Why Blame Social Media? Employee “Poaching” Has Been Going On Forever

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May 9, 2012

I said it often over at our sister publication TLNT: social media is an extension of the way we build relationships. Sure, it might change a few of the dynamics or the ease of which those relationships can be had. But many of the same principles that make people successful at building relationships and getting things done in real life are the same ones that are successful online.

Social media is a game changer in many ways but it is still hard to game human nature and ability. And when it is blamed for something that was going on before its time, there’s usually a counter-story there.

That’s why I was a bit amused when I saw an article saying that social media has enabled the poaching of employees.

Poaching employees made easier?

In a story by The Sydney Morning Herald, it paints sourcers and recruiters like you as the bad guys taking advantage of technology like social media to recruit candidates. How dare you:

Your best employees are most at risk of being poached by competitors under the new rules of the modernising economy.

That’s because changes in the workplace, growth of technology and the rise of social media now allow employers to cultivate relationships with prospective employees – even while they’re on your payroll.

The preference to recruit employed candidates, rather than those out of work, highlights the risk of a raid on your company’s talent pool.

I don’t have to mention that this has been happening for a long time. And by this, I mean poaching employees in general, not just poaching employees via social media.

Did we forget about the headhunters?

Those who can remember a time before the internet know that sourcing and recruiting of employed individuals happened long before the invent of social media. Whether it be a direct phone call off an industry list or perhaps pushing your network to give up names of people to talk to about an opening, in particularly critical positions, direct sourcing (or poaching) looked pretty similar to what it does today. At least in practice.

I remember hearing stories of headhunters doing anything they could to get a conversation with the top people in a competitor’s business. One person said he often called pretending to be an associate he was closing a business deal with only to reveal the true nature of the call when he finally got through.

This sort of direct contact happened all of the time, under the boss’s nose.

The audacity of connection

One other thing the piece suggested was the fact employees are building relationships with potential employers via social media.

Unfortunately, it also fails to mention that networking has been happening for ages. Industry groups, local business meetings and Rotary have been part of that landscape for years. Those meetings fostered relationships that built business deals and also landed more than their fair share of jobs.

Now, very few people see these networking groups as a risk (in fact, many employers encourage their employees to take part in these associations), so you have to wonder what is really so different about social media?

Ah, yes. The passive candidate trap.

When passive really isn’t passive

Maybe the biggest change that social media brings is that it is easier to mark yourself as a passive candidate than in the years before the internet. You can quietly network for a new position and accept offers to talk about new opportunities without raising anyone’s suspicions.

But employed doesn’t mean passive. Employed means employed and that comes with its own set of hurdles, but to compare anyone who is employed (but who may, more or less, be looking around for other opportunities) to truly passive candidates doesn’t really belong.

There’s nothing wrong with sourcing a slate of a wide variety of candidates in different job statuses (from active and unemployed, to passive and happily employed) but to say that anyone employed is passive is not accurate.

Ease, but for everyone

Of course, the problem now is the fact that it is relatively easy to find people online. A quality person with a visible social media profile is probably getting contacted. Frequently. Even very happy employees in the super passive category.

So while that might be some of the risk of social media, it is also an advantage. A good sourcing team can strike back using the same resources. And those who are skilled beyond the basics can further differentiate yourselves by finding people who aren’t found easily using a search on LinkedIn.

Sometimes sourcing is done by phone or by e-mail. I even had someone tell me they mailed the person a letter because that’s all they had. And sometimes it is by social media. It’s been happening for a long time and it won’t stop, even if this whole social media fad finally passes over.