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What Makes Online Networking Work?

There have been countless articles published about how to find candidates on the Web. The tools and techniques they describe are the science of online networking. What gets much less attention is the communication with candidates after they are identified. Done well, it is an art, for it alone convinces the passive prospect that they should apply for an opening. Or, to put it another way, the art of networking is what makes online networking work.

There are, of course, two kinds of online networking messages: one for filling current vacancies and the other for building a pipeline. The former is best described as a blink communication. Its purpose is to get a person to make a positive decision in the blink of an eye. The latter is a red shirt message because it is intended to develop familiarity and trust - the pillars of an enduring relationship - with individuals who may be hires in the future.

Both kinds of messages are obviously important. However, in an era when hiring is slower than the norm and every new hire is critical, red shirt communications take on a particularly important role. They ensure that the passive, hard-to-sell candidate is already captured and partially recruited before the opening for which they are the perfect fit even appears.

With attrition in candidate pipelines typically running at 40 percent or more per year, red shirt messages have a huge impact on a recruiting team's success. They both:

  • minimize the wasted time and effort of having to replace individuals who have left the pipeline


  • maximize the impact of the time and effort invested in communicating with those in the pipeline.

How Do You Create Such Messages?

A recent study conducted by FTI Consulting, Inc. sought to answer this question: what content on the Web are people willing to pay for? In a sense, it was exploring what kind of content was perceived to be the most useful and/or advantageous to the recipient. Those are the messages that get the most attention and, as a consequence, they are the messages that are most likely to influence a person's behavior.

The study generated the following prioritized list of preferred content.

  • Exclusive content
  • Custom content
  • Apps
  • Breaking news
  • Industry specific information.

These findings suggest two guidelines for effective red shirt messaging.

Guideline #1: Bias your communications toward content that candidates consider useful and/or advantageous. For every one message you send about an employment opportunity or the value proposition of your employer, send three to five messages that they would perceive to be beneficially unique or tailored to them.

Guideline #2: Bias the content of your useful/advantageous messages to focus on what candidates would consider exclusive (e.g., industry-specific internal studies or surveys) or custom-tailored (e.g., profession-specific peer papers or conference presentations by employees of the company) for them.

While prospecting for candidates is clearly important, what makes online networking work is the art of good messaging. It alone ensures that each communication is perceived to be useful and/or advantageous to the recipient. And, it is that perception which captures and holds the allegiance of top talent.

Thanks for reading,

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong.

December 2011
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