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How to Use Social Proof in Your Talent Outreach

LinkedIn Global Talent Trends survey recently confirmed a few things that we’d suspected. The first is that the biggest roadblock candidates face during a job transition is “not knowing what it’s really like to work at the company.” The second is that the thing candidates most want to know about is your company culture—indeed, 66% of them say as much. The third? Candidates want you to “share employee views.” You can imagine what it might look like to put these three findings together. Given the data, a good working hypothesis might be: The smartest thing you can do in prospect outreach is to have your employees (the people passive talent most want to hear from) talk about your company culture and how it informs the day-to-day work environment (the thing passive talent most wants to hear about). After all, nobody knows what it’s like to work at your organization better than the people who… well, work at your organization.

This strategy looks a lot like the one marketers call “social proof.” Social proof is the reason we get on Yelp before making a decision about a hotel or restaurant in town. (It’s also the reason we’ll walk into a busy restaurant before we walk into an empty one.) It’s why 90% of us read online reviews before we visit any business; and why 68% of our purchasing decisions are ultimately impacted by those reviews. It’s the reason we reach out to our social networks when it’s time to choose a new doctor. It’s why we’ll go see a movie the day after it cleans house at the Oscars. 

“People don’t recognize how powerful the pull of the crowd is on them,” says Robert Cialdini, who’s been studying the psychology of persuasion for decades. Cialdini coined the term “social proof” in his 1984 book Influence. And what studies have shown, ever since, is that when we humans are unfamiliar with something, we look to others for clues about what we should be doing and whom we should be trusting. Social networks have more influence on our decisions than virtually any other aspect of a market—product, price, even a sense of ethics or social responsibility. That we privilege network feedback, the wisdom of crowds, and the viewpoints of strangers is an everyday phenomenon—one that’s so engrained we often don’t stop to consider that that’s what moves us. 

You’re probably thinking about social proof all the time when it comes to how prospective customers think about your brand and product. But the savviest of sourcers have figured out how to leverage the inherent comfort we take in doing-what-everyone-else-is-doing to their talent outreach. (Indeed, there’s a reason why “recruitment marketing” is now a term for this part of the funnel.)

One mistake employers often make is restricting their social proof to their careers or company culture pages. Granted, if prospects are interested, many of them will make their way to these pages and discover that information… but better to forefront employee sentiment and experiences directly in your outreach, whether in the message or as a hyperlink. Here are some ways to incorporate authentic social proof in your outreach to increase the likelihood of prospect engagement:

Have Employees Write the Initial Outreach

Typically, social proof in talent outreach takes the form of employee confirmation that the company culture is as dynamic and supportive as the recruiter says it is. In this strategy, you take the recruiter out of the equation—whether you SOBO or have the employee craft the email themselves. As such, the entire email becomes social proof. For example:

“This is Ben, the VP of Design at [company]. I just started in this position in March, after years of leading design teams at Apple and Facebook. I joined because [exciting fact about company’s product]; but even more so because I was so impressed with the team and the company culture. The mix of passion and intelligence I saw—across teams—while I was interviewing, coupled with the humility and humor here, is rare. Every day I’m reminded what a great decision I made. And now, I get to build a design team from scratch. That’s why I’m reaching out…”

Include Employee Quotes in Your Email 

When a recruiter talks about how great your company is, that’s recruitment marketing. But when an employee talks about how great your company is? That’s a testimonial. Think of these as potent micro-narratives that you can weave into your email outreach. Solicit testimonials from employees in every major role in your organization. They should speak to what it’s really like to inhabit that role in your company.

Your email might read something like:

“I recently spoke with Kim, one of our founding engineers, who told me that one of the reasons she’s stuck with the company for so long has to do with our D&I initiatives: ‘It was clear to me from the beginning that my voice was going to be valued as much as anyone else’s on the team. And I wasn’t wrong’ she said. I’ve cc’d Kim here in case you’d like to speak directly with someone on the team before you and I set up a time to chat.”

Of course, you can also link to your Glassdoor or Comparably profile, where prospective candidates can read ratings and reviews. (If they’re interested in your company, they’ll end up there anyhow; so encourage employees to leave reviews in these places as well.) But including the testimonial in the message ensures your prospect doesn’t have to lift a finger to find it. What’s more—as we demonstrated above—it gives you the opportunity to introduce the prospective candidate to a potential future coworker.

Link to Employee Video Testimonials

A video testimonial adds an element of trust that’s difficult to evoke through a written testimonial: In this medium, the employee becomes more real—and their story more authentic—for the prospect. Here’s one we love from our customer MuleSoft:

The video could take the form of a tour through the office, and feature one or a handful of employees. Our recommendation? Make one per team. (The video above is for MuleSoft’s Pre-Sales team; it’s got separate videos for its Enterprise Sales and Support teams.) After all, top engineering talent will be much more interested in the personal experiences on your engineering team than they’ll be in the personal experiences on your design team. And vice-versa.

Link to Blog Posts Written by Employees 

This strategy asks a bit more from your employees than a testimonial does; but many of them will be more than happy to write about their participation in your organization and how it’s shaped them. (For employees who are hesitant about digging into a broad topic like “What’s it like to work here?” you could give them a set of questions to work with; or take 20 minutes out to sit down and interview them, and transcribe that conversation.)

Like video testimonials, blog posts allow employees a longer narrative arc than the micro-narratives in your employee testimonials. What has their career development looked like since starting at your company? What have they built (products/teams/communities) and what skills have they honed in the process? Our brains are hardwired to respond to stories; they’ll create connections, help passive talent identify with your current employees, and inspire action. So if you’re sourcing diversity talent, for example, link to a blog post written by your female head engineer.

We love how our customer Mapbox does it: The company has employees interview each other. Check out Engineering and Product Lead Peter Sirota interviewing GM of Data Services, Margaret Lee, or CEO Eric Gunderson interviewing VP of Customer Success Lorna Henri. We think you’ll quickly observe the sincere camaraderie on display as they talk about each other. 

Link to Hashtags Your Employees Use

Like everyone else in the world, that top talent you’re dying to attract is on social. So get your team to post about company culture. Maybe you choose a company-specific hashtag (#LifeAtCompany, #CompanyGoodTimes, #CompanyCareers, etc.) that employees can use when posting to their personal accounts; maybe you stage “employee takeovers” of the company account. Either strategy allows employees to post everyday events, volunteer work or social initiatives the team undertakes together, company happy hours, team trips, and so on. Link to your profile or to that hashtag in your outreach, so prospects can scroll through for a sweeping view of your culture.

We love the breadth of culture displayed in LiveRamp’s Instagram account:

Great-example-of-social-proof
social-proof-for-passive-talent
using-instagram-for-recruiting-social-proof

Mention (and Link to) Awards

Apply for Comparably’s “Best Places to Work” Awards; or enter to compete for any number of other employer-of-choice awards. Of course, these awards are typically handed out based on employee feedback; so an award will serve as strong social proof regardless of whether employees’ specific remarks are made public. Then—of course—link out to the announcement or award page from your outreach message. Here’s MuleSoft at TopWorkplaces.com:

MuleSoft-social-proof-employer-award-page

Between these six strategies, you’ll have a remarkable set of tools in your social proof toolbox. Now: Start collecting employee sentiment and employees’ experiences whenever—and in whatever form—possible. (Indeed, this should eventually be a practice that’s built into your organization.) This way, you’ll have plenty of material to use in your next outreach campaign. 

We’ll be continuing our series on best practices for passive talent email outreach in the coming months; so subscribe below to get that content direct to your inbox. 

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