How can executives and researchers ensure that they’re using social media effectively, efficiently and lawfully?

Social media is a staple in the career marketing mix today. Recent research from the Pew Institute shows that social media usage has risen significantly from adults over the age of 50 over the last decade. But only one-third (35%) of adults over the age of 65 use social media for any purpose. Do executive search firms, whose businesses hinge on long-standing and trusting relationships, really lean on social media as much as higher volume recruiters? How much time should executives looking to establish new relationships with executive search firms spend on social media and which sites should they prioritize?

Social media as social proof

Executive search firms are looking for specific expertise and leadership traits, not a jack-of-all-trades. So before diving into any one platform or site, executives should spend some time on a personal branding strategy. This will differ based on the region, industry and function that you work in, and those differences will help them establish what they intend to achieve from having social media accounts.

If an executive search firm is looking for a marketing head for a consumer media company, they may look to Twitter and Facebook to get a sense of how much of a following an individual has. Whereas, a search for an operations head at an oil and gas company may require more traditional research techniques.

Ultimately, you want to know that you are investing time in a place that could yield results, so look to see if executive search consultants and other industry thought leaders have profiles and are active on the site you are considering.

“I look at social media as both inbound and outbound marketing,” says Kathy Simmons (USA), Executive Director of BlueSteps Executive Career Services. “Particularly with LinkedIn, it’s not only a way to be found, but also a way to demonstrate social proof.”

Different platforms offer different opportunities to validate your expertise and your position as an expert – LinkedIn has recommendations and endorsements, Facebook has likes and shares, Twitter has retweets and likes – so it is important to build a network of engaged connections once you begin using a site. Look for trends and topics that you can comment on that will yield engagement from other users – all the while thinking about your personal brand.

“Social media checks can be useful to show a candidate’s temperament and to judge if they will fit with what the client wants,” says Peter Lagomarsino (USA), Partner at The Mintz Group. “People can reveal a lot online and it is useful to check that the candidate’s social media history matches what they have disclosed to you privately.”

Indeed, the use of social media for both candidate identification and background checking has grown in popularity amongst research teams – although perhaps not as much as might be assumed. When talking to a selection of executive search professionals on this topic, they estimated that their researchers spent on average 20-30% of their time on social media. The rest of the time is spent on traditional research techniques (sourcing calls, personal networks, internal databases), advanced internet searches (Boolean and x-ray searches, reviewing industry event speakers, reading thought leadership) and in-person interaction.

Noting that social media is one of many tools used by executive search firms, there is a balancing act to strike between being visible and spending too much time online, as Fatih Pekbas, Partner at Stanton Chase (Germany), explains. “If, from time to time, someone posts a relevant article that they have written, that can be very useful and is something we appreciate. But if they’re regularly posting articles from other sources, it can be detrimental. Some people post five or six times per day and you begin to wonder why they have so much time on their hands.”

Read more of this article and the rest of this issue of Executive Talent.



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