Making It Snappy
Some companies are turning to Snapchat -- one of the most popular social-networking apps for millennials -- to promote their employer brands.
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
Macy Andrews and her social-media team at Cisco Systems are always on the lookout for the hottest new channels in which to engage potential employees for the technology giant.
"We're constantly scouring for 'where the eyeballs are,' " says Andrews, Cisco's director for culture and global employer branding. Their search led them to Snapchat, the popular mobile app for sharing pictures and videos.
"Snapchat was becoming more and more popular," she says. "But we couldn't quite figure out how to use it for recruiting."
Cisco is hardly a stranger to using social media for connecting with potential job candidates. Its "We Are Cisco" campaign uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social-media channels to get the word out about its culture and job opportunities. But Snapchat presented a bit of a challenge.
To begin with, content posted to Snapchat is designed to disappear quickly -- typically within 10 seconds to 24 hours. Its user interface is not intuitive, critics say, while the overwhelming majority of its (mostly) young members use it for sharing short videos and selfies (accompanied by silly doodles, captions and graphics) with their friends. The vibe is informal and fun, and the app doesn't lend itself to carefully crafted marketing messages.
Andrews and her team ultimately decided that the best approach was a potentially risky one -- letting Cisco's employees (or "Cisconians," in the company's parlance) create and post content ("snaps") directly to its WeAreCisco Snapchat channel themselves.
"We realized Snapchat is pretty goofy, and you can't orchestrate a beautiful marketing campaign on it -- once we embraced that aspect of the channel, we decided to hand it over to our employees," she says.
Relatively few companies are using Snapchat to recruit at the moment, but experts say that can be a good thing -- it may make it easier for companies that do to stand out.
"If you're using Snapchat for recruiting, it means you're kind of cool -- it's like the difference between being a skier and a snowboarder," says Jodi Ordioni, president of New York-based Brandemix, a marketing firm that specializes in employer branding. "It's a way to show your audience that you're embracing new technology."
Informal and Updated
Snapchat is what Facebook was like eight years ago, Ordioni says, when companies were still reluctant to consider it as a legitimate recruiting platform. Since then, of course, that's changed dramatically.
"Then came Twitter, Instagram, then Pinterest and today, it's all about Snapchat," she says.
Snapchat's user demographics may make it ideal for reaching young people, says Thomas Borgerding, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Campus Media Group, which advises companies on college-recruitment strategies.
"Snapchat's largest audience is the 18-to-24-year old group, and it's growing fast in the age 25-to-34 demo," he says. "It's a highly trusted, highly relevant channel for these groups."
Launched in 2011 by a group of former Stanford University students who wanted to create an app for sharing ephemeral content, Snapchat is owned today by Los Angeles-based Snap Inc., which is expected to go public later this year at an initial valuation of $25 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports. An estimated 150 million people use the app each day -- surpassing the 140 million who use Twitter on a daily basis -- and it has 301 million monthly active users, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.
Snapchat is expected to grow its user base by double digits within the next few years, pulling ahead of Twitter and Pinterest in the United States for the first time, according to eMarketer's latest forecast on mobile messaging apps.
Cisco isn't the only big-name company using the app to get people interested in its employer brand: Others include Taco Bell, Goldman Sachs and AOL. Goldman Sachs' Snapchat campaign, for example, used the app's Campus Story function -- a curated platform for user-generated content -- to share a series of 10-second recruitment videos in which it said it's seeking a "campus environmental leader," "youth sports coach" or "crowd-funding champion." The videos, which included links to the company's careers page, were designed to encourage viewers to think of Goldman Sachs as more than just a financial-services firm, and were accessible only to Snapchatters whose phones indicated they were in or around a college campus, or were there in the previous 24 hours, Reuters reports.
Companies can use Snapchat's geofilters -- visual overlays designed to show up for users in specific locations -- to target college students at certain campuses, for example, or even employees at other companies. In fact, Snap Inc. was caught using its own app in this fashion to try and poach employees from Uber, Pinterest and Airbnb, Forbes reported in 2015. The geofilters included cheeky slogans, such as "Not sleeping well?" for Airbnb employees and "Feeling pinned down?" for workers at Pinterest. "They're a unique and playful form of recruiting," a Snapchat spokesperson told Forbes.
