Talent brand vs consumer brand

Many use the terms employer brand and talent brand interchangeably. It is inherently assumed that whatever the organisation wants to highlight about itself as an employer will be perceived likewise in the talent market. The reality remains far detached from perceptions. Social media has made it evident that perceptions of a workplace viewed from the rose-tinted glasses of an organisation’s senior management is different from actual perceptions that exist on the ground. Thus emerges a new management paradigm for an organisation- the talent brand.

It is important to note the differences between an organisation’s employer brand and talent brand. An organisation’s employer brand is a skilfully crafted message conveying how the organisation views itself as an employer. The employer brand typically includes positive messaging about its work culture, its commitment to employee welfare, and the benefits of working with the organisation. While the employer brand is an aspirational appeal to the market, a talent brand is the actual perception about an organisation from the point of view of its employees. While an employer brand can be idealistic and controllable, an organisation’s talent brand is grounded in facts and resides mostly outside the realms of direct organisational control. A preferred employer is one which is able to close the gap between the employer brand and the talent brand.

Employee as the consumer

From a marketing lens, branding is an exercise to enhance the reputation of a company’ products and services. As social media has increased the number of degrees of freedom for a consumer, the challenge of managing perceptions has steadily grown more complex. While social media continues to penetrate a wider base of consumers, a brand manager strives to convert challenges into opportunities. A brand no longer relies solely on the projection of a positive image but also depends on the management of perceptions. With growing number of complexities, organisations have started to realise that a branding strategy has to couple external messaging with perception management. The principles of branding for consumer brand, therefore, applies equally to the talent brand.
HR’s role in the organisation is consequently evolving into a brand and marketing role where the rules of the consumer market apply equally to the talent market. For an organisation’s HR, it is not difficult to predict that a Glassdoor rating will be as much an indicator of talent management effectiveness as hiring and attrition. This calls for a radical shift in the way HR views an employee – to that of a consumer.

Talent brand- a CEO’s agenda

Across the globe, growth continues to be the golden word for any leadership team. As tough economic conditions continue to prevail, leaders worry about how to sustain a profitable business. Business leaders argue that given these economic conditions, the only way to fuel growth is to get the right people on board and ensure that they are happy. When someone asks the question, ‘what is it about companies that continue to grow despite these tough conditions?’ CEOs unanimously agree that it is talent within these companies that propel growth and profitability. It would be fair to say that the only real engine of growth in such conditions is to have the right set of people on board.

Several compelling reasons exist as to why companies and HR need to redefine their focus on talent branding for sustenance in the future. Among them, the most important reason for growth is the need for innovation. The absence of innovation has seen several exceptional brands meet their demise in an age when the competitive landscape has become a pervasive threat. Several noteworthy brands have perished due to lack of innovation. Research in Motion and Kodak are classic examples of consumer brands which enjoyed high equity but succumbed very quickly to competitive pressures. While their competitors were sharpening their axe by building a strong base of innovators within the company, they failed to foresee the future by basking in the equity of their current consumer brand. Over time, newer and better products emerged in the consumer market and both the brands continue to shrink to this day. Both these industries, in fact, have seen the emergence of strong talent empires that are threatening to polarise the entire talent market in their respective segments globally.

Martin Seligman, an American psychologist’s seminal work on organisational psychology discussed the concept of positive psychology. Positive psychology is an organisation’s investment in happiness, human flourishing, exceptional wellbeing, energy and vitality, and meaningfulness and achievement. While most CEOs and talent heads talk about it, the real test of an organisation’s commitment to positive wellbeing is in the times of crisis. Are CEOs in Indian corporations really committed toward employee wellbeing? The leading management consulting firm McKinsey Corporation in a recent research study argues, “The vast majority of companies still gauge their performance using systems that measure internal financial results —systems based on metrics that don’t take sufficient notice of the real engines of wealth creation today: the knowledge, relationships, reputations, and other intangibles created by talented people and represented by investments in such activities as R&D, marketing, and training.”

