A trend noted by Andrew Razeghi and Jeanne Meister that began in 2012 and has come to pervade HR strategy discussions in 2013 is that of the so-called “social economy”–a change in attitude across industries that suggests visibility and influence are now more valuable to a potential employer than a laundry list of invisible accomplishments. Tied up in the discussion is social media analytics tool Klout which aggregates all of your social media accounts to provide an estimated assessment of your potential reach to a given audience. While social media is undeniably an increasingly important part of business interactions, the real question that the social economy raises is whether resumes matter if an amateur can crowdsource the same expertise as a veteran by utilizing their extended networks.
Business has only ever had one master: results. Results are currently shaking the foundation of recruiting as we know it by forcing us to admit that we don’t really care what qualifications employees have as long as they’re faster and better than our competitor’s. Just take a look at a few of the leading recruiting solutions: TribeHR, The Resumator, iApplicants, and OpenHire all have dedicated social recruiting features that claim to get your job more exposure and better applicants than through traditional methods of hiring. To cite a staggering statistic from iApplicants’ social media recruiting benefits page, 89 percent of companies will use social media to find and hire new candidates in 2013, an 83 percent increase from 2012. In this sense, looking to social media to find the best candidates is quickly leaving the realm of a marketing strategy and becoming a mandatory part of competition in the market. As Meister put it,
“If personal branding seems shallow, think again. Putting value on candidates’ networks and spheres of influences makes perfect sense in an age where crowd sourcing the right solution to a problem is just as good as coming up with it yourself.”
Before exploring the social economy’s effect on recruiting any further, I’d like to draw an analogy to highlight the natural skepticism people have for achieving results by unconventional means. If you’re a fan of Jeopardy! you probably remember Watson, the IBM-developed artificial intelligence computer designed to beat humans at their own game—interpreting natural language, comprehending the clues, and providing appropriate questions for the given answers. Like most I immediately drew comparisons to Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer that fell to grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1996, only to be rebuilt the following year and defeat him amidst accusations of cheating. At first this seems a legitimate grievance but Deep Blue was made by humans too, right? Ostensibly, computers can only reach possible outcomes within the frameworks that we give them, thus whether Deep Blue cheated isn’t nearly as interesting as the implication that it could have, that something artificial could compete with and even beat Kasparov at his own game.
When Watson made mincemeat of Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings despite shortcomings that produced nonsensical answers on multiple occasions, public reaction was vitriol. Philosopher John Searle was so incensed he wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled Watson Doesn’t Know It Won on ‘Jeopardy!’ explaining that although Watson produced the most correct responses, “there is no such thing as computer understanding.”
The question that Watson and Deep Blue raise isn’t about computers though, it’s about people. It is the same question Razeghi raised in his article Do You Hire for IQ or Klout Score?, namely, “Is it more valuable to have the answer? Or is it more valuable to know who has the answer?” As all aspects of our lives, especially our professional lives, become publicly available information, there is an invisible tectonic shift happening under our feet. If you’re looking for the best, the most experienced, the most affordable, or any other superlative in your industry, the value of a potential candidate’s ability per se is moving ever closer to zero. To return to the analogy, despite that Rutter and Jennings are Jeopardy!’s greatest champions, Watson consistently produced the same answers in a shorter period of time.
As much as the idea of an essay sourced from Wikipedia makes me cringe, who’s to say that the information it contains is any less legitimate than the same facts from a paper painstakingly researched at the library? Maybe it’s because there are 7 billion of us, or maybe it’s because there are Wi-Fi hotspots in every corner of the globe, but no matter the reason we’re all drowning in the noise of a smaller, more competitive world. As we continue our transition to a social economy, Razeghi concludes that,
“Success only happens to those who innovate out loud. Your idea is worthless if no one cares about it, but it’s worth even less if no one knows about it.”
The social economy Razeghi describes isn’t a theory but a name for something that already exists. As soon as I begin to rebuke Klout scores and Twitter followers as indicators of economic value I’m immediately humbled as I drive past restaurants I’ll never visit because they don’t have Yelp profiles. To deny any longer that a job seeker’s success depends on social media as much as the restaurant down the street isn’t cynical, it’s naïve. If social media is the level playing field of Harrison Bergeron, applicants aren’t being handicapped but rather competing to augment their virtual selves as much as they can to stand a chance of being noticed by recruiters. Does a candidate’s Klout score matter? Is it lower than the others?
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