The Secret Social Network? Referrals


A colleague asked me the other day, “Tim, why don’t companies invest more effort on their referral programs?” – Now that’s a great question; it does feel like a mystery sometimes!

I read an article recently, “There is no community on social media” by Mark Schaefer on, (thanks for the social share on Facebook – Nina!). This article describes how social communities can be forged with effort and engagement. However, if they are left to their own devices and are hosted on platforms you don’t own, they become multi-threaded and lose focus.

So for my sales rep, the answer feels the same. A successful referral program is a social network with a purpose and should be an engaging, active and controlled process, not a passive reliance on office posters, mouse-mat reminders and hope.

In a previous job at Cisco Systems, I was regularly meeting new hires to extract the six names that were demanded from each person so that I could talk to these contacts about their friend or ex-colleague and the new role that they would play at Cisco.  This “Amazing People” program delivered up to 75% of the company’s new hires each month.

The secret here was not that the program particularly rewarded any better than others, or that Cisco employees were particularly well connected, but that HR fully understood the value of referred hires and so invested their time and resources accordingly. So admittedly thousands of speculative CVs from agencies or job board applicants didn’t get reviewed daily, but more time was spent on the candidates that consistently produced the best results and ATS’s take care of auto-responding to the rest.

Whilst we look at platforms like Facebook and Twitter to build social communities and to talk about our brand and sharing our good news, it’s often forgotten that the simplest and most effective group, your employees, remains largely unengaged in sourcing activity. Motivate this population and immediately you’re opening up to the best class of candidates you can find.

So what would you start with?
Do you understand your candidate marketplace? Is the competitive environment clear and well defined? Are your candidates available from multiple industries? Before you launch a successful referral program you do need to understand your opportunity; not every position in your organisation may suit such a program if the required skills are relatively easily found.

Here’s my referral ’10 point plan’:

1. Immediately interview all new starters and ask for names
Your new hires will never be happier in their choice and more excited to share their happiness with their contacts.

2. Be clear on the opportunity you’re offering
If you can’t see the value and exciting possibilities you’re offering then they won’t get it either.

3. Actively “own” the contact with these names
As a recruiter, if you’re sourcing a role, you and the line manager are the best people to excite the referred names and to sell the opportunity.

4. Keep the referee engaged too
Once they’ve handed over names they’ll feel exposed, it’s their contact, not yours, so keep them engaged and update them constantly.

5. Draw your best networkers together
“Social” networking is a competence that some people just have; you know them in your own life. These individuals love the network, love bringing people together, you can use these ‘brand ambassadors’ to give you the feedback on the buzz around your organisation.

6. Celebrate success!
You will quickly gather great victories, your cost-per-hire will tumble – all referral programs lower costs if you put effort in. But make sure you celebrate and publically thank referrers.

7. Monitor your diversity
The nature of closed social networks is that like-minded people enjoy talking to each other, “birds of a feather flock together.” So monitor your diversity metrics to ensure balance and consistent compliance to regional legislation.

8. Never Stop
As soon as you lose focus you’ll notice the effect on your metrics instantly. Employees are busy people – they can’t think of everything at the same time. If you stop, they’ll stop.

9. Vary rewards
In my experience, sometimes a “thank you” is often all that is needed; other times only a Porsche will do. Think creatively about your rewards, if you sell consumer products maybe freebies are available? Maybe training and development will motivate and help your development and succession plans more effectively.

10. Enjoy it
No one is going to trust you with the names and contact details of their closest and valuable associates unless they think you’re going to treat them well and with great enthusiasm. Referral calls are the easiest recruiting calls to make, enjoy them!

So to build this most effective of social networks you’ll need to work at it. Show your employees that they can trust their contacts to you. If you treat them with respect and passion, success is guaranteed.

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