Should we stop advertising jobs to everyone and instead zoom in on the people who are our followers, fans and advocates? We speak to Steve Ward who has pioneered a new approach to talent attraction.
Listen to the interview with Steve below, keep reading for a summary and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
For 10 years, I ran a recruitment agency called Cloud Nine, which was kind of noted for the fact that we were probably one of the first to use social media as our key form of recruiting. Since walking away from that 18 months ago, and its parent company, I now work with companies as a talent attraction strategist, I call it, to help companies attract and be a magnet to the right talent that they want through growth. So I work with businesses at different levels on being smart about how we engage and find the right candidates, and hopefully hire them.
What do you mean by “recruit fans, not candidates”?
So what I started to work out, and I suppose it’s something that I’d already worked out over a number of years without necessarily really kind of giving it a succinct feel is the phrase “recruit fans, not candidates.” The idea really is that we have so much intelligence available to us now, it makes me scratch my head as to why we still do job board advertising, even why we do advertising on the whole, when through acute, smart content marketing, prospect identification, etc., we can build channels. Bring natural channels, not necessarily tech channels, but natural channels that identify the people who are already engaged with the organization you’re hiring for and people who seem to have a degree of fanhood with the company concerned. And that surprises people, because sometimes…okay, we all expect somebody like Nike or Adidas or Facebook to have what you would term “fans.” But smaller companies, the majority of companies, people haven’t heard of on the whole and don’t have a big brand, and so you often surprise people to find that they actually, generally do have fans. What it helps do is it narrows down the target audience of candidates towards people who’d be quite excited about picking up the phone and being offered the opportunity to work with them.
So that’s kind of the essence of it, is trying to find the people who genuinely believe in your company and what you do and target those as potential employees, because it would seem to be the most logical way of building a business.
How many fans will a company have?
Well, fans is obviously a kind of a simplistic way of grading a certain person who has a degree of interest within a company. A company we did this project with last year, we just identified that yes, there are a number of people that have regular interaction with Velocity Partners, in that case, and I’ve started doing it with an analytics company recently. And we would find those people through social channels, particularly areas like LinkedIn. If people care to share the content of an organization or subscribe to their email marketing or comment on things that keep people in the organization, write or share or communicate online, then we start to build a kind of a persona of these people that suggests that they seem to have a little bit of natural fanhood with a company.
It’s difficult to say what a percentage of these people would be fans. I think what we probably found was that if a LinkedIn page following of, let’s say…I think it was something like 800 people when I got there. There were probably about 30 or 40 people who genuinely had week on week interaction with different portions of the company online. And that, to me, was an indicator of people who seemed to be quite excited about what Velocity did. But I think the actual fanhood is bigger than that. We follow companies for a reason. We interact with our data for reasons. But what it helps do is it helps narrow the audience down, which is trying to make the whole process much more logical rather than pray and spray, or spray and pray, whichever way you put it.
I guess this exercise probably wouldn’t be as easy for Apple, because actually, it’s less easy to define a genuine fan of Apple. Just lots of people own Apple products. Millions and millions of people. So how do you define an audience through that? You don’t. I think this is where the fun of doing it with more emerging companies or growing companies or SMEs, in many respects, is the ability to be able to identify very finite numbers of people comparatively who you can do your kind of recruitment and marketing towards and try and gauge in new business one way or another as either an advocate or an employee.
What’s step-by-step approach to recruiting fans?
Let’s use Velocity as a really good example, because Velocity Partners, which is a B2B concept marketing agency. So inside the doors, they have table tennis tables, they have pizza Mondays, they have great people, they have a lovely culture, three office dogs, all those things that are inside the building but don’t actually make a difference as to why somebody would join a company or not.
And so, I started the journey of kind of thinking, “Well, okay. What are the drawing factors? What is the employer brand? What is the thing that sets them apart compared to other such agencies, etc.?” Because particularly what we had to think about is one, this is not an agency that are inside the dead centre of London. They’re in Richmond, so to draw people to come and work for Velocity, you needed people who genuinely were excited by the prospect of working there, to be able to draw them away from the obvious kind of big London agencies and the like. So there were factors like that that I had to consider in order to attract talent.
The common response, as I referred to Velocity Partners, on a handful of occasions, was, “Oh, Doug’s company.” “Oh, what do you mean? Doug Kessler?” Doug Kessler being the cofounder of Velocity Partners and kind of B2B content veteran. And it became quite apparent that Velocity, the company, is one thing, but actually, one of the primary draws of Velocity was Doug Kessler, as a human being, as a professional, as an individual. You know, he speaks around the world, he’s regarded as one of the godfathers in this kind of area. And actually, people wanted to work with him.
