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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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Short case studies and research papers that demonstrate best practice in HR
Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 9, Issue 5
Reaching key audiences through social media
Martin EdmondsonBased at Graduates Yorkshire.
Graduates Yorkshire has been using social media since 2006 when it saw the emerging media as a cost effective way of reaching its key audiences. The social enterprise aims to encourage businesses in Yorkshire and Humber to invest in graduate jobs and ensure the best graduates either remain or are attracted into the region.
Communications at the organization are complex and it has a number of different audiences. It needs to get its key messages out to students and recent graduates as well businesses of all sizes. While it is easy to identify larger organizations, such as the National Health Service, and work out the best channels of communication, it also has to communicate to thousands of small to medium sized businesses that are equally able to offer new graduate vacancies. Being affiliated to the careers services of the region’s ten universities and higher education establishments, it also needs to communicate to its key stakeholders.
Starting with social networking
Faced with these communications challenges, the organization started to use social media as an additional tool to reach out to individuals and organizations that it was not communicating with through traditional methods. Social networking tool Facebook was one of the first tools to be integrated into the Graduates Yorkshire communications strategy. The organization initially set up a Facebook group to target students and recent graduates, as it felt that it could use the group as a way of communicating directly with students to let them know about events and opportunities. The Facebook group site was properly branded and was set up so that news items could be posted and members could be sent messages in a way that was consistent with Graduates Yorkshire’s own website.
After using Facebook for a while, Graduates Yorkshire noticed it was not having the effect it had hoped. This, coupled with changes to the structure of Facebook, meant it reviewed its use of the site. The organization had publicized a number of graduate recruitment fairs as well as supported the Yorkshire Day celebrations using Facebook. However, it noticed that, although it was getting good membership numbers, it was not engaging on a deeper level. Facebook is very much a playground. People come to chat with their friends, play games and view friends photos and videos. Although Graduates Yorkshire was not sending out a corporate message, members were not logging on to find a job. In terms of general awareness of Graduates Yorkshire, it was great, but communicating direct in Universities was more effective when trying to get a response from this group.
Therefore, it decided to change the group into a Facebook page. Facebook groups are about engaging with the members and allowing members to discuss issues with each other on the group page meaning you have to spend time monitoring and engaging with the group. Using the page, people can show their support for the organization and it is an excellent signpost to Graduates Yorkshire’s website and services, but the organization does not need to invest as much time managing the site as it does not have the same messaging options.
Creating a micro-blogging platform
Facebook is not the only tool used by Graduates Yorkshire and it now also communicates through Twitter using a number of different accounts to create a micro-blogging platform. Many people lump social media into one category but miss the point that each has its own unique audience. Twitter is mainly used by business professionals in their thirties and forties. While students can follow Graduates Yorkshire’s twitter accounts, it is using the communication channel to talk to potential employers, journalists, stakeholders and other professionals.
It communicates what is happening at Graduates Yorkshire and posts links to events and research into the positive effects of graduate recruitment and comment. As well as information, Twitter also helps it to communicate the organization’s human side and values and it can engage in conversation with people who have questions about its services. It is finding that businesses talk to it through Twitter and pass on its comments and information to their own followers, spreading just like a word of mouth campaign. The organization has had more enquiries about its services from businesses and parents of students than direct from students, but this is what it anticipated from the start.
Recently, Graduates Yorkshire expanded in to the east of England and Twitter enabled it to gain a presence in the area quickly and effectively. It was a matter of hours before it was engaging with businesses and universities through Twitter. It also allows it to raise awareness of opportunities across two of the largest areas of the country.
Taking an integrated approach
Social media is not an additional offering to the Graduates Yorkshire website and an integrated approach has been put in place under the management of Imogen Hesp, Graduates Yorkshire’s marketing manager. Using social media is not just a case of creating lots of accounts and starting to send out messages. You have to understand who you are communicating to, what messages you are going to send and how that message will be seen by the people that see it.
It is important, then, to ensure that accounts are set up properly. A clear description of the reason for the account must also be backed up by contact details and appropriate logos. All the accounts lead back to the main website and blog as Graduates Yorkshire is using the social media accounts either to manage information or to direct people to useful information and the website. For example, part of its remit is to attract people into the region by showing them what the region has to offer. One way it does this is through videos. They are hosted on its own Youtube channel but are linked to from its website, blog, twitter account and newsletter. Equally it uses Flickr to manage many of the images it has and it can encourage other people to add their own content.
The Graduates Yorkshire website is fully integrated into the social media strategy. Book marking sites like Stumbleupon, Digg and Delicious help direct people to the site. Search engines like Bing and Google have modified the way they carry out a search to actively take more account of social media sites in recent years. All this integration helps with search engine optimization ratings and, as well as raising the ranking of the website, it has resulted in the Facebook and Twitter accounts achieving high rankings on their own merit.
The blog is also integrated with the main site. Far from being additional work, it actually helps bring many things together. As well being a platform for comment, the organization can place its newsletter content as a blog entry and merely link emails to it. Previously, a separate e-newsletter would have taken more work and formatting as well as resulting in a larger email file to be sent. Blogs also get more readers compared to static websites. Although the website is always being updated, the blog still draws in more people.
The keys to success
The company has learnt the following key lessons from its experience of using social media over the last four years:
You should not be afraid of using social media. Many do not get involved because they fear criticism, but most people are reasonable and you should have faith in your own organization.
You need to work out who you need to communicate with and how best to achieve this. It is fine to experiment, but if you do not understand the medium you could be wasting your time.
Social media should be integrated into your operations, looking at ways of using the media to save time. Your branding and messaging needs to be consistent across all platforms.
You should engage with your audience in an open and honest way. You will learn a lot more by listening to the people who use your services than telling them what they need to know.
Organizations also need to be aware of how social media is changing. Graduates Yorkshire is currently looking at how to get more use out of LinkedIN and there are other up and coming social media sites like AudioBoo that offer new opportunities.
About the author
CEO Martin Edmondson began working for the Graduates Yorkshire project in 2006 and turned the funded project into a sustainable business, Graduates Yorkshire Ltd. Previously he worked for Reed in various roles and WestFocus in a business development role linking universities with SMEs. He is a member of the CIPD and IOD. Martin Edmondson can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org