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Social computing, sunlight, recruiting, and rejection

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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May 5, 2006 5:19:00 PM

The Canadian Headhunter has a good post referencing Charlene Li's blogat Forrester discussing whether Chevy's "Apprentice" SUV ad campaign backfired when anti-SUV activists used the Chevy site to post anti-SUV messages. Charlene Li says it didn't backfire because it allowed the company to engage its critics in their own forum.

Jobster CTO Phil Bogle adds that a dose of the same kind of sunlight would be good for the recruiting process as well:
Why can't we introduce openness and authenticity in the conversations between employers and prospective employees? The results may not be as glossy, but I'll take real and meaningful over glossy any day.

The problem here comes with the term meaningful. It is surprising how difficult it is to find out what your customers really think of you, whether you have five of them or five million. To the extent that "social computing" techniques help draw authentic and unfiltered customer opinion out, they will help businesses to do better. The problem is that many of the critics you may find yourelf engaging are not really honest brokers.

It's kind of like when James Bond asks Goldfinger, "Do you expect me to talk," and he replies, "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

Recruiting is going to encounter an especially large challenge here because like dating, it is a process of rejecting people. No matter how nicely you do it, some people are going to take it badly, and a few of them are going to make it their life's mission to cause you as much pain as you caused them. Unfortunately, it's precisely these kinds of critics that take the most time and energy to deal with. 

Of course, someone who got rejected for a job at Morgan Stanley has always had the right to carry a sandwich board on the sidewalk in front of the building and hand out leaflets. But this took energy, and reached very few people. With social computing, the gadflies can reach a global audience from the comfort of their sofas.

And contra Ms. Li, I think bringing these sorts of critics into your own forum lends them a credibility they might otherwise lack. Today any crank with an axe to grind can lash out at TGI Fridays on his blog and have it come uppage one of a Google search for "work TGI Fridays". But, the casual web browser will also play a little game of "consider the source" and perhaps conclude, "this guy is a crank."**

To wit, MySpace and Blogger are like the sidewalk, and you can't legally shut up someone who is determined to make a scene there. But, should you invite them into the lobby and offer them a refreshing beverage? And don't forget, when you ask them to leave, all their friends may show up to join the protest. After all, it's certainly not your best interests they care most about.

If you really want to see where this is headed, I would keep an eye on the dating services. They are well ahead of the recruiting space in terms of sophistication in these areas, and the issues are very similar.

** Disclaimer: This post does not constitute an opinion for or against TGI Fridays. This was simply the first example grabbed out of the air. I suspect that any business of any kind will have loud detractors, some legitimate, others not. Which is really the point.