SmartRecruiters Hiring Success Journal

Foster a Social Referral Program

Referring people to one thing or another is an action that, when you think about it; is inherently built into human nature.  Think about it for a minute: we play matchmaker, share the name of our kick-butt personal trainer…. and really, we need look no further than the advertising done for product marketing to see proof within the pudding.   There are hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on catchy commercials that highlight the way people are (and should be, in marketers’ opinions) keeping up with the Joneses.’

 Yes, we naturally want to share information & experiences that we find interesting in our lives.  Consumer marketing and mainstream media get it – thus, the “social sharing” buttons such as Facebook’s “thumbs up” ‘Like’ recommendation.  So, if they get it… why does it seem to be such a leap to really do more than lip-service for Mainstream Recruitment?  Why do we not put more of an emphasis on it in our recruitment marketing and application process?

I can practically hear the Recruiters, HR Leaders, and Business Executives reading this thinking to themselves, “But, wait a minute… we DO put an emphasis on referrals! We have a referral program, after all!!”

So, in response, let me say that simply saying you have something doesn’t mean much.  Perhaps a distinction needs to be made between existence v. utilization v. effective return.  For a social referral program to be truly effective; it must be constantly monitored and marketed.  This means more than putting a poster up in the breakroom & circulating emails saying that you pay cash bonuses for sending prospective employees HR’s way.  This means embracing a whole new way of thinking, starting with your expectations of social recruiting.

    • Aim High:  A referral program, when correctly designed & implemented, should make up at least 50% of your candidate source.  Frankly, a well-executed program requires far too much effort to receive a third or less in returns; so, if the bar is set there to start with, then it’s likely to end up being a frustrating endeavor for all involved.
    • Keep Standards:  Return metrics aren’t the only bar that should be set high. Ever heard the phrase “Junk in, Junk out?”  If you allow employees to put anyone in as a social referral; then chances are that the quality of referrals you’ll see over time will diminish.  For starters, the “everyone’s in” philosophy actually promotes throwing names against the wall to see what sticks more than it does having employees do some vetting for potential fit.  Over time, this can discourage the recruiting staff from paying referrals the attention they should be due.  Instead, encourage employees to carefully consider their potential referral’s skill sets against the position(s) being referred for and overall company fit.  To reinforce this company culture, consider making your ‘referral rewards’ a sliding scale program that’s balance is determined by success of previous referrals.  The better the past referrals, the farther along the scale the employee will go.
  • Get Proactive:  Never lose sight of the fact that your referral program is a Marketing program.  A fundamental flaw of many referral programs is that nearly immediately after launch; they shift into a reactive “hurry up and wait” mode.  This is never going to bring the results you’d want to see – your employees aren’t there to recruit; so, they’ll get preoccupied with their job and forget until someone else brings it up.  Make that someone you by:


Regularly switching up the internal promotions/rewards for employees to continue to entice/attract participation


    1. Include your ‘High Potentials’ on another level: “birds of a feather,” and all that jazz – if you have a profile that fits, it stands to reason they might know more people like them to refer in to be co-workers!


    1. Share Program Successes – By regularly communicating the # of hires, $ saved, and $ paid back to the company through the social referral program; you are encouraging participation. This is social recruiting. It won’t be long before people start thinking, “if Bob can refer 2 people and look like a rockstar for helping the company – surely I can, too!”


  • Be Inclusive:  when it comes to those already IN your company.  The truth is that it doesn’t matter where your candidate referral for a particular job comes from – if someone in your company identifies a co-worker as someone that should be treated as a candidate for a job?  That’s a referral and should be treated as such. This not only encourages internal mobility which can increase overall retention; but it also helps to nurture a positive, watchful eye towards development.  And in that?  Everybody wins!

Social Referrals

Employee Referral Programs can be such a vital part of your recruiting strategy; but it’s important that they’re designed and executed based on results rather than intuition.  Often, with a few tweaks, you can create a source of candidates that have positive effects reaching far past the hiring stage; making your employees want to say, “I’ve got this friend… “


Photo Credit Catcha Group Music Credit The Civil Wars

social referrals Crystal Miller creates great Talent Marketing and Social Recruitment Programs at M3 Talent Consulting in Dallas. As an advocate for proactive social media in recruiting, she works as the Co-Host of #TalentNet weekly Radio Chat on Twitter/Focus w/ Talent Net Live. Crystal believes, “Candidate first.” 


Crystal Miller

Crystal Miller

Crystal Miller, known on Twitter as @theonecrystal is a builder of talent communities, addicted to Instagram, and avid social recruitment marketer who also co-hosts a weekly radio show called #TalentNet Live. Visit her blog, to learn more.