Archive for November, 2007

Facebook, SEEK, and Inkblots

Friday, November 16th, 2007

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It’s good to see a well-known job board in our part of the world making a debut on Facebook.  This week SEEK launched a sponsored group on the Facebook platform and built up a membership of nearly 2000 members.  Facebook is becoming a major audience for marketers, with over 285,000 active users in New Zealand and over 1.9 million active users in Australia.   SEEK has been running banner ads on Facebook and annoying (but cleverly placed) “social ads” in my Newsfeed, but a sponsored group is a major investment, possibly at a cost (according to rumour) of around NZ$120,000 per month.

I’ve been exploring hundreds of sponsored groups and looking at their branding and marketing approaches and I believe the SEEK group is up there with the best.  Developing a sponsored group allows greater levels of branding and customisation and the SEEK group in my eyes is more visually appealing and engaging than their site on the world wide web.  I also believe that SEEK have thought quite a bit about their strategy.  Though the Facebook group is very self-promotional and doesn’t showcase employer brands to the same extent as a number of other jobsites on Facebook, SEEK have done a few very clever things.  SEEK are encouraging group members to comment on their “Curious” TV ad campaign, and by default engaging with SEEK’s brand. 

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Secondly, they have developed a Facebook Application called SEEK Inkling, based on the famous Rorschach inkblot tests traditionally used in a psychological evaluation context.  I enjoy trying to see patterns in inkblots and have invited all my Facebook friends to download the Application and share their interpretations.  Many of my friends have done this and as a consequence joined the SEEK Facebook group.  Their inkblot interpretations appear in my Newsfeed when I log into Facebook.  The feedback SEEK provides on one’s interpretations is again framed to reinforce SEEK’s brand messages.  Though I believe the Application could be improved, it has major protential to become viral and introduce SEEK to a broader worldwide and passive jobseeker audience.

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You can also download the SEEK Job Search Application that can sit on your Facebook profile page.  I have found this Application to be a bit unreliable, with server timeout errors, but this is not that unusual for new Applications.  I hate being flicked out of Facebook to other sites and I note that the Job Search Application directs me to the SEEK website.  If I’m a Facebook user I also don’t want to be “emailed” vacancies that may suit my job search preference criteria.  I welcome the trialblazer that offers true Facebook integration.

Since the last Engage Blog on Facebook and recruitment, things have been moving at a hurricane rate, as has the age demographic of Facebook members, with the fastest growing demographic being people over 25 years of age.

Paul Jacobs
Engage

A visit to the Opportunities New Zealand Expo - London

Monday, November 5th, 2007

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Last month I visited the Opportunites New Zealand Expo that took place at Earls Court in London from Friday afternoon, 12 October through to Sunday, 14 October.  This twice-yearly event is penciled into the diaries of quite a few New Zealand employers and recruitment agencies - in fact many exhibitors were staying on to attend the Manchester expo the following week.  Previously Edinburgh has been included on the circuit and next year Leeds will replace Manchester.  The event is intended to capture Brits wanting to work and live in New Zealand or those skilled New Zealanders considering returning home.  All exhibitors were hoping to find jobseekers with specialist and/or hard to find skill sets, typically in areas where there is a skill shortage back in NZ.

Clients often ask if it’s worthwhile exhibiting at the expo and if so, is it better to rent their own stand or use a recruitment agency to represent them?  Back in NZ I have heard some glowing comments from past exhibitors and some less than favourable comments.  My visit on the Sunday afternoon provided an opportunity to see the expo first hand and talk with a cross-section of exhibitors and visitors about their experiences and perceptions. 

I would like to thank all those I spoke with, including Kylie Barker, the expo’s Marketing & PR Manager, for her personal tour (especially considering she was really busy at the time).  Kylie, your time was very much appreciated!  I did promise the people I spoke with that any specific comments will remain anonymous, and any comments from me are purposely general for this reason.  Please also excuse my photography skills - I didn’t have a tripod and light filters like the press photographers that were present at the time.

Sunday afternoon

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As I walked towards the the IBIS Hotel venue I noticed a stream of people (some wearing English rugby jerseys) leaving with colourful, large and full plastic bags with the expo branding.  This created an expectation that inside it would be packed. 