Snapchat stories (a series of short videos and photos) can be used to advertise a role for up to 24 hours, while its Live Stories feature can be used to create curated streams of user-submitted snaps from various locations and events, says Liz Weeks, head of the global employer branding and attraction team at Alexander Mann Solutions, a recruitment-services company based in London.
Companies that wish to reach out to potential candidates via Snapchat should be ready to provide a steady stream of freshly updated content, she says.
"You need to make sure the organization is going to put aside the time and effort necessary for keeping up with any sort of social-media platform," says Weeks. "One of the worst things a company can do is dip its toes in and then never be heard from again -- that's almost social-media suicide, to use a platform to gather interest and followers and then follow that with radio silence."
The content that works best is that which is generated by employees, not HR or marketing, she says.
"Get a group of people who are actually doing the jobs you're trying to recruit for, who aren't managers or in HR," says Weeks. "Most HR teams or line managers will know the people who are engaged, have a positive outlook on the business and have a good network within the company -- who live and breathe what you believe makes an ideal candidate for the organization."
Videos posted on Snapchat should feel informal and unscripted, and should be shot on mobile devices only, says Borgerding.
"It's a mobile-first world, and the younger demographic is going to notice right away if it feels like you shouldn't be there," he says. "You don't want to risk being formal in a casual setting."
At Cisco, the company's Snapchat campaign (which began last spring) encourages employees to use their own voices.
"We realized if we started to over-orchestrate it or create too many guidelines, it wasn't going to be authentic, so we said to employees, 'Just be yourself and go for it,' " says Andrews. "One of the employees actually tweeted, 'I can't believe HR is trusting me to use Snapchat here at work!' "
Cisco's Snapchat channel features new content each day, created by a group of 60 employees chosen from among the company's 165 global locations.
Employees are chosen to join the group based on factors such as job or location, says Andrews, adding that the group has a long waiting list of Cisconians wishing to join.
"We want to showcase a different variety of jobs, so we might pick someone from engineering, or finance or legal, so we can show what various jobs at Cisco look like," she says. "Some of it is location-based -- we might be looking to fill a position at our site in Germany or our Richardson, Texas office, so we'll get someone to snap from those locations."
Other times, it's based on whether employees will be participating in events the company would like to publicize, says Andrews.
"For example," she says, "if our CEO goes to the New York office, we may have a group of employees there follow him around and snap various meetings or photos of him taking our interns out to lunch."
Employees have snapped quick behind-the scenes tours of the laboratories and product-testing centers where they work, along with short videos and photos showing what a day in the life at their job is like. They've also snapped about volunteering at local food banks or with Habitat for Humanity -- these snaps have been especially popular with Snapchatters, says Andrews.
In fact, when it comes to metrics, Snapchat has been a bit of a challenge, she admits.
"Measuring Snapchat has been kind of interesting -- we've noticed that, unlike Facebook or Instagram, Snapchat isn't focused on how many followers you have," she says. "Snapchat is more about completion rates -- how many people viewed your story and how many minutes they spent viewing the content."
Cisco's Snapchat channel has a 70-percent completion rate, while more than 5 million minutes of its content has been viewed, says Andrews.
"The way we measure our social-media channels is engagement -- are we getting good response rates -- and we're very happy with that," she says.
Although Cisco's Snapchat strategy hasn't yet included directly filling open positions, Andrews says that will probably change soon. As an example, she points to a Snapchat contest Cisco ran at last year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a conference for women in technology. Cisco asked attendees who were recent graduates to snap a story about why they decided to pursue careers in technology.
"We chose the top eight stories from the ones we gathered, brought them in for brown-bag pre-interviews with one of our senior vice presidents of engineering, and ended up offering two of them internships," says Andrews.
"We're going to tie our Snapchat channel more directly to filling jobs via some sort of contest or branding mechanism to help fill a particular position," she adds.
When it comes to getting the word out about your company on Snapchat, employee involvement is crucial, according to Andrews. "There's no bigger sense of pride than what some of your employees have, and you can't script that," she says. "Trust them to tell the story of your company's culture and you'll be surprised at how great a job they'll do."