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Social media proves just the job for 'Wild West' recruitment at Emerson

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne February 16, 2015
Emerson’s global talent head explains how social media turned the company’s recruitment from the “Wild West” into a competitive asset.

emerson logo
The mandate to me was ‘make recruiting better’ – it was a blank sheet of paper.

remembers Tim Potten about his first days as head of global talent acquisition at Emerson, owner of global technology and engineering businesses.

For Potten, the first words to write at the top of that blank piece of paper were ‘social media’. Potten recalls:

I came to Emerson in 2010. Social media presence in the company around recruiting was nothing. We didn’t have anything whatsoever. Because Emerson was built by acquisition, we had a lot of businesses going out there and dabbling and doing their own thing. Some set up on FaceBook, some LinkedIn, but there was no real leveraging and strategy – it was just the Wild West.

Emerson is a big recruiter. Every day, its global businesses post 1,500 to 2,000 job vacancies. The cost and effort in filling these positions was huge and there was no overarching global strategy. Not surprisingly, notes Potten:

We were spending an inordinate amount on recruitment.

Today, those costs have been reduced and performance improved, and social media plays a major part in that success. Potten says:

“60% of all applications to Emerson jobs are from social media – it’s just an astounding amount.

Potten had previously worked at a media company and experienced first-hand how powerful social media could be. He felt there was huge potential at Emerson to use it for global recruitment. Aware that he needed to build up expertise in the area, the first thing he did was pick the brains of the marketing team. This is a crucial first step, believes Potten:

Developing a relationship with marketing early on is critical. If I could give advice to companies getting into this space it would be start with marketing, for no matter how much you think you know about this space, they know branding. Marketing knows branding and HR knows recruiting and a lot of this is about branding the corporate image.”

Branding the company is particularly important in a buyer’s market, where talented applicants can cherry pick between organizations. But before you attempt anything meaningful with social media, Potten advises recruitment heads to “clean up your own house”.

In Emerson’s case that meant standardizing on one new global applicant tracking system (ATS) from Lumesse. Up to that point, Emerson had around 19 ATSs around the world, which made it impossible to formulate a global recruitment strategy or gain meaningful metrics. Having a central ATS in place is the “kingpin” to its global recruitment strategy, Potten points out:

The most critical thing in all this is the ability to see analytics and have clean data – that’s why we partnered with Lumesse.

Partnership and customer service were key factors behind the decision to choose Lumesse. The Lumesse ATS also had both the global reach and language capabilities Emerson’ needed.

As the most mature social media site in the world in 2010/2011, LinkedIn was the obvious place for Emerson to start its social media journey.

A pilot with LinkedIn was “tremendously successful” and Emerson quickly began to scale its involvement. It posted all jobs, branded a company page and started engaging with people on LinkedIn. The response, remembers Potten, was incredible:

We were getting a greater number of applicants from LinkedIn than anywhere else.

Potten set up a marketing ad campaign for staff:

We bought all employees ad space on LinkedIn, so when a non-Emerson person landed there, they saw a targeted ad and that brought a tremendous amount of people to our pages.

tim potten
Tim Potten

With a LinkedIn recruitment license, Emerson was able to find people with relevant experience. Relevant LinkedIn visitors who were unfamiliar with Emerson or who were not actively in the job market were discretely pointed in Emerson’s direction. Says Potten:

After a year and half, it was accounting for 45% of all our applicants globally. It’s crazy.

He adds simply:

It’s really transformed the way we recruit globally.

Of course, LinkedIn is not the only social media channel it uses. Emerson needs to tailor its use of social media channels according to region and audience – 50% of its hires are outside the US. Xing, for example, has a stronghold in central Europe, while Weibo is dominant in China. In India, LinkedIn accounts for 85 to 88% of all applications.

Surprisingly, given the prominence of Facebook in the social media space, this has not proved a particularly useful recruitment channel for Emerson. Potten explains:

We’ve found the last couple of years that FaceBook has not naturally become a hot bed of recruiting. It’s the market’s decision where we talk about jobs and apply for jobs. Facebook has tried hard. …it just hasn’t caught on.

