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Not all bosses are anti-social: interview series – interview with Arie Ball, VP Talent Acquisition, Sodexo

by abisignorelli on December 16, 2010

Here’s the third of the interviews in my “Not all bosses are anti-social: interview series“.

Arie Ball (@Arie_Ball) is VP, Talent Acquisition, Sodexo.

In this interview, Arie talks about how Sodexo is creating a unique, online presence via social media that shows the many faces of Sodexo – the company, employees, value, culture and opportunities.

She talks through the incredible breadth of Sodexo’s online social presence and the huge benefits social media offers from a talent acquisition and retention perspective. She also gives some great tips and advice on overcoming obstacles and barriers when embarking on a social journey.

Here are a few of my favourite comments – wise words indeed:

Companies need to be where their customers and candidates are.

…incorporating social media into business strategies also can result in significant cost savings associated with more traditional advertising and job boards…

“Many of the barriers associated with using social media can be overcome through education.”

“If you’re missing the conversations taking place about your company, you’re missing the opportunity to influence those conversation or address issues before they become viral.”

A big thanks to Arie for sparing time to so thoroughly share the Sodexo experience. If you’d like to ask Arie a question, or simply respond to something she’s said, do post a comment.

So, how did you get in to social media?

Each year, Sodexo USA fills approximately 4,500 management and executive positions. Even in a down economy, the talent pool we seek is specialized and in very high demand. Our challenge is to continually expand our access to top talent by seeking new ways to connect and position our company as a top employer. Our department culture also embraces innovation—we truly enjoy exploring new ways to source and connect with candidates, so as opportunities via social media emerged, it was something that we naturally pursued.

Our goal was to create a unique, online presence via social media that showed the many faces of Sodexo—our company, employees, values, culture and opportunities. We wanted candidates to have a glimpse of what it would be like to work in our company, and to be able to communicate in a meaningful way with our recruiters and our employees to better understand their career potential with our company.

As we launched Sodexo’s social media presence, we created the SodexoCareers blog and then expanded our strategy to include other media venues, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more, most recently launching our mobile application. There is no doubt that over the last few years technology and the emergence of Social Media has transformed the recruitment landscape and helped our company to become more competitive for top talent.

And how is Sodexo using social media?

We have taken an integrated approach to social media so as to strengthen our employment brand, build candidate engagement and relationships, source active and passive candidates, and even to enhance our diversity recruitment efforts!

Our approach is to use social media to connect with a wide range of industry leaders and potential candidates to build mutually beneficial relationships. For us, it is a fabulous way to learn from industry leaders and potential candidates, and also to contribute to discussions around our professional interests, our company, our culture and our career opportunities. Using social media is not just about posting job opportunities—it’s goes far beyond that for us, helping us to connect with and build professional and talent communities through more open and interactive dialogue.

Over time, through social media, we have developed an online, interactive talent community, greatly expanding the venues available to candidates to connect with us, using their preferred mediums, so we can engage in a more authentic way.

Each channel we use is directly connected to our Careers web site, and also connected to other channels, building an interactive platform where our candidates can connect with us, and move between venues, using whatever medium they prefer. For example:

  • Our Sodexo Job Branding Template provides links to each of our social media sites, in addition to bringing the candidates to our Sodexo Careers Site
  • Our careers site includes a page called Network with Us, where all of our social media sites are featured in one place, inviting candidates to connect using whatever medium is their preference

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn

    • Our recruiters use Twitter accounts to engage candidates and peers, build a targeted network and to create one-to-one relationships with candidates and groups in their particular area of focus.
    • >50 recruiters are using Twitter, with combined followers greater than 10,000.
  • Sodexo Careers Facebook Page
    Here, candidates can ask questions about the corporate culture and the hiring process. They receive immediate feedback from recruiters as well as current and former employees, not just the Sodexo Careers “spokesperson.” We also use Facebook to share information about upcoming events of interest to candidates, such as career fairs or other recruiting events.
  • Sodexo Careers – Past, Present & Future LinkedIn group is an excellent source for recruiting mid to senior level professionals. We have a major presence via the group and targeted talent subgroups for specialty areas, such as IT and culinary. As with our other venues, these groups provide insight into Sodexo’s culture, contributes to discussions related to our industry, and offers opportunities for candidates to connect with recruiters and find jobs with our company.

