Google+: The Holy Grail of Sourcing?

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Aug 24, 2011

I’ve taken a while to weigh in on Google+, partially because I simply haven’t had time to play with it, and partially because quite honestly I think I’ve hit my fatigue level with social networks. And I suspect I’m not alone in that.

Don’t get me wrong, I immediately notice the relevance to branding, learning, and knowledge sharing. Those are no-brainers. And if Google ever opens up Plus to its Apps customers (we here at ERE Media are customers), I’ll happily hop on the bandwagon because I think it’ll give SocialCast and Yammer a run for their money for private network communication and sharing.

But for sourcing and recruiting? Well, I needed to take it for a test drive myself before making a comprehensive assessment.

Shiny New Object

My colleague John Zappe did a terrific synopsis of some of Google+’s features. Let’s first consider some of the positives of Google+:

  • User potential: It was built on a humongous, well-established platform to begin with. Google+ requires that you have a Gmail account to sign up. There are well over 200 million Gmail users worldwide. That’s an awful lot of potential Google+ accounts.
  • Circles: a really cool way to compartmentalize your contacts.
  • Sparks: a great way to quickly browse for topic areas of interest. Think industry or function news bites.
  • Sharing/collaborating tools: Google+ has Huddle (a group messaging service through its mobile apps [iPhone and Android]) as well as Hangout (a way to do a group video conference; something that was previously available through the failed Google Wave project)
  • Mobile app: I think of all the positives of Google+ this one stands out the most for me. There are some neat and unique features in the mobile app,  like the Nearby search which lets you check out what people in close proximity to you are sharing.

But let’s get our heads out of the clouds for a minute and consider some of the realities…

It Takes a Village

The old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, Google+ is our “child,” and it’s going to take the whole village to raise it up proper-like. Meaning: the resource will only be as good as what we, its users, put into it. Right now, the majority of the active users seem to be male and either students, engineers, or entrepreneurs, as depicted with this interesting infographic by Bime Analytics. So, if you’re in the market for entry-level hiring or trying to convince a start-up entrepreneur to join your team, you’re in luck.

Think in terms of your ATS, sourcers. It has the potential to be your absolute best resource for finding candidates — but this is ONLY if it is populated, organized, and searchable. After all — if there are no candidates in your ATS, then what good is it as a resource? And even if there are candidates in it, what if they’re not tagged or categorized? If things aren’t properly organized, then you won’t be able to find anything.

But it first starts with population. There are a LOT of people on Google+ — estimations are that over 25 million users got on just in the first month. But that’s about the level of most users’ interaction — they’re “on it.” A study conducted by Bime Analytics that reported that 83% of Google+ users are inactive, describing an “active” Google+ user as someone who has posted publicly on G+ at least one time. (This of course does not take into account users who post privately on the site, nor those who may choose to comment on others’ posts without making any of their own.) Still, to me that’s like buying a gym membership — you get no benefit unless you actually go to the gym and use it.

So How Should a Sourcer Use Google+?

I will admit — as I’ve dug deeper into Google+, I have found a variety of uses for it as a sourcing tool. I recently asked the following question of two of my Circles (Sourcing and Recruiting):

What, if anything, are you doing with Google+ from a recruiting standpoint?

Some of the recruiter responses I’ve received have been:

Just building my network for the time when it becomes useful.

I’ve added previous candidate contacts from my past recruitment gigs who are on Google plus.

Started searches of profiles of people I typically source for and started added them in appropriate circles. No direct recruiting yet.

Just posted to Twitter how there has certainly been a lot of “joining” on G+, but not a lot of activity…thus far…

And from the sourcers:

Xray for candidates or xray for links. I just started to group candidates by circles. Long process. I figured it might come in handy in the future. [emphasis mine] is great… is another great one.

I like the Spark option: For example, getting content, market research, and prospects around .Net by checking out “.net developer”

So naturally, the sourcers are poking at it with a stick to see what more can be done through back-door searches. You should definitely check out Glen Cathey’s article on conducting site: searches to find Google+ profiles. Fun fact: I’ll bet you didn’t know that is nothing more than a Google CSE, created by Alvaro Valiño Lopez. Kudos to him for this. (thanks to Mike Notaro for helping me with part of the research to find this!)

