and trust rather than control and
protection. After all, consultants often get accused of not engaging and then when they do
they are told to stop! “Don’t post something that would make your mother cringe – and use
your common sense – that’s our policy!”
“It’s about how we act as human beings – yes the scope of the fall
out is wider – but really it’s no different to talking to someone down
In such an entrepreneurial and sales led sector it seems that marketing departments may
still have some way to go in terms of demonstrating their real value throughout an
organisation. Being able to track success with real data may help but the impetus really has
to come from the top. Clearly then, there is also an education piece in terms of getting
consultants’ – and sometimes even CEOs’ - buy in for long term engagement strategies, but
what was clear from the discussion was that recruitment firms need to stop competing in
the same pools as their in house competitors, and instead work with marketing to help
develop their own niche pools of talent.