Tough times reveal the real cracks in a company’s resource plans. Companies with strong talent brands are more prepared now for economic uncertainties of the future. Data from Fortune magazine’s top 100 best places to work companies in the last 10 years have consistently demonstrated a near 10 per cent difference in year-over-year growth than the market average despite these low-growth economic conditions. The renowned business author, Noelle Nelson, in his book ‘Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy,’ quotes from the findings of a global employee survey which says that companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced firms enjoy. Is it possibly what differentiates an iconic brand from the rest?

Talent empires- the inevitability

As companies continue to face the consequence of economic corrections, the ability of an organisation to acquire and retain talent will be the single-most factor separating brands that exist and the ones that perish. Some progressive talent brands have already prepared their war strategy for the coming times. What makes some of the smartest talent across the globe flock to a Facebook, Pepsico, or Google brand? Is it their choice drive by the consumer brand or have these brands successfully created a strong perception as employers? Southwest Airlines is a typical example of a brand where employee live and breathe the brand. In the tough and competitive low-cost airline market, its talent brand is a strong driver of its product brand.

While companies brace themselves for the future, it will be only fair to say that a company which enjoys a strong talent brand will be able to attract talent from a larger global talent pool and make them stay longer. The linear correlation between growth and talent will never cease and thus, a company’s market share will be strongly linked to its talent market share. Such radical polarisation of preferences will likely lead to the creation of talent empires. While it is up for argument on whether the establishment of these talent empires is a step in the right direction for the global economy, one thing is certain— talent will be the bigger war field for business corporations compared to the consumer brand. At the centre of the war will be the CEO who will likely lead the aggression against its talent competitors, and will be a living proponent of the company’s employment values. Perhaps it would not be too farfetched to imagine the future CEO holding the talent brand and leading the aggression for talent market share.

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Reach or engagement- Whats more important for employer brands?

While companies have focused on outreach as the most important social hiring metric, the buck doesn’t simply stop at going viral.

Jasper Visser is a digital strategy consultant; he helps organizations maximize their digital presence. What many do not know about Jasper is that he is also an excellent cook and loves house parties. Jasper would love to throw a party at his place some day; and even though Jasper is anything but a social recluse, one thing stops him. Jasper just does not know how to convince his friends that a Friday evening at his place will be worth more than the regular bar-hopping-club-dancing-drunken-revelry with strangers. He makes new friends every weekend; some even visit him once a while. While most of them find him a nice guy and his line of work gives him credibility, they are not sure about spending a whole evening at his place. What if it turns out to be a drag?

Jasper’s dilemma is typical of what most Indian organizations are facing in the social media space. Up until now, most Indian organizations have been looking at social media as a channel to “spread their net.” The assumption being, once an individual has visited the organization’s social media page, it will automatically trigger a top-of-the-mind-recall thereafter. That, unfortunately, is not the case! A 2012 Forrester Research global survey among top performing sales organizations to assess the typical behavior of online buyers reveals that less than 1% of transactions of new and repeat customers can be tracked back to social media.

Not surprisingly, social media experts have now started debating about what constitutes a more important metric for an organization’s social employer brand― reach or engagement. In a recent study conducted by Facebook, Tata Docomo stands at #1 among Indian organizations in terms of reach or “page likes.” In fact, 1 out of every 6 Indian on Facebook has liked the Tata Docomo page. While Sony features way down among Indian corporations in terms of reach, Facebook Analytics reveal that the Sony page is #1 when measured on terms of “engagement.” The engagement metric is calculated based on multiple engagement factors, including how many people actually view page updates, post content, or share activity. Experts argue that the only real metric of an employer brand on social media is engagement as it has the potential to trigger desired behaviors.

A 2012 social media survey in more than 500 organizations reveals that companies in India spend very little amount of time on social media branding with more  organizations spending less than 2 hours per week. Among the organizations that use social media for hiring, 53% use it for sourcing passive candidates. Social media experts reveal that the importance of passive candidate sourcing is only going to go up across the coming months. The two key social hiring metrics “time to hire” and “quality of hire” will depend on how well an organization is able to impress the passive candidate pool toward the organizational employer brand. Organizations have, therefore, started realizing that while the fixed costs and entry barriers on social media is low, the ROI of social media branding has to look beyond traditional metrics, such as outreach and “virality.”

