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Human Resources

Why (and How) HR Needs to Act More Like Marketing

Why (and How) HR Needs to Act More Like Marketing

Mark W. Schaefer on Nov 24, 2016

At this point, we all know that company culture plays a pivotal role in companies hurtling into out digital transformations. This is particularly true for the marketing department, which is changing at such a break-neck pace that marketing success now depends heavily on support from HR to identify and train new skillsets.

On the flip side, success in HR could use a major assist from marketing, or at least HR professionals who think like marketers. The competition for the best talent is fast and furious and, in many cases, that battleground is the social web.

This year, I have been working on an in-depth evaluation of recruiting practices for a Fortune 500 company. It’s clear that an injection of marketing thinking could help lead to the HR transformation the company needs; and I doubt this company is an outlier. Specifically, HR could benefit from adopting seven marketing practices:

1. Compete for talent the way companies compete for customers. Today there is intense competition for the very best talent. When a high-potential employee checks out a company, the first place they go is increasingly social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, or perhaps review sites like Glassdoor.

The company presence on these sites is usually owned by marketing or PR. Through my research for this project, I found that most companies take an extremely sales-oriented approach to their web presence.

But in many industries, finding the best employees might be as important as finding the best customers. Why wouldn’t we take a more balanced, recruiting-centric approach to our web presence?

2. Pay more attention to user interfaces. As part of this project, I also kicked the tires on the process for people seeking to apply for jobs at the largest tech companies. What I found across the board was a cumbersome, clunky process designed to feed information into an algorithm. The process is not human-oriented, it’s computer-oriented.

As a job applicant, I would like to fill in a few fields and then have access to a live person through chat or maybe even a live person via web video. This is a common practice in customer service. Why wouldn’t we provide the same kind of attention to people who want to work for us and lead us into the future?

3. Be. More. Human. At the end of many of my talks and articles I emphasize that in the digital age, the most human companies will win. We have fantastic opportunities to use technology to tear down barriers between people instead of erecting them.

And yet, after evaluating dozens of industry websites, on nearly every HR-oriented web page I viewed in my study, these opportunities were lost. If you have applied for a job lately, perhaps you’ve seen …

  • Stock photo images of perfectly diverse people jumping for joy instead of real faces and real smiles in a real workplace.
  • Text-heavy descriptions of what the company does instead of stories (especially videos) of how the company feels to people who work there.
  • A lack of the use of video “tours” as a medium to communicate the culture and values of the company.

Have you seen this cool promotion by the country of Sweden? Sweden has a phone number. You can call a toll-free number and talk to a random Swede who has volunteered to be an ambassador for the nation. Why wouldn’t we do this at a large company? If I was conflicted between an offer from Acme Pharmaceuticals and MegaSource Software, the chance to talk to a real employee might make the difference.

4. Build employees’ brands to help them amplify your message. On the marketing side, we frequently dream about networks of employees who post stories about our products, leading to massive new views to our content.

In reality, that doesn’t happen too often. Employee social sharing networks look good on paper but in reality, there has been mixed success. Who wants to post company fodder on Twitter or their personal Facebook page?

But talking about the culture at work, commenting about the pride they have in an organization, or posting photos from a company picnic … well, that’s easy to do. We should give employees the training and tools to do their very best job when creating content about the employment culture of the company.

I was recently working with a huge global tech giant and met a young lady who had started a blog on her own about how to use her company’s technology for social good. Nobody in her department even knew she had done it. Wow! How do we support a person like that, encourage her, and reward her? How could that young woman start a movement? Why wouldn’t the company amplify HER content instead of the other way around?

5. Try contextual advertising. Today any kind of marketing usually has a paid promotional component. If we are trying to attract employees instead of customers, why wouldn’t we do the same thing?

There are people talking online about their job hunting experiences all the time. It might make sense to show targeted ads that can help prospective employees with their questions and problems.

6. Think strategically about touchpoints. The buyer’s decision is a tangled mess of touchpoints. They may see ads, search online for information, and talk to friends. Marketers try to have some kind of content waiting customers at each point in the fragmented journey.

Obviously there is also a similar winding path to the employment journey. Why not consider populating those touchpoints with helpful information like we do on the marketing side? Consider adding content for each of the decision-points in a potential employee’s journey. Help them assess (and perhaps even compare) your company culture, pay, benefits, etc.

7. Use influencer marketing to recruit. We are rapidly moving toward a world in which ads are blocked or ignored, but people still love to receive information from the online personalities they love and trust.

I’ve never heard of HR using influencer marketing, but why not? When people seek information about a company, who are they most likely to listen to? How do we connect with those important online personalities in a meaningful way so that they become advocates for our company?

One tech company hired a well-known industry blogger to create content on behalf of the company. Due to the blogger’s prestigious status the company instantly gained credibility. Wouldn’t HR recruiting efforts benefit from a similar strategy?

I realize most of these ideas are untested. But at least to a marketer’s eyes, existing HR recruiting practices are so behind our digital times that there’s little to lose in trying them.

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