Social media and personal branding polarises HR

by Stephanie Zillman17 Jul 2012

Social media seems to polarise many in the HR industry – some professionals have gone in with all guns blazing, while others have been paralysed by the sheer speed of the social media invasion.

HR is the unique position of having a bird’s eye view of social media and its relationship with employment and branding. On behalf of organisations, HR has hired and fired based on social media activity. Countless people have been hired as a result of their online connections, and on the flipside, have been fired based on posting ill-advised comments or photos.

As employees themselves, some HR pros have relished the opportunity to build their personal brand through clever social media marketing, jumping on the LinkedIn wagon, and being active on Facebook and Twitter. Yet others have been paralysed by a lack of understanding and legal fears.

Until recently, a person’s social media usage could be a closely guarded secret. In interviews it was easy to fudge one’s involvement in order to seem ‘with it’. “Oh yes, I’m a big Twitter fan. I tweet all the time, and follow my industry role models to stay in the loop,” one might have said. But now a host of start-ups are capitalising on people’s social media involvement and have developed a score that shows how much influence they wield online.

Klout is just one of several providers which amalgamates information from people’s social media involvement, looking not at the number of connections people have, but rather the quality of those connections and how often posts get repeated (or retweeted). “What’s your Klout score?” could well be a regular question in job interviews for positions in sales, marketing, PR, IT – and indeed many other sectors. In order to find out if a candidate is really ‘walking-the-talk’ of the social media future, what better way to reveal their credentials for branding than see if they’re doing it for themselves?

Ratings offered by services such as Klout, Kred and PeerIndex are not just a concept on the horizon, but have already attracted real world value. For example, earlier this year Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific was offering any customer with a Klout score above 40 (considered the minimum score to demonstrate online influence) free entry to its business and first class lounge at San Francisco International Airport (presumably because of its proximity to Silicon Valley). In many ways it’s simple word-of-mouth advertising, but on a potentially massive scale.

Employees as brand ambassadors

Some thought leaders have commented that Australian employers have been slow to catch on to harnessing employees’ social media activity for their own branding purposes. According to one recruitment expert, it is only a matter of time before such scoring systems become a crucial part of the hiring process, particularly for those working in sales, marketing and IT. “It is only a matter of time before it is commonplace,” Andy Cross from Ambition Technology told the Australian Financial Review.

For another HR expert, a lack of a social media presence may signal that a candidate is “past it”. “If I get a recruit who has only half a dozen connections on Twitter or LinkedIn, they are tainted with the belief that they are not connected and not up-to-date,” Trevor Vas from Human Capital Management Systems said. It is crucial for up-and-coming talent to expand their “digital footprint” by participating in online discussions through professional groups and building networks of ­people who can be useful to their work and careers, Vas added.

However, others in the industry assure that considering a candidate’s online presence should only be one aspect of the hiring equation, and should certainly rate behind their values alignment and cultural fit. “If I were to look at something like [Klout scores] it would be just one of many factors. First and foremost [for us] it’s values. And there’s nothing that would ever come in front of that, such as what someone’s profile looks like on paper, online or on social media,” Megan Bromley from RedBalloon told HC.

Bromley said that after hearing about the scoring systems, she would potentially ask a candidate who is applying for certain roles for their score, mostly out of sheer curiosity. If someone had a particularly high score, low score, or didn’t know their score at all, Bromley said this would be just one small factor, and a basis for more questioning. “If they didn’t practice what they preach, didn’t have any social media presence whatsoever – I would be really interested as to why,” Bromley added, who herself is not on Facebook and does not know her Klout score.


  • by Kate Connellan 18/07/2012 4:52:42 PM

    I'm getting a bit tired of seeing articles espousing the benefits of checking a candidate's social media pages, and of those smug managers who tell you they have researched a candidate online. I think we're missing the point. Firstly, I am sure there has been discussion in recent cases about people's right to a private life, separate from work - I think we will see this grow over time, and it's important to respect these rights.
    Secondly, some of the most capable people I worked with in the construction industry went by the motto "work hard, play hard" - their wild weekends gave them a break from thinking about work and helped prevent burnout. They were also highly social individuals whose relationship building skills enabled great results.
    Finally, the 'HR people researching candidates on FB' does not tally with other studies that say an average of 6 seconds is spent looking over a candidate's resume. If we don't even have time to look at what the candidate does tell us, are we really spending time trolling through their pages online?! I think it's just media hype.

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