That dumb idea might be hiding something… pic.twitter.com/fd51ylAyCh
— Doug Kessler (@dougkessler) March 23, 2017
So he wrote a piece, and I packaged it and put it out there as the front of the recruitment campaign, that talked about B2B, it was very specific to the market and what they thought. And it was just a blog. And it went out on LinkedIn, and it had the footnote at the bottom. Apart from a couple of guidelines through the content, you had a footnote at the bottom that said, “Hey, look. Do you agree with Doug? If you do, you may want to come and work with Velocity, because we’re hiring, we’re growing, and we need more kind of like-minded Doug types.”
And we started to get the response from that. Now, what we got from that was great traction, great sharing, and obviously, clearly, the audience attached Doug’s name to something. That very specific audience shared it and distributed it across their networks. But we got a cluster of applications from it. Not many, which is perfect. We didn’t want many. We just wanted a very targeted cluster, and that targeted cluster were all fantastic.
And we were able to interview 6 of those people, and as we stand, I think 4 of them have now been hired. Not for one role, but for four completely different roles within the organization. Head of copy and content, a copywriter, an account manager and I think a B2B planner guy in there somewhere as well. And one blog, and it focused on the fact that Doug was more of an attractive brand proposition to the talent audience out there than the agency was itself. He was the one drawing the fans.
So and that was exciting, and then so from there onwards, we started to then build our content around the people in the organization and the things that made the agency individual to other agencies. Again, this goes back to voice. Voice is a very, very big important part of it. Something I learned a lot from Doug. When there’s a million marketing agencies out there or a million technology companies or a million banks, how do you separate yourself? So voice is a big part of it, the tone that you carry.
Are there any pitfalls to recruiting fans and not candidates?
I don’t think there’s a pitfall in recruiting the fans as long as you’re judging them still independently as to whether they are good for a job or not. Although it could be said that, if you’ve got somebody who’s coming in as an advocate from day one, they’ll come in jumping and skipping into work rather than coming in because it’s a job. So that’s good, but obviously, you’ve still got to assess them as to their capability to do the role. The only danger point with monitoring fan activity or follower activity to identify fans, is that some fans, frankly, are fruit bats, and so sometimes fanhood you’ve always got the nutter who for example for a band, who wants to dive on the stage and get thrown out. And that applies to all kind of groups of fanhood. There is fanhood and then there’s fanatic.
And so, the warning signs. You’ve still got to watch the signals very, very carefully that what you’re not dealing with is just somebody who does, particularly in the area of social sharing and social interaction, they’re not doing it for their own benefit. They’re doing it because genuinely, they have a passion for the subject. So the skill, effectively, is not necessarily who you hire, because ultimately, you should get that right. It’s more about if you are going to identify fans, be careful about genuinely who are the people who genuinely have an interest in the business other than people who are just trying to build their own social media collateral by actually being fans of more than just this product. So that’s the thing to look out for.
What’s the return on investment on hiring fans as opposed to candidates?
Well, I think the obvious ROI is people hang around a lot longer. One of the characteristics of Velocity as an organization as a whole, why this campaign worked so well for them and this methodology worked so well for them is that actually generally people have stayed there for many years, because the story they tell about the organization that they are absolutely matches the real life. When we talk about employer branding, one of the dangers, one of the biggest pitfalls of employer branding is painting the picture that, actually, your talents, your employees don’t believe in, because it’s marketing veneer. What we did is we told real stories, and typically, they’ve always been very good at that, telling real stories. So those real stories attract the right people, and those people, if they believe, they’ve got heart behind the product, you know, go back to Simon Sinek, believe in the same thing and share the same values, then they’re going to stick around a lot longer.
If we are hiring just from job advertising and shortlisting people who happen to apply for a job, along with a number of other people who applied for a job, along with another number of other jobs that they applied for, you end up getting somebody who wants a job and probably likes your company rather than somebody who genuinely adores your company. When you pick up the phone to somebody who you notice has been following the company, and you pick up the phone to them and say, “Hey, look. I noticed you liked a lot of content that we write. I noticed you’re engaged with some of the stuff there. You seem to have talked to Doug recently, etc., etc. We’re hiring a role just like this sort of person that you are. Would you be interested in working for Velocity?”
The natural response was, “Hell, yeah.” And that’s how we want to work in recruitment. We want to be able to create more, “Hell, yeah” goosebump moments than we do passively cooling moments. So the advantage is certainly in the longevity and the performance levels of the people who join, but also, crucially for us in the organizations, from an ROI perspective, streamlines your candidate pool much more effectively, and it’s something I believe in massively.