SI Review: January/February 2014

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Expert’s Corner: Network Capital

Leveraging employees’ social connections

By Tom Becker

Employees bring to their company their entire network of connections (the average number of Facebook friends for the typical 16- to 24-year old is 510). Employers with effective talent strategies are noticing that top talent has an ability to engage their network very effectively for various purposes on demand, and we call this network capital. Although this may have always been partially true, globalization, technological development and the way we use social networking sites have enhanced our ability to form vast networks of friends, business acquaintances, and even “followers.” Employees are becoming much more effective at leveraging top talent’s network for information and access to other top talent.

With talent outweighing capital as the key competitive differentiator, this has major implications for employers. People pass their experiences and opinions on to their vast networks; a positive experience can improve an employer’s branding, encourage others to apply for future positions and become useful direct contacts for the business. This is especially true of temporary employees who have experience in a variety of companies and often have an unrivalled network of connections with access to knowledge, which is great news for companies using a contingent workforce. This is why it is crucial that employers understand and harness network capital to their advantage.

The rise of Big Data has meant that employers have never had access to so much information about candidates before, and most are still working out how to analyze and utilize it effectively. Network capital falls into this category. For those lacking a sophisticated model to analyze candidates’ networks, there are still steps that can be taken to maximize the potential of these networks.

Client network. First, employers must be aware that every candidate has a prospective network that can be tapped into. Once employers are aware of this, they can then align their digital strategies with talent strategies. Incorporating social media into talent strategies is one key way to do this. Employers who project a unified image across social media, regularly updating and engaging with audiences, attract the best talent. Taking this one step further, to make their channels even more attractive, employers must encourage employees to engage too. This cannot be forced, but as “digital” life and “real” life become more and more integrated, employers can put correct channels in place to make the most of this.

Influencers. One of the major reasons employers should align their digital and talent strategies is because top talent is starting to come off the grid. They are increasingly moving away from posting their information on social media or traditional job boards, and they are not applying for jobs directly. Individuals like this have access to large networks of connections and many companies are vying for their expertise. Hiring individuals because of their skills and online influence will become significantly more important in the near future, as employers will need to tap into their extensive networks as they battle for top talent.

Harnessing network capital is an opportunity for employers who are bringing their talent strategies in line with the digital era. The value of a high potential individual’s network is greater than the value of the individual alone. On average, it is, arguably, 510 times greater.

For businesses looking to compete for top talent and utilize network capital, here are some tips:

  • Be aware of the network that prospective candidates are bringing to your organization.
  • Use Big Data tools effectively. If you do not have the right talent to analyze and utilize this data yourself, there are many tools available that will improve your recruiting immeasurably.
  • Align your social media and digital strategies with your talent strategies, as their significance in the near future cannot be underestimated.

Tom Becker is vice president of recruiting for ManpowerGroup in North America.

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