Twitter success

While it may not pull in applicants, Facebook is still a useful branding opportunity for the organization. Twitter, however, has proved to be a very successful channel for recruitment over the last year or two. It began hosting and tweeting jobs globally. Twitter brings about 25,000 clicks a month into the Lumesse ATS. Emerson is now playing with using imagery and globalizing its Twitter campaigns.

But its experience with Twitter, points out Potten, is very different from its experience with LinkedIn:

With LinkedIn it’s quantity and quality. Twitter is quantity. The conversion rate of applications is very low – probably under 3%.

Twitter, then, is more a tool for brand awareness. The other social media that Potten believes has had as disruptive an effect on recruiting as LinkedIn is Glassdoor.

Glassdoor launched in 2008 as a site where former employees could go and review the company they’d just left – usually a case of spleen venting than singing praises. Says Potten:

I kept in touch with it but didn’t pay much attention until probably mid-2013 and then we dove into the space.

The number of reviews of Emerson were growing (and happily for Potten, many were complimentary). At the same time, Glassdoor began to become more business friendly, and Emerson signed up as a corporate customer and now all jobs are on Glassdoor. The result is that Emerson gets a “lot of eyeballs” particularly in the 22 to 32 age group.

Emerson still uses traditional job boards such as Monster and Indeed, but “it’s not on the same scale of what we were doing with them five years ago”. Social media has changed the way it does recruitment for good.

The shift to social media has clearly had financial implications. Without divulging exact numbers, Potten is clear that there’s been a substantial increase in performance and decrease in cost that has impacted the business bottom line.

wild west
Wild West

He points out that it can cost businesses a substantial amount per day for critical positions to be left unfilled. With some industries averaging 90 days to fill a position, anything that can reduce that time and use a cost effective channel is going to make a big financial impact. Says Potten:

If you do the maths, you’re saving millions of dollars if you can create a system that’s more efficient in the time to fill and keeps quality the same or better. You’re saving the company millions of dollars and the quality also increases.

At Emerson, it’s allowing us to hire faster and at the same time better and at same time saves a lot of money. When you’re trying to make the business case and can show them increased performance with a fairly substantial decrease in cost – that’s big news.

This adoption of social media has coincided with a substantial investment in bringing recruitment back in-house, building internal skills and creating global recruitment centers of excellence.

Potten is aware that investing in internal recruitment rather than outsourcing is the opposite strategy of many other organizations:

Recruitment goes up and down, so a lot of companies don’t invest in the full spectrum of recruitment, because it feels like there’s too much fluctuation and volatility in the market. So instead, they have HR generalists or business recruitments who do recruitment.

What happens is that creates a lot of inefficiency when you’re trying to fill jobs quickly and with quality – they might be a good recruiter but many are must generalists.

Another danger is that companies don’t put in the legwork to create a standardized recruitment infrastructure and procedures. Without such procedures in place, a VP looking for a senior manager may just go to the local agency, who will offer a limited number of candidates and take a 25% cut of their first year’s salary. Potten notes that their external use of headhunting has dropped 50% thanks to social media:

We’ve not only invested in the systems, but also the people and are training them to be recruiters and talent advisors. And we’re trying to do this on a massive scale and centralize across countries with centers of excellence which take on the role of centralized recruitment resources.

Social media is clearly making a massive impact on Emerson’s recruitment. The fact that many organizations have yet to set up a global recruitment strategy with such a social media focus brings Emerson a clear competitive advantage. When everyone else catches up, it will be time to think again, but there’s plenty of competitive mileage to be squeezed out first Potten points out:

I don’t think social media is going away any time soon. I’m always watching the market and where it’s going. Some things that worked well on LinkedIn four years ago don’t give us ROI now. I’m always looking at the numbers and looking at where we can really make an impact on recruitment.

My take

Emerson is a fantastic example of the power of social media in recruitment. But what’s also clear is that to reap the full benefits and cost savings takes a hell of a lot of strategic input.

Social media is not simply just another channel for advertising jobs, but an enabler of far more fundamental change in the way organizations like Emerson approach recruitment.

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