But in order for Google+ to really impress me — you know, bring something brand spanking new to the table — there had to be much more.

Wait… I Think the Holy Grail of G+ Sourcing Has Been Found!

In poking around Google+’s own ‘Find People’ search, I discovered something cool. I didn’t realize just how cool it was though until I looked deep into it. Check this out:

  • If you run an easy search from ‘Find People’ — “product manager” — you will be kicked out to a regular Google search, but you’ll only be returned profile results. I opened up Advanced Options to see how this was being done, and I didn’t see anything added to my terms. Then, I decided to check out the URL of the search results to see if there was a clue:
  • Notice the bolded portion of the URL — &tbs=prfl:e — If you pull this out of the search and then run it again, what you get is a regular old search for a “product manager.” See the search results here.
  • That tells us that &tbs=prfl:e is the magic key for profile search within Google+. I wanted to see if it would work outside of the Google+ ‘Find People’ search, so I tested it out with a few additional searches. I plugged the following search phrases into a regular Google search — first without the key, and then attaching it to the end of the search results URL:

“electrical engineer”

Just in case you don’t work in a tech field, here is a search for “construction manager”

And just for good measure, how about a search for “pastor starkville” (that’s Starkville, MS, population approx. 24,000) — just for the ‘wow’ factor

For those who may be asking, “Why not just use ‘Find People’ — it works the same,” the beauty of this key is that you don’t have to have a Google+ account — or a Google or Gmail account for that matter — in order to use it and find these profiles. You can just tack it on to the end of any Google search result URL to find people. And according to this article by Ilia Draznin you can set up a Profiles search using this key directly from your FireFox awesome bar. I think that’s why I find it so interesting.

Granted — this magic key only works with Google so it’s not a universal search tool like the site: searches Glen Cathey shared, but I owe former Internet researcher Suzy Tonini a huge apology for doubting her. She is a big fan of Google+ and tried for weeks to convince me that my jaded attitude was unfounded. These search results kind of blew me away, and I am eating a slice of humble pie in her honor.

There Is Always a BUT…

Of course, I cannot admit that I was fully wrong! The reason for all of this information being available is that Google+ profiles are nothing more than shined-up, polished Google profiles which were always quite easy to find. And I still think that in order to optimize your Google+ experience, you need to invest some time and effort into organizing, sharing, and outreach. And I know that the majority of its users will not do that.

Sourcing is no longer just about lead generation — there are serious elements of outreach and relationship development built into our current functions. If all we ever do with a resource is take from it, then we turn it into the Giving Tree — eventually, there will be nothing left to take. That’s why after digging into Google+ a bit, I feel it’s important to go beyond the sourcing, develop your Circles, and participate in sharing, posting, and commenting.

Curation is King

Some say “Content is king,” while others say “Context is king.” In this situation, curation is the absolute power. Curation is usually associated with art; the word itself means the act of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. Some have added ‘digital’ to the word and define digital curation as the selection, preservation, maintenance, and collection and archiving of digital assets. This is basically what we do all day long as sourcers, and a major part of what is required in order to derive benefit from Google+ — in my personal opinion.

Without organizing Google+, it just becomes yet another ‘free resource’ through which a sourcer will have to slog in order to find anything valuable. Circles must be set up if you’re going to find anything here. Which is where I think the biggest hindrance is for speedy adoption of Google + as a holistic sourcing tool. It personally took me a few hours to create and populate my own Circles. Who has that kind of spare time during their workday? And will the average person take the time to put a ton of thought into how they want to organize their contacts? You and I will of course because we are curious and passionate about our resources. But the average recruiting or sourcing professional I assure you will not spend much time with this.

My final assessment: Google+ will provide some excellent new avenues with which to source. The profile key derived from the ‘Find People’ search is perhaps one of the coolest sourcing hacks I’ve ever found and I’m sure it will come in handy for many of you. But I think you can –and should — take it a step further and participate in outreach and community as well. Will it ‘kill’ any other social networks? I don’t think so. Most people are just now becoming accustomed to Facebook and probably don’t want to spend the time setting up yet another network. But in the meantime, I think it’s worth investing a little time in for investigation purposes.

I stand corrected. 🙂 Google+ in its development has provided a game-changing experience for sourcing. Go check it out for yourself and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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