Confusing the “Thing” with the “Think”
By D. Mark Hornung June 2009
Charles de Gaulle is remembered best for leading Free French forces during World War II and his
reign as President of France. His celebrity began much earlier, however, with the publication of
Vers l’armée de métier (“The Army of the Future”) in 1934. Drawing upon his experiences as an
army officer in World War I, de Gaulle proposed the creation of specialized armored divisions and
using tanks to drive attacks in conjunction with supporting air power.
His theories were dismissed by the French general staff, but ironically had an avid following
in the German Wehrmacht. Adolf Hitler even studied de Gaulle’s book as he planned the Nazi
invasion of France.
The blitzkrieg was so successful that panzer divisions became emblematic of the German
successes early in the war. The Germans themselves began to believe that their key to victory
lay in having the best tanks, and built fearsome weapons such as the Panther, Tiger II, and
Köningstiger (“Bengal Tiger”) right up to the last days of the war.
As lethal as these weapons were, ultimately the Germans lost. There were many reasons why, but
strategic errors such as trying to fight a two-front war and not investing enough in air power to
counter Allied bombing were chief among them. The Germans got so caught up in the myth of
having the best tools—tanks, and later, missiles—that they lost sight of the bigger picture, i.e.,
winning the war.
“Thing” vs. “Think”
Much of the discussion today about the future of recruiting and employment focuses on Twitter,
Facebook and other popular social media platforms. These applications have already begun to
change how recruiting is done while coming of age during the worst recession since the 1930s.
One could argue that part of the attraction of social media for employers is the perception that
they are relatively cheap, even “free.” So, at a time when budgets are under scrutiny and being
cut, using low cost methods seems prudent.
The other attraction is the luster derived from using such tools. Employers want to appeal to
younger workers. They believe that by using the same media to reach prospects that those
prospects themselves use to chat with friends, employers will ingratiate themselves with
Yet both of these attractions of social media are deceptive. Worse, the meteoric rise of
these platforms is blinding people to the very real need to have a well thought-out, thorough
communications strategy before they go tweeting or creating Facebook pages. As my esteemed
colleague Rich Goidel likes to remind us, never confuse the “thing”—i.e., the tool or application
or platform—with the “think,” the strategy or creative concept that ultimately wins the day.
“Free” Often Isn’t
Twitter allows you to start an account for free. So do Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and virtually
all social sites. Creating posts for Twitter is dead simple: you just type up to 140 characters
(not even words!). Other sites require a little more effort, but by and large they, too, are fairly
easy to master on your own. Social networks, it would seem, are the proverbial “match made in
heaven” for recruiters contending with shrinking budgets.
The appeal of “free” masks the very real hidden costs incurred when embarking on a social
First, there is the cost of your time. The minutes (sometimes hours) spent crafting the perfect
tweet or enhancing your Facebook page have a cost. And, while the initial cost of composing your
message is still relatively low, then there are the costs associated with handling the replies.
Most employers sidestep these costs by simply tweeting a job title, brief description, and
abbreviated URL that links to the employer’s careers Web site and the complete job description.
The prospect is taken directly to the job description, and from there he or she may go on to apply
The problem is that social networks are not broadcasting media. Sure, that’s how they’re being
used by more and more businesses as the medium grows and attracts attention. But we’re
making the same mistake today we made back in the mid-90s when everyone treated Web sites
like electronic brochures. Everyone was so enthralled by the speed and cost savings of the Web
(No printing! No inventory! Make changes on the fly!), that they overlooked the interactivity that
proved to be the real power of the Web. Today the most popular sites are those that link us to
sources of information or people (think Google, Facebook and Yahoo); it’s the linking that makes
the Web different from print, not the economics (indeed, some Web sites cost much more than
If you want to use social media, make sure to budget enough in terms of resources, staff
and—yes—money to allow you to use social media in ways where it returns the most on your
investment: as a platform for dialogue with your prospects. Make sure you have a real budget
for doing social media properly or you may wind up looking like those employers in the late 90s
whose careers Web sites were static and unappealing. The pace of change since then has, if
anything, accelerated exponentially so you need to ensure that you are prepared to do social
“But All the Kids Are Doing It”
Those of you who are parents have heard this refrain from your kids ad nauseam. And we all
know the answer taught us in Parenting 101: “So if all the kids want to jump off of a cliff, you
do, too?” Thus, it is surprising how many corporations are driven to start tweeting or blogging or
having a Facebook page simply because other businesses do so.