Here are some tips on how to increase the engagement with your employer brand on social media:

  1. Understand the boundaries― Presence is social media gives an organization access to a large number of candidates and information sources. An organization needs to be careful about how and when to use the information to their advantage. There has to be a targeted strategy for outreach for the brand to make an impact on the intended audience.
  2. Investigate what impacts the audience― The employer branding message on social media needs to successfully communicate what a passive candidate wants to know in a short span of time. It is also important to conduct some web analytics to determine when and how the employer brand should show up on web searches, social media platforms, and portals.
  3. Have the right mix― There is no one-size-fits all strategy for social media branding. Employers who are only looking to maximize their social media reach should start questioning the fundamental assumptions of their branding strategy.
  4. Test, measure, and adapt― It is alright to go wrong the first few times. Success in social media branding, however, will depend on how an organization is able to measure their failures and quickly adjust there engagement strategy.

2013 will likely see more frenzied activity in social media hiring, and organizations will be scampering to increase their employer brand presence. Success of employer branding will depend not just on whether more people know about the organization, but really on whether the passive talent pool is able to understand the brand message, therefore resulting in greater number of conversions.

Social hiring outlook for 2013

Six key trends will shape the hiring strategy for organizations in the coming months.

The strong focus on social hiring seen across 2012 is likely to continue in 2013, compelling organizations to factor in some key trends in the recruiting space to stay competitive. In a joint roundtable by People Matters and LinkedIn, Irfan Abdulla, Director of LinkedIn Hiring Solutions reveals that in the face of an acute demand-supply mismatch, some key trends will drive the hiring outlook for organizations in the coming months. LinkedIn recently conducted a survey among 250 senior business executives in India to understand the recruiting outlook for 2013. The survey revealed the following key hiring trends that will drive the focus for recruiting organizations.

  1. Organizations will continue to see a strong social hiring outlook―The last few months saw organizations opening up more positions to fill through social channels. These positions across roles and levels have seen, and will continue to see, an increase in volume. The poll revealed that over 50% of hiring organizations will continue to see an increase in social hiring budget and volume.
  2. The competition for talent will increase― Competition and compensation came across as the biggest hindrances for organizations in attracting talent. This reflects a highly competitive landscape led by social media as one of the most important channels for hiring in the coming times. In order to remain competitive, organizations are investing in employer branding, improving their employer referral program, and investing in new recruiting technology and tools.
  3. Recruiting organizations will focus on passive talent and pipelining― 65% of the surveyed organizations are focusing their recruiting efforts toward passive talent and over 87% are actively engaged in pipelining talent. Organizations realize that opening up the passive talent pool allows targeted access to more aligned candidates for positions. While training schedules and onboarding time continue to shrink, there is a greater need for organizations to target talent with the right set of skills and experiences to take on the more complex jobs that modern day organizations require. Another key development that is fuelling the focus on passive candidates and talent pipelining is the transition from an industrialized ecosystem to a knowledge ecosystem. As the skills required in knowledge economy are difficult to build and take more time, more and more organizations are looking for more targeted candidate sourcing and talent pipelining.
  4. Quality of hire will be the name of the game― As Irfan mentions, “the focus on passive talent is because hiring for quality has become very critical.” Organizations across all industries witness that there are various aspects of quality that act as constraints and make hiring more challenging. One of the most common challenges is ‘time to hire.’ Most organizations grapple with the dilemma of hiring the best talent within a limited span of time. Another key challenge that organizations face is the “quality of hire” with over 45% of organizations mentioning this as their most critical challenge. Some of the key complicating factors of the “quality of hire” challenge involve how to provide competitive compensation where industry boundaries have ceased to exist, when and how to assess quality, and what metrics to measure.
  5. There will be heightened focus on employer branding― Employer branding will constitute one of the core priorities for organizations in the coming months. Organizations, however, face a number of key challenges in employer branding. Many are confused whether employer branding is an HR responsibility or a marketing responsibility. There is a lack of standard mechanisms to track and monitor an employer brand, thereby making it difficult to demonstrate ROI to senior management. In addition, many organizations struggle to formulate the right employer branding metric. Social media has become an important channel for organizations to promote the employer brand. Organizations, however, are unsure about how to measure the reach and engagement with an employer brand through social media. LinkedIn has an interesting metric to track the effectiveness of the employer brand― “the number of follows on the company’s page.” In social media, the common denominator of engagement with an employer brand will comprise people who either aware of the company or are connected directly or indirectly with the company.
  6. Hiring is mostly a data-driven decision― Confirming that employers in India are serious about their employer branding, the survey reveals that Indian corporations are ahead of the curve when it comes to regularly measuring the employer brand. Against a global average of 33%, 50% of Indian organizations regularly measure the health of the employer brand in a quantifiable way. Again, 45% of Indian organizations regularly survey candidates to understand employer brand position against a global average of 32%. Organizations that are poor at leveraging data for making hiring decisions will fall behind in the race for acquiring the best talent.

