2 March 2008

Recruitment sites and Web 2.0 – what’s in it for them?

I am involved in online strategy for a number of recruitment businesses and Web 2.0 has recently started to appear on the radar of many of my colleagues. The key difficulty here is actually agreeing a definition of what Web 2.0 actually means and what it might offer a recruiter.

In a very real sense, Web 2.0 is little more than an catch-all phrase to describe a number of disparate trends that have been around for as long as the internet itself. As a veteran (and victim) of the last .com crash, I am wary about getting caught up in online media hype – it doesn’t do much for the credibility of my industry and certainly doesn’t assist a layman’s understanding.

If it can be said to mean anything at all, Web 2.0 refers to a number of technologies and trends that have become more prominent over the last few years as the internet has become a genuine mass medium. On the one-hand there are the mass-participation social-media trends such as blogging and online networking. There’s also the increasing ease by which information can be shared and aggregated through feeds. On the other hand there are the maturing technologies that allow for a richer experience for users, from smarter interfaces in your browser via technologies such as AJAX to multi-media and animation.

Put all these developments into a single box and you have Web 2.0. It is an attempt to define how the web is evolving and explain how people are engaging with it. Whether or not you agree with the definition, it is clear that internet usage has become a mainstream activity.

So what does this mean for the recruiter?

If, like me, you spend a lot of time looking at recruitment web sites, you’ll be disappointed at how little recruiters have genuinely engaged with online. This is particularly surprising given the fact that recruitment accounts for more online advertising spend than any other sector. Most estimates suggest that more than half of the working population have used the web to look for a job. Given this level of engagement, the potential is enormous, yet many recruiters have yet to engage properly with Web 1.0 let alone Web 2.0!

The general standard of recruitment websites is poor. The user experience often leaves a lot to be desired, job information is poorly presented and sites offer users pretty limited tools to search for jobs. Recruiters should be looking to develop more engaging and useful websites, but to what extent can the trends associated with Web 2.0 help?

The key focus should be on improving the user experience and a number of the trends associated with Web 2.0 are not necessarily of much value to the online recruiter.

From a commercial perspective, recruiters looking to enhance their online activity should always keep a close eye on return on investment. I judge the success of recruitment sites on their rate of candidate capture, not raw numbers of visitors.

Social media and user-generated content – i.e. blogging and social bookmarking – can be an effective means of drawing large numbers of traffic to a web site, but will this be the relevant traffic that you are looking for, or will it be low-quality traffic which does little for your rate of candidate acquisition? Ideally you want to build a site that is “sticky”, drawing job-hunters in and keeping them there so they will apply for a job.

Attempting to promote a recruitment business by engaging with social networking requires a considerable amount of consistent effort over a long period of time. The technology is easy enough to engage with – hence the recent explosion in blogging on the web. The difficulty lies in generating enough interesting content on a regular basis and finding the resource to engage with online communities consistently. As a marketing activity the potential returns can look like pretty small beer given the amount of effort required.

Recruiters who have attempted to build their own online communities have found it pretty hard going. It is worth bearing in mind that the majority of candidates tend have a fairly brief period of engagement with recruiters and only take an interest in the job market when they are actively job seeking. This does serve to limit a job board’s potential for developing an enduring relationship with their audience.

Encouraging candidates to join in with online debate is also fraught with difficulty. Candidates are unlikely to enter honestly into an online debate with somebody who might help to determine what their next job will be. The candidates who are brave enough to enter fully and freely into a debate on an recruiter’s website are thin on the ground.

There are elements of the whole Web 2.0 agenda that recruiters should be paying closer attention to, particularly those that serve to enhance the candidate experience.

Richer interfaces and multi-media and can really help with candidate engagement – not only can candidates read about a job but they can watch and listen to what the working environment is like. Flexible information sources such as RSS feeds can allow recruiters to disseminate their job information more freely, sharing it with candidates and other job boards.

Some aspects of Web 2.0 clearly offer some value to recruiters. It’s a matter of how and where you are inclined to dispose of your resources. Social media is time-consuming to engage with and does not necessarily offer the kind of returns that recruiters want from their websites. Enhancing the user experience however can provide the most obvious benefits, delivering impact to potential candidates that serve to enhance the reputation of recruiters and their clients.

Filed under Strategy.