Don’t misunderstand—social media are very powerful and hold fabulous promise. Like any
other powerful force, however, social media can backfire with unforeseen and negative results if
A notable example of what NOT to do is Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, which started a blog to
connect with its customers. (How this would sell more gum hasn’t been explained to date.) Of
course, the executives at Juicy Fruit couldn’t be bothered to actually write the blog, so they
hired an agency to do it for them. The resulting train wreck caused uproar in the blogsphere.
Michael Arrington, noted author of the TechCrunch blog wrote, “If you took everything good
about blogging and Web 2.0 and chuck it out the window, and then add back in everything that
is wrong with traditional marketing, you’d end up with the Juicy Fruit blog.” (Fake corporate blogs
have become so common—and disliked—they now have their own Web 2.0 handle: “flogs.”)
It is also interesting to point out that social media have not shown solid results yet. A survey of
college students conducted by AfterCollege in early 20091 found that the top sources for career
information were rather traditional:
Online Job Boards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72%
Applied directly to employer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71%
Spoke to someone at employer of interest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63%
Attend a school career fair . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60%
Speak with friends / family members . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60%
Visit employers careers Web site . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56%
Employment contractor, agency or recruiter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50%
On-campus information sessions / interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48%
Speak to a professor, teacher, instructor, or dean . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45%
Visit career center at school . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36%
Look in the newspaper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29%
Network at an association or club (trade / industry) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24%
Read / subscribe to an e-newsletter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15%
Read about it or chat about on a blog that pertained to a career interest . . . . 12%
Chat about it on a social networking site, such as Facebook or LinkedIn . . . . .11%
This does not mean that employers should not pursue social media aggressively. What it does
mean is that employers should take the time to understand the media, develop a plan that uses
each platform to its best advantage, and then experiment. After all, since social media is still in
its infancy now is the perfect time to try different platforms and approaches to see what works
and what doesn’t. But it is foolhardy to believe that social media replace or displace other,
If you are still anxious to jump off the cliff with all of the other kids, I have just two words for
you: Second Life. Way back in 2007 it was all the rage for business and recruiting. At the time,
the value of transactions on Second Life exceeded US$1 million per day as people used their
avatars to speculate in virtual real estate and sell computer systems. Today, the technology used
AfterCollege.com, 30 April 2009 in Second Life has been adapted successfully by IBM and other major corporations for training
and development. But it is no longer viable as a recruiting medium—it took hours to set up and
learn how to use the avatars, and questions about the efficacy of the medium doomed it as a
recruiting or sales platform.
Virtual reality as found in Second Life will return again someday and someone will figure out how
to use it effectively for recruiting. But the lesson of Second Life for recruiters should be that it’s
better and more cost effective to be a “fast follower” rather than be on the “bleeding edge.”
What Your Response Should Be to Social Media
For those of you hoping social media is a fad that will go away, it won’t. Facebook now has
more members than the population of the U.S. and Twitter is growing at an exponential rate.
Social media are here to stay and are changing the way people interact with each other and with
employers. You need to have a strategy for using social media effectively and staying current with
its rapidly-changing development.
Here are five fundamental steps to get you started:
1. Adopt a social media mindset. Social media are all about being “social,” i.e.,
interacting with people. It’s not about your organization pushing messages out to an
audience; it’s about engaging in dialogue with your audiences, listening to what they
have to say and replying in kind.