We also actively engage via Blogs and eNewsletters:

  • Sodexo Careers Blog: aims to attract potential candidates, give them a glimpse within our company, and provide them with opportunities to engage in discussions on a range of topics of mutual interest.
  • Sodexo contributes a bi-weekly blog to Dan Schawbel’s Student Branding Blog. Schawbel is the author of the book “Me2.0” and is a leading personal branding expert for Gen-Y. The blog, was recently listed as a Top 50 Counseling Blog by the Counseling Courier and will soon be presented with the “Career Advocate Award.” Through this blog, we provide career planning and job search guidance to students, and offer the opportunity for them to engage with us in conversation about their future career paths and strategies.
  • Sodexo Career Connections eNewsletter: our bi-monthly publication is distributed to more than 230,000 members of our talent community and provides candidates with information about Sodexo, career advice and links to Sodexo job resources.

Other outlets include:

  • Sodexo Careers Podcasts – Through our podcasts, we present information about the various careers within Sodexo and give candidates a glimpse into our world. For example, there are podcasts on training and development opportunities for a facilities manager or engineer, what it’s like to work as a dietician and other podcasts that discuss the company and its culture.
  • Sodexo Careers Flickr – Here, we post a broad range of photos related to company events and job locations to provide candidates with an internal visual of our company.
  • Sodexo Careers YouTube – While we use our YouTube channel to provide career-related videos, we also include videos from our network groups, mentoring initiatives, videos developed by our interns and candid videos of our employees. Through these visual representations, we aim to help candidates gain a view into the many professional development opportunities within the company and hear first-hand about what it’s like to work for Sodexo.

So what do you see as the key benefits of companies being social externally?

Building an online presence through social media can benefit a company in a number of ways, depending on how these tools are used. From the recruiting perspective, social media allows you to build two-way conversations with prospective employees, sometimes with a faster response rate than traditional e-mail or telephone calls. It also helps you engage candidates so as to maintain their interest in your company and provide them with a glimpse into your company’s culture and access to career opportunities. It also allows candidates to connect with recruiters and/or employees who can address particular interests and specific questions. It’s important to note, however, that while we may connect online, we take the communication offline to build relationships and truly engage our candidates.

Another benefit is the ability to monitor your brand—seeing what customers and candidates are sharing online, being able to influence the conversations, and where appropriate, respond to issues that are raised. Especially if concerns are raised via social media, to learn of it early and have the opportunity to address it, we can avert situations that could be very damaging to a company’s reputation.

And what about inside the workplace?

At Sodexo, we are using Yammer, a microblogging tool that allows employees to build relationships and connections with other Sodexo employees around the world. So far, we are finding that this tool meets personal and operational needs of employees and business groups.

What advice would you give to those sceptical about becoming more social?

Companies need to be where their customers and candidates are. For those who are skeptical about becoming more social, considering there are more than 500 million Facebook users, 110 million Twitter users, 60 million LinkedIn users, and 2 billion views per day on YouTube, to be able to influence perceptions of their brand, to market to their customers and recruit talent for their company, it is in their interest to explore how they approach social media and build it into their business strategy. Additionally, incorporating social media into business strategies also can result in significant cost savings associated with more traditional advertising and job boards, which is another compelling reason for becoming more social.

Ways to get started might be to research which media sites attracts their customer and candidate base, benchmark what best practices companies are doing and consider ways to adapt to their own business needs, and spend some time to understand what is being said about their company online. Then build a strategy with clear goals and action plans, anticipate potential risks and prepare a plan to address or mitigate risks, and gain buy in from your internal corporate partners. Find ways to measure and document results, and as you learn, adjust your strategy as needed.

And, what tips would you give those facing barriers?

