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When searching for potential candidates most HR professionals never find their "purple squirrel"—the too-good-to-be-true candidate—instead sorting through thousands of resumes only to settle on an average or below average candidate. It's an issue that has always plagued recruiters, but with more options for candidates and increasingly competitive job offers, the talent shortage has become even more intense. So, what should you do once you have exhausted your own talent database and internal referral networks?

One option is to turn to social recruiting to identify, engage with and hire talent. Social networks have grown exponentially over the past few years and represent huge potential people databases. From the huge global networks like Facebook and Twitter to the small niche networks, they all have one thing in common—people talking, sharing and engaging with others. The content of these interactions and the personal information they share on their bios make social networks a great place for recruiters to find new talent.

Create Your Candidate Persona

To recruit on social media you need a good understanding of where to go to search for the talent you want to recruit. First, identify the people you are targeting by building a "candidate persona"—a better understanding of your target recruit will help you choose the right social networks to use. To do this, answer four major questions:

  1. What personal data such as location, education, and remuneration package fit the role?
  2. What are the goals of your target candidates? This will help you pitch them on the opportunities of the new job.
  3. What does your ideal candidate value in a role and company? This will give you valuable leverage when contacting them.
  4. What is the marketing message you will use to engage candidates on social media? And how will you get their interest?

After you've defined the persona, figure out which social networks are likely to be most effective to find the candidates you need.

How to Pick the Right Social Network

Different social networks appeal to different types of people. The generic social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have members from all walks of life. But specialist networks like Stack Overflow and Github cater to a certain peer group. Finding and focusing on the right network, based on your candidate personas, will make your searches much more effective. Here's a quick breakdown of each platform:

LinkedIn

As the world's largest professional network, it has the majority of role types on the platform, and as such it should always be the default search initially.

Facebook

Facebook is the world's largest social network by far and has every single profession on it. The challenge with Facebook is that career data is often unstructured, so recruiting requires a little more work. You can use the Facebook Search Chrome extension to make your candidate search easier. You can try job titles, but I recommend focusing more on target companies and locations.

Stack Overflow and Github

Community network Stack Overflow and crowdsourcing platform Github are uniquely geared toward software engineers, developers and IT professionals. To tap into these tech-heavy networks, you may want to ask someone on your IT team to help. On Stack Overflow, you can ask questions and post job opportunities to source candidates, while Github allows you to crowdsource standalone software projects.

Dribbble and Behance

Dribbble and Behance allow creatives—from web designers to videographers to producers—to share their work. Both sites are excellent stops to vet and source creative freelancers or full-time employees.

Twitter

A wide variety of people use it but with a limit of 160 characters for a bio, you need to be clever with the words you choose to search for people with. It is very strong for talent in the media, sales and marketing industries.

Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest

As you would expect from the visual social networks, these platforms are great for looking for marketers, branding, advertising and creative people.

Engaging With Your Candidate

Last but not least, remember that identifying candidates on social networks is one thing, but reaching out to effectively engage with them is another. Make sure your social profiles are personal (not corporate) and take some time to first follow, like and/or share a persons updates on a platform before you go straight in with the recruiting questions. Just engaging with their content initially will make your first contact with them a little "warmer," increasing your chances of taking the conversation further.

Photo: Twenty20