As I entered the large expo room, there were quite a few visitors, but not as many as I anticipated.  There was an element of disappointment from exhibitors about visitor numbers on Friday and Sunday.  Saturday was the busiest day and exhibitors seemed generally satisfied.  A number of explanations for lesser numbers on Sunday were bandied around, including closures of the Circle and District underground lines and too much partying following England’s rugby world cup semi-final win against France the night before.  The expo organisers received about 6,000 pre-registrations, but the final attendee figures were around 4,500 (and 4,400 in Manchester).  Some visitors travelled quite a long way to come to the expo, from regions outside London or as far as Europe.

The cost of entry was 15 pounds.  The cost was described as a way to discourage tyre-kickers who may just come for the free give-aways.  A couple of exhibitors and visitors felt that this was very expensive for visitors bringing along their partners, who are just as likely to be involved in career decision making.

Quality not necessarily quantity

Many exhibitors were not too hassled by the visitor numbers; of more importance to them was the calibre, quality and suitability of visitors.  Most of the employers felt they had received a good number of CVs and met some great people, but some felt they had fallen a bit short on meeting their quotas for filling some very specialist, hard-to-fill roles.  Many would have liked to have seen a lot more expats - actually some were very disappointed about this.

Some exhibitors actually commented that too many visitors can be a curse and it makes it difficult for visitors to get close to their stand and engage with their recruiters. 

Targeting 

A few exhibitors felt quite strongly that there could have been more role-specific targeting by the organisers in their marketing initiatives.  Part of me thinks that individual exhibitors have a responsibility to differentiate themselves from other recruiters and target suitable people.  This could involve using appropriate advertising media before the event - promoting their region, organisation and/or specific roles - obviously encouraging suitable people to visit their expo stand and engage with their recruiters. 

Representation

All up there were 60 stands (58 in Manchester).  I noticed that there was a good cross-section of employers across a number of industries (eg banking, health, engineering, manufacturing, transport, retail, telecommunications, IT, local government). 

I thought, however, there would have been more representation from central public sector organisations.  Though some big name, recognisable brands were there, I was surprised by the absence of some, and that some major employers were exhibiting either for the first time or thereabouts.  I also expected to see a lot more recruitment agencies.  

There were a number of stands hosted by economic development agencies, promoting their regions and local career opportunities.  Some recruitment agencies (including UK-based ones) and employers attached themselves to these stands. Though this approach is innovative and provides economies of scale, I did find that a mix of players somewhat diluted the visual impact and in some cases was quite an unusual combination. 

The New Zealand Immigration Service’s stand was very welcoming, and had a steady flow of visitors.  Their hourly seminars proved to be popular with both visitors and recruiters alike.  

There were a lot of settlement service providers with stands (eg real estate agencies, banks, pet travel).  The banks were offering not only employment opportunities but also account and mortgage services.  Some employers felt uneasy that this took the focus off employment and that visitors were signing up to banking services before even getting a job.  I spoke with some visitors who were happy that they could learn about not only visa requirements but also settlement considerations. 

Branding 

As at any expo, some stands were very cleverly branded whilst I found others to be less engaging and as a consequence they appeared to have less visitors.  I felt some exhibitors could have better presented their employee value proposition (EVP) and/or hard-to-find roles.  Most (but not all) exhibitors looked approachable.  I think some of the exhibitors need to be a bit more strategic about marketing to visitors before, during and after the expo.

The expo organisers had a large stand promoting the WorkingIn website.  WorkingIn provides some good information and lists exhibitor vacancies.  I was impressed with the large glossy magazine given to all visitors which showcases each exhibitor.  This is a good take-away resource that I’m sure visitors will refer to.

The investment

It’s a major cost investment to book a stand, pay for travel and accommodation, and then produce supporting products like brochures and gifts.  It’s also a major time investment, with many exhibitors blocking out at least three weeks away from NZ.  Many exhibitors were making good use of their time and conducting pre-interviews (in many cases with candidates they met with at the London expo earlier in the year).  Some exhibitors were also staying on to exhibit at some industry-based job expos in Europe. 

Many exhibitors commented that they felt they needed to make three to five hires to get a return on investment, considering they would have spent the equivalent in fees if they used an agency.  Some exhibitors mentioned that as many as 50 visitors (or in some cases more) “could” end up being hired either by them directly or the employers they represent. 

Some NZ recruiters had a splattering of Brits at their stands, particularly if they have business partnerships, regional offices, or ownership arrangements in the UK.  Having people on the ground is actually quite useful for conducting interviews and follow-up meetings with suitable candidates.