In approaching social media, many companies face similar barriers—mostly around helping the organization become comfortable with the strategy, the compelling reasons for entry, and understanding the potential risks involved and how these will be mitigated. At Sodexo, we used a phased approach, which helped us to become comfortable in each medium, build support, and demonstrate results. We assessed the potential risks associated with the medium and established clear plans for how to minimize those risks in advance. And we trained our team in how to use the medium, providing guidelines for engagement, but not compromising their individual, authentic voices.

Many of the barriers associated with using social media can be overcome through education. You need to help those parts of the company that may have concerns and assure them that you’re training your group to use the media responsibly. Then, educate them about how the benefits of a social media approach can far outweigh the risks by placing the company in a proactive position to manage brand awareness and perception as opposed to responding and reacting to any isolated criticism that might arise.

For our more than 50 recruiters, we gained their buy-in and excitement by demonstrating that social media was a tool that could transform their relationships with potential candidates and help them to expand their outreach to identify new pools of talent for their positions. We helped them learn how to incorporate social media into their strategies and become more comfortable using the various media. We did this through training, demonstrations, showcasing examples of success, and building a sense of camaraderie around our social media initiatives. Now our recruiters are highly engaged and enthusiastic as they see the benefits from their efforts.

Consistent messaging and integration was a priority for us so that we could clearly communicate our brand, and make it easy for potential candidates to connect with us using their preferred medium. Thus, each time we launched a new initiative, we ensured that it was connected to our other social media properties and to our Careers Page. Each venue presents a similar, consistent view of our company to candidates, and candidates can easily move between different venues to deepen their learning about our company.

For example, if a candidate views one of our positions on Career Builder, the job branding template has links not only to our Careers page, but also to all of our various venues where candidates can learn more about our company and engage in conversation with our recruiters. A link will take them to our YouTube Channel. A different link will bring the candidate to our Sodexo Careers Blog, where they can read the different postings to gain a glimpse into our culture.

One candidate, in reviewing our blog, spent a great deal of time on a particular blog posting that explored our recruiter’s “Hot Buttons.” She used the information from that blog to prepare herself for her interview – and got the job!  Other links bring the candidate to our Sodexo LinkedIn Page, our Sodexo Facebook page, where they can enter into conversations with our recruiters. Another link lets them follow us on Twitter, and yet another brings them to our Flickr page where they can view photos that help give them a feel for our company.

So, when facing barriers to implement a social media campaign, the best defense is to educate those around you so that they can understand the benefits versus the risks. At Sodexo, by training our employees on how to use social media, and using a phased approach where we could demonstrate the value, we were able to overcome these challenges and now many other parts of our company are using social media.

How important is it for senior executives to be social?

At Sodexo, our executives regularly contribute posts to our corporate blog. We believe this helps to highlight our corporate culture, values, priorities, and initiatives. For example, in this recent post Our People: The True Spirit of Sodexo, Sodexo’s President and CEO, George Chavel, shares his views on the how our corporate values are expressed by our employees, and contribute to our success. By contributing posts to our blog, our executives not only share information about themselves and Sodexo, but they also become more approachable to our customers, and we also invite commentary and interaction from our readers.

And, what do you think will happen if companies don’t integrate social media?

Each company needs to engage in communication venues that match their culture and norms. But given the size of the audience active in social media, this is the place where our customers and potential candidates are engaging, and so we need to be there too.  There is also growing importance for companies to have some level of engagement in social media to monitor their brand, as increasingly, customers are sharing their experiences online.  By being active in social media, companies can become aware of what’s being said about them via social media, and be prepared to respond. If you’re missing the conversations taking place about your company, you’re missing the opportunity to influence those conversations or address issues before they become viral.

From a recruiting perspective, if you’re not present and available for contact through social media, you are missing out on the opportunity to identify and connect with a wide range of talent that might be useful to your company, now or in the future. Through your social media connections and interactions, you can build strong and engaged talent communities that are mutually beneficial over time.

Other posts in the “Not all bosses are anti-social: interview series”:

Stephen Beynon, MD Consumer & Small Business, eircom and Meteor

Keith Potts, CEO and Co-Founder of Jobsite.com.

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