Monday, May 11, 2009

5 Ways Government is Using Social Media to Recruit the Next Generation

Originally published at FedManager's E-Report on behalf of Young Government Leaders.

In an essay entitled Federal Brain Drain to Brain Gain: Fixing Government College Recruitment released in mid-April, Stephen Anders (a Masters of Public Policy Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School) recommended that Federal agencies should “increase their presence on social networking sites” like Facebook and LinkedIn to improve their recruitment strategies. Anders indicates that the private sector does a better job of recruiting than government in getting new hires. In light of Anders’ account of government recruiting, you might be surprised to learn that several agencies are using social media effectively to recruit the next generation of public sector personnel. Below are five ways that government is leveraging social media to attract potential applicants:

1. U.S. Coast Guard Channel on YouTube: From the Red River floods that ravaged North Dakota to the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency landing, the U.S. Coast Guard plays a critical role in responding to the needs of fellow Americans in moments of crisis. You might see a sound bite of their heroic efforts on TV, but you can also catch the Coast Guard in action any time on YouTube. Travel with Commandant Allen, who has mandated social media as a vital part of the Coast Guard mission, or catch fearless Coasties conducting safety checks by airboat, rescuing stranded citizens from swelling rivers, and saving lives in stormy seas. After watching a few of these men and women serve our fellow Americans, I felt like joining the Coast Guard. Precisely my point: how many young people will view these videos and explore a career with the Coast Guard? By the way, the Coast Guard has at least two other sites in addition to the official channel: US Coast Guard News and Coast Guard On Demand. How can your agency capture employees on camera as they perform their vital public functions? Buy a Flip cam for under $200 and have fun. Bust the reputation of bureaucrats being stodgy and boring and allow potential employees to see you enjoying your job!

2. State Department DipNote Blog: While all State Department employees aren’t engaged in espionage or excursions to exotic locales, you can get a flavor for the foreign service as a regular reader of the State Department’s DipNote blog. The last several posts feature photos from the Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership and an account of U.S. Ambassador Stephen Nolan launching a solar energy project at Kaziikini Campsite in Botswana. If I were a young women looking for opportunities to have a global impact or a student seeking “green” employment, these posts would be appealing. So you might be wondering people really read it? Just this week, DipNote celebrated a major milestone as it surpassed 5,000,000 page views. You don’t need a specific recruiting aim to begin blogging. How can you communicate your mission in a compelling manner? What information about your agency might inspire a young person to pursue employment with you? In case you’re interested, I’ve written two other blog posts about State’s extensive use of social media – all of which are points of contact for meeting the next wave of diplomats (please see here and here).

3. UK Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) on Facebook: Since we traveled beyond our borders in the last example, let’s take a look at how the United Kingdom has found Facebook to be a helpful recruitment tool for teachers. Meet Elizabeth Doyle and Kaol Rasarathnam who, in partnership with the UK’s Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), created two complementary Facebook pages where 2,000 fans are finding information about careers in teaching. Each site features 10 teachers and teaching career advisors who are available to answer questions that range from “What are the main software packages used by students in secondary schools?” to “I have an interview at Cambridge University for secondary biology teaching – any last-minute interview tips?” Based on my brief review of the sites, it appears as if each question is answered within 24 hours with an average of 2-3 questions per day. Note that the site uses a team-based approach to respond to inquiries – a best practice model for government websites that require regular citizen interaction. How can your agency use Facebook not just as a place to post static information, but as a platform for dynamic interaction?

4. GovLoop Social Virtual Network: When more than 10,000 government employees and private sector colleagues get together in one space, someone’s bound to find a job. GovLoop, a social networking site built on the Ning platform, has been dubbed the “Facebook for Feds.” Government employees at all levels – Federal, state and local – gather in this global, Web-based community that has successfully brought prospective employees and employers together through Web 2.0-style recruitment. Over 100 jobs have been posted on GovLoop directly from managers and colleagues hoping to expedite their current hiring process. For example, a DHS component was looking to quickly hire 12 positions. By posting the openings on GovLoop (with a link to the official USAJOBS.gov recruitment site), the agency received dozens of applicants directly from GovLoop members with great experience in the Federal sector. In another example, a government contractor was looking to expand its social media practice to aid government. By posting on GovLoop, the contractor was able to target the exact people with “Gov 2.0” skill sets. Qualified GovLoopers were eager to land a position that matched their interest, too! Are you using GovLoop as a place to search for new hires?

5. State of Missouri and Second Life: Apparently you can find some cool cats by using Second Life as a virtual recruitment venue. In September 2008, the State of Missouri hired its first employee based on recruiting activities in Second Life. The applicant “came to our job fair as a tiny cat with a red bow tie on,” said Missouri CIO Dan Ross in a Government Computer News story. The well-dressed feline was impressive enough that they conducted a follow-up, in-person conversation. The rest of the recruitment process was staged in Second Life. Check out the video below to learn more:



CIO Ross encourages other agencies to explore this low-cost recruitment tool. Missouri spent less than $100 on this first foray into Second Life and doubled the budget to $200 in this fiscal year due to their initial success.

Okay, so now that you’re convinced to blend social media with your current recruitment activities, how do you get started? Here are five tips:

• Establish a presence in the online spaces where your potential recruits spend their time

• Empower key employees to be online brand ambassadors for your agency in these spaces

• Engage employees who are adept at using these tools in devising your recruitment strategy – even if they aren’t in human resources

• Educate staff on the “what?” and “how?” of social media so that they feel comfortable in their first steps in online forums

• Evaluate your return on engagement regularly to highlight successes and recalibrate tactics based on lessons learned


It’s no longer enough to post jobs on an agency website or central recruiting sites like USAJobs.gov. Your potential employees are talking to one another in social networks all over the Web. Those governmental organizations that recognize this new reality and incorporate social media into their overall recruitment strategy will see the most significant “brain gain.”

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