Quite a few recruiters commented that it’s a big job in itself managing the administrative load that comes with receiving a lot of candidates all in one go.  A couple of exhibitors were using a dedicated person to work full-time on this task for a week or so.  Organisations that use an e-recruitment/applicant tracking system were finding the data management process a lot easier. 

Beyond the short-term

Many employers recognised that though most visitors to the expo seem motivated and “ready” to make the move to NZ, the immigration and settlement processes can take a while - sometimes up to 18 months. 

Some expo visitors are planning a reconnaissance trip to New Zealand within the next six or so months.  It was the second or third Opportunities New Zealand Expo that some visitors have come to and employers chatted to many of the same faces.  One medium- to longer-term benefit that employers mentioned was the ability to build a “talent pipeline”, a pool of people that they can engage actively with over time and steadily process them across the recruitment and selection workflow.  As a number of recruitment agencies and employers are competing for the same talent, the hard work doesn’t stop after the marketing banners are taken down at the expo.  The expectation is that the New Zealand Immigration Service will fast track immigration applications, and some employers are hoping to make all or some appointments within the next six months.

Fast tracking the selection process 

We are living in modern times.  Though visitors brought hard copies of their CVs, many brought along a data memory stick which the recruiters plugged directly into the USB drives of their computers to download an electronic copy of their CVs.  Some recruiters were encouraging visitors to complete applications via their careers sites/e-recruitment systems.

Many exhibitors were conducting interviews in the venue’s meeting rooms and some had cordoned off an area of their stand and were conducting on-the-spot interviews.  One exhibitor said their recruitment team stays in an apartment, which they feel provides a more professional look than conducting interviews pre- and post-expo in a hotel room, as many exhibitors do.  This employer made the point that they are “still creating first impressions”.

Some exhibitors were considering bringing along their hiring managers next time, so that they can make a quick selection decision.  Other exhibitors commented that it’s not appropriate to bring along hiring managers, as their recruitment models and processes do not encourage this.

Recruitment agency or employer representation?

Though my sample size is relatively small, I’m also drawing on discussions with recruitment consultants who have exhibited at the expo previously, and employers that have historically used agencies to represent them.  As mentioned above, the time and cost investment for the event is quite considerable.  One way of cutting costs is to pay an agency to represent an employer and share the costs of hiring the stand with other employers - recruitment fees still apply.  Chatting with the agencies at the expo I got the sense that this approach is great in theory but it’s quite difficult to add additional value if they don’t have a dedicated office or resource in the UK.  One agency was absolutely thrilled with the response, but another said that the only reason they had a stand was to market their services and network directly with employers.  I appreciated their honesty.  They felt it was hard to represent a number of employers and sensed that many visitors were more interested in talking to employers directly and getting a feel for the organisational fit.  Another agency agreed that visitors are becoming more discerning about the types of organisations they want to work for.

If you are considering using an agency, my recommendation is to identify the number of actual hires sourced historically for their clients as a direct result of having a stand at the expo.  One employer said that they don’t like having agencies there competing with them for the same talent. A couple of employers had previously used an agency to represent them, but felt that representing themselves produced better results and a range of further benefits (eg learning more about the UK market and the immigration processes, and having an opportunity to improve their employment branding initiatives).  Some employers were still open to receiving good applicants from an agency, especially if they were someone they had missed.  I’m in two minds about whether employers should pay an agency to promote them - developing a strategic partnership with an ecomonic development agency may better suit some organisations.  I did not notice any employer branding at any agency stands; in fact, to my eyes some of the agency branding was not as strong as either the employer-branding or branding from the economic development agencies.

Post-expo

I have subsequently read a lot of media releases about the London and Manchester expos.  They are all very positive.  I have also been reading with interest some of the chatter on blogs and internet forums from visitors to the expo.  Most of this is positive, and many plan to visit another NZ expo in the future.  On the not so positive front, many are planning to visit the Australian and Canadian expos run by the same event organisers. 

I’m having more detailed discussions with some of my clients that are considering having a stand in the future or improve their presence next time.  They are weighing up the investment required and whether it should form part of their recruitment strategies.  The employers that exhibited for the first time learnt a lot from the experience and enjoyed networking and sharing ideas and approaches with other exhibitors - and the hard work certainly didn’t stop when the expo shut its doors.

Paul Jacobs
Engage