2. Acknowledge that you have lost control. As with any dialogue, you can control only
your portion of the discussion. You need to be prepared for disagreements, complaints,
disruptions, and other unpredictable behavior. This is probably the element of social
media that scares institutions the most, but it is also inherent in the media. Trying to
control social media is akin to trying to control the weather: it’s too complex, made up
of too many components, for any one entity—no matter how large—to control. Your
best hope is to influence the discussion.
3. Be authentic and transparent. The best examples of corporate use of social media
have people who are explicit about their connection to the organization, willing to
acknowledge or even point out when the organization makes a mistake or does
something unwise, and share something about themselves as people. An
anonymous, eternally positive presence will immediately be recognized as corporate
manipulation and repudiated by the audience (in case you’re wondering, it’s known as
4. Incorporate social media into an overall communications strategy. Social media cannot
replace other forms of communications entirely. Organizations still need to advertise,
use public relations and community relations, and publish timely, interesting and
interactive Web content. If you have a static or shrinking budget, you may have to
re-allocate money away from some of the more traditional media towards social media,
but don’t think you can eliminate your advertising or PR budgets because “everyone
is on Twitter.” Used properly, social media can energize your offline and online
communications efforts and make them pay even greater dividends.
5. Have a comprehensive social media policy. A recent survey by Deloitte2 found that
only 17% of companies surveyed had a program in place dedicated to monitoring
social media. Less than a quarter—22% —had a formal policy on how employees
may or may not use social media. These are disasters waiting to happen. In Human
Resources, you need to monitor a variety of media to understand what is being said
about your organization as an employer, including:
• Forums on sites such as Indeed.com and SimplyHired
• Employment reputation sites such as glassdoor.com, vault.com, criticat.com,
• Blog posts and mentions
• Videos posted on YouTube and similar sites
• Facebook pages and postings by employees, former employees, etc.
• Twitter comments
Formulating a comprehensive social media use policy will inevitably involve Human
Resources and Legal. The Deloitte survey found that 24% of employees don’t know
if their employers have a social media policy, and another 11% know there is one but
don’t know what it is. More interesting, 61% said they don’t care if their employers
know they are on social sites and 53% said it is none of the employer’s business.
Until you can hash out a thorough social media policy, use the one IBM did while its
task force was working on the final document: “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Good examples of social media policies may be found at
Start with the End in Mind
Focus on your communications strategy—what you want to say, to whom, why, when, where, and
how—before deciding on which tool to use to accomplish your objectives. If social media can
help you achieve those aims (and the odds of that are growing daily), then you need to have the
five fundamentals outlined earlier in place.
Once those are in place, have fun. Literally. You will meet people who are fascinating and they,
2 in turn, will point you to other people and resources you would never have found otherwise.
Deloitte LLP, “Social newtorking
and reputational risk in the As General de Gaulle described 75 years ago, use the latest tools and techniques in innovative
workplace,” 2009 Ethics and ways to achieve success. Or suffer the failure of his bosses who chose to ignore the new in favor
Workplace Survey, May 2009 of the tried and true.
About the Author
D. Mark Hornung is a Senior Vice President of Bernard Hodes Group. Called “the father of
employer branding,” he works with clients in healthcare, high technology, financial services,
retail, and other industries. He is a well-known speaker on the topic, appearing at The Conference
Board, Human Resources Institute of New Zealand, Society for Human Resource Management
(SHRM), and the Australian Human Resources Summit.
Mark has taught in the Marketing Communications certificate program of San José State
University. Mark has a degree in Philosophy from John Carroll University.
He is co-author, with Richard A. Moran, Ph.D., of Opportunities in Microelectronics Careers,
published by the National Textbook Company. Mark contributed a chapter to the recent anthology
Employer Branding: Concepts and Cases, published by ICFAI Press of Hyderabad in 2006. His
private writing has also appeared in The New Yorker.
You may follow Mark on Twitter: @waqueau1 and see where he takes you!
Learn how Hodes can help you develop your social media strategy at www.hodes.com,
or contact us today at 888.438.9911 and email@example.com