If a Recruiter Tweets in the Forest …

frontpage-bird… and nobody follows him, then was it written? Any discussion around Twitter raises a lot of questions from the sublime to ridiculous. And so it should be: Twitter is an interesting product, and there aren’t a lot of those in recruiting. My last article on social networking criticized Twitter, so I’ll start this one by accentuating the positive and discussing the merits of Twitter.

Twitter has value for recruiting, no question. Tweeting jobs raises their visibility because search engines rank them higher, though this works in an indirect way. Twitter adds a “nofollow” attribute to links submitted by its users. The “nofollow” attribute advises Google, and a few other search engines, to ignore the link. Some of these follow the links but exclude them from their ranking calculations (Yahoo, Google); some ignore the links completely (MSN, Bing). The only known search engine that doesn’t comply with “nofollow” at all is Ask.com. What Twitter does is to affect positively a website’s Alexa rankings by sending visitors to those pages. Usage data is a sign of quality for Google and all the other search engines and raises their rankings in search results. But search engines don’t index Tweets in real-time today so there’s a lag. However, that can be compensated for by using the “bio” line on Twitter to include some text on your jobs, because that is being constantly indexed.

Pointless Babble

Broadcasting openings via Twitter can help fill jobs, as described here. But Twitter is a particularly weak tool when it comes to engaging with others or building community. First lets examine the available evidence. Analysis of Twitter usage patterns show that there’s not much in the way of two-way communication happening via Tweets. A study by Pear Analytics found that some 40% of Tweets qualify as “pointless babble” and about the same amount as “conversational updates.” It should be no surprise that while Tweets are great for broadcasting anything, they’re not a channel on which to have a serious conversation. Twitter is much too public a forum to engage with a community. Communities on Facebook and other sites are restricted: you have to be accepted as a friend to get in. Anybody can follow someone on Twitter or find their tweets. That’s not how communities form.

Further proof of this comes from a study at the Social Computing Lab at HP which found that Twitter users have a very, very small number of real friends compared to the number of followers they claim. A link between any two people does not necessarily imply any interaction between them. In the case of Twitter, most of the links between users are meaningless from an interaction point of view. Put that together with other data, such as that half are not active, and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that as a social networking tool Twitter has limited value.

Social Networking 101

Social networking works by engaging with people and communities. Communities share something — an idea, an interest, theme, or topic. That happens more on sites like Facebook, MySpace, or Cachinko, where access is limited and one has to request to join a community. HP’s Social Computing Lab has also found that inside close-knit communities, information flows faster and to more people because an item relevant to one person is more likely to be of interest to individuals in the same social circle than those outside of it. Engage with the right communities and you can amplify your message and expand your networking efforts exponentially. But the key word here is “engage” — having something to share that the community cares about — so that its members will interact and reciprocate. That is more likely on sites like Facebook than through Twitter. Just how many meaningful conversations does anyone have that they’d like the world to be able to learn about?

Using Twitter is not a waste of time, but its value is limited as a way to expand your social networking efforts. For the average recruiter interested in social networking, their time would be better spent engaging with communities on Facebook and other sites. Twitter can raise the visibility of your jobs, but it’s not the most powerful tool in the social media toolset.

The last time I wrote about this subject some people interpreted it to mean that I was critiquing everything to do with social networking. Far be it for me to do so — I like social networking and it has been a huge benefit to me professionally. I just returned from a six-month project in Switzerland that came about because of social networking.

Some readers pointed out that many find it hard to accept any kind of criticism that challenges their cherished beliefs. If you haven’t got something nice to say then don’t say anything. If you’re not with us you’re against us. Seems like narrow-mindedness isn’t limited to healthcare reform. That’s understandable — nobody wants to be told that the prophet they’ve been listening to doesn’t have the answer to their prayers and probably doesn’t know a whole lot more than them. One of the many lessons my parents taught me was that just because someone may not like what you say is no reason not to say it, unless you’re running for election. And I’m not.

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