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Social media, virtual meetings help firms enter markets and save capital

Social media, virtual meetings help firms enter markets and save capital

For some companies, Twitter has replaced recruiters, and video conferencing is used to conduct interviews

When cloud computing service provider Nimbula hires employees for its South Africa development office, the Mountain View, California, company turns to social networking, not recruiters, to find workers. The company also uses video conferencing to conduct interviews with job candidates and to demonstrate software to potential customers, which saves travel expenses.

Especially for startups looking to enter new markets, this convergence of technology allows them to maximize resources and save money, according to executives. They use social networking as a business tool to reach potential employees and customers beyond their geographic zones with a minor financial investment. Paired with social media, video conferencing is transformed from a dated technology into a vital communication medium that helps companies sell products and select the most qualified workers. Beyond the fiscal benefits, executives also say utilizing these combined technologies aids in overcoming cultural differences, provides employers with an established talent pool for recruiting and helps generate sales leads.

When Nimbula needs to fill positions at its Cape Town development office, practical reasons dictate its use of Twitter to inform people about the jobs. "As a startup company we can't afford ... things like flying people around," said Reza Malekzadeh, the company's vice president of marketing. "We're trying to leverage these tools because they're a cost-efficient way to attract folks and they still allow us to have a good experience."

The 35-hour trip from California to South Africa would cost upwards of US$4,000 for coach airfare and lodging, said Malekzadeh, who also serves as an expert for the business-focused social networking website Traveling to Europe would tally around $3,000 and take 20 hours, he added.

The people following the Twitter messages of Nimbula engineers tend to be tech-minded, the same base that the company wants to hire from, he said. In addition to discussing their projects, the engineers also mention Nimbula's internship program and open positions, making the messages easily searchable to people looking for specific company or job information.

"We found that people tend to do keyword searches or look for some brand names or look for some opportunities in [the engineers'] tweets," he said.

Firms should consider incorporating social networking into their human resources strategy to attract their future workforce, advised Forrester Research senior analyst Claire Schooley. Recent college graduates starting their careers use social media on a daily basis and want a more active job search process. Social networking adds that element, she said.

"Candidates today, before they actually apply, like to have a bit of interaction," she said. "Whether it's with the company or the recruiter, they want to get to know a little bit more about the job, get to know a little bit more about the company and then decide whether they want to apply. You can't do that with an ad on Craigslist."

Using social networking for recruiting is a new development in the enterprise space, said Schooley. While most of the evidence is anecdotal, "you find companies now saying, 'are you interested in tweeting out some of the jobs that we have available,'" she said.

Having a social networking presence allows candidates to determine if their personality matches a company's work environment, Schooley added. "A fading wallflower" may pass on applying to a company that posted a YouTube video showing a lively and interactive office, she said. Candidly portraying the office environment via social networking will ultimately save a company money because managers won't hire employees who leave "two weeks later because they're not comfortable in the environment."

A pitfall of social networking recruiting comes when companies present overly scripted material, offer a false perspective on corporate culture and do not keep the information current, said Schooley. Candidates realize when companies are not being forthright and that is a turn-off, she said.

"What potential employees want is to feel that the company is being honest and up front and real with them in the material that they have online," she said.

And, of course, companies need to respond to a person who reaches out to them on social media, Schooley added. Companies need to demonstrate that their online presence is more than a show.

With no sales offices outside of the U.S., Nimbula also depends on Twitter to attract potential customers. The company, founded in 2009, posts Twitter messages about upcoming products and mentions in the press. According to Malekzadeh, Twitter's nominal cost allowed the company to try many different marketing messages and immediately recognize the effective posts by seeing a jump in their site traffic.

To chat with potential customers and employees in remote destinations, Nimbula turns to Skype and Cisco System's WebEx program for Web conferencing. For prospective clients, this allows real-time demonstrations without expensive travel. For potential hires, virtual meetings allow them to show more of their personality and communication skills than a phone call would permit, said Malekzadeh, adding that interviewees appear more focused during video sessions.

"Twitter doesn't just necessarily bring you the best candidate," Malekzadeh said. "More talent is presented through shared video conferencing."

And the interviewees don't mind appearing in front of a camera, he said.

"We've never had anyone say we don't want to talk with you because it's video conferencing."

In some cases, though, traveling on Nimbula's part is required, said Malekzadeh. The size of the customer and certain sales may require a trip as does participating in a conference, he said.

IT services and consulting company Intelligent Technologies Labs