With the talent landscape becoming increasingly competitive, the need for HR organizations is to understand the best mechanisms by which they can reach a larger talent pool more effectively. Data analytics and employer branding will be the primary avenues where organizations are likely to invest their social hiring time and efforts in the coming months.

The social media war begins- Oracle enters the hiring space

Up until a few months back, LinkedIn enjoyed the monopoly of a rich database of global professionals coupled with social media platform capabilities. Very soon, this monopoly will likely be challenged by other players like Oracle who are taking their social media business expansion plans extremely seriously.

With the social media hiring trend picking rapid momentum, more and more companies are entering the race to stay competitive and stay relevant. Many experts comment that companies that fail to leverage the social media opportunity will bear significant opportunity costs in terms of potential talent pool reach and time take to close positions. As the competition intensifies in this space, from a fairly fragmented industry with low entry barriers, we are witnessing the next level of market structuring in the social media service space― consolidation. Two recent developments are indicators that the social media hiring space is really heating up. On 27 August, 2012, IBM announced the acquisition of Kenexa, a social media networking company with a dual purpose― boost its hiring efforts as well as enter the social media provider space. Following that, another large headline was made this week when Oracle announced acquiring SelectMinds, a social media networking company. In a series of deals, this was Oracle’s biggest deal of the year.

It is important to note that this acquisition follows another large acquisition by Oracle― application tracking and recruitment application, Taleo. This development largely beckons the beginning of intense competition in the service provider market. With a large repository of applicant information, coupled with a social media platform, we can expect products that can make the concept of “attracting anyone, any time, from any where around the globe” possible.  Presently, LinkedIn is the only social media hiring database and service provider that claims to make possible for organizations to attract both active and passive candidates from any place, at any time, irrespective of a professional’s employment status. LinkedIn enjoys the luxury of a database of 175 million professionals from over 50 countries and they have made significant inroads into building out social media capabilities into the user interface. This has allowed the company to create a new revenue stream through the LinkedIn Recruiter services. This model, in a number of ways is unique and Oracle’s acquisition signals that competition in this space is likely to heat up soon. Taleo, with more than 20 million live subscribers and presence in over 50 countries will liven up the social media hiring market significantly.

With the hiring service provider market picking up steam, we can expect a string of similar acquisitions rolling out in this space. As a recent Mckinsey report states, the number of companies employing social media for hiring will increase 47% within the next four years. Social media hiring can, therefore, no longer be considered an experiment and companies who jump into the ship later can potentially end up spending significantly high lost opportunity costs.

Social media hiring- The future

Organizations that leverage social media intelligently can expect unprecedented returns in the quality and reach of talent pools.

Much has changed in the last 10 years about how someone looks for jobs. Not until too long ago, a job seeker would open the daily newspaper’s job supplement section, encircle the jobs of interest, note down phone numbers and contact details, and create a list. The more enterprising, perhaps, would go the extra mile― do a Google search on the company, and inquire in his limited personal and professional network to investigate about the company. The territory of job research was limited to publicly available (and often promotional) information on the Internet and word-of-mouth. As Internet penetration deepened, candidates began to realize the benefits of a larger aggregator of jobs― the job portals. Along with the convenience of having everything in one place, job seekers were also saved off the pain of having to note phone numbers, call for appointments, and visit individual company offices to deliver their resumes. The job portals provided a job seeker direct access to job openings from hiring organizations, as well as to a number of job and recruitment consultants. Job portals also offered the convenience of allowing an applicant to create a profile and store their resumes where potential recruiters can view and reach out to the applicant. From the hiring organization’s standpoint, job portals resulted in significant reduction in hiring costs and turnaround times. Trends indicated that job portal usage was more concentrated in the large employment hubs (metropolitan and Tier I cities), while job seekers in other parts of the country largely relied on job newspapers. For a while, both job newspapers and portals co-existed owing to their large consumer base and fairly undeviating search behavior.

Developments of changing demographic behavior and technological innovation have given rise to many changes in hiring workflows and the way jobs are promoted. These trends are largely driven by cloud and social media technologies that are triggering significant changes in behaviors, both of the job seeker and of the hiring organization. Social media is no longer limited in reach; 60% of all new Facebook profiles created in India in the last 6 months were from Tier II cities and the non-urban sector. With the increased ease of information access, job seekers want to know almost everything about the employment experience before accepting an offer, some even before applying. Hiring organizations, on the other hand seek greater intelligence about prospective candidates, owing to their ever increasing need to hire specialized talent.  Another key development is the increasing trend of organizations reaching out to professionals who are not actively looking out for jobs. The industry terminology for such skilled professionals is, “passive” candidates. While organizations can reduce significant cost by tapping into the talent pool for active candidates, the higher value proposition of social media is its ability to tap into the passive talent pool. Organizations, more often, find the right talent for their requirements in the passive talent pool. In the absence of the right information channel and a delivery mechanism to attract talent from this pool, organizations can potentially miss out on significant opportunities.

Irfan Abdulla, Director, Hiring Solutions, at Linkedin India says that they realized the potential of leveraging social media for tapping into the passive talent pool and started Linkedin’s hiring solutions in 2009. Launched in India in the first quarter of 2012, the “Linkedin Recruiter” is their specialized hiring solution, which opens up an organization’s access to 175 million active and passive professionals globally.

The need for tapping into the passive pool

The need for hiring quality talent for executing specific organizational activities has become more pronounced. “Given the current economic climate,” Irfan says, “organizations are not just required to hire the right quality of candidates; they are required to hire quality at scale.” It is possible that the right candidate for a job may not be looking out for a job at the time when an organizational position opens. Also, in the absence of macro-level geographical workforce information, an organization may end up focusing efforts in the wrong geographical talent pool. All of these issues can result in an organization facing in-ordinate delays in filling up critical positions, or selecting the wrong candidate for a position. It is, therefore, extremely important for organizations to track the right information on the following questions:

  1. What are the skills available in the talent market pool at this point?
  2. From where can we source the talent required for the specific role requirements from open positions?
  3. Are there opportunities where we can attract the right candidates that we need in our organization, even though they may not be looking out for a job at this point?
  4. What are the ways by which we can send the right messages to attract this passive talent pool?

The social media imperative                       

Social media, owing to its presence and penetration among global professionals, offers the greatest potential to reach active and passive candidate pools globally. Social media recruiting companies, therefore, will continue to identify newer and more effective ways to gather intelligence and more accurate answers to the above questions. For example, post-login, a user of Linkedin views professional news feeds from the network, and suggestions about groups, associations, and potential jobs.  It sources and delivers targeted content by gathering intelligence from an individual’s professional profile. A hiring organization, on the other hand, can push their employer brand message and current job opportunities to a large pool of active and passive candidates through the platform.

The future of social media hiring

Very soon, organizations failing to realize the full potential of social media will lose the race for sourcing skilled talent. Organizations will soon need to integrate social media recruiting into their strategic organizational mandate and understand what drives talent behavior. Only then will they be able to truly realize the rich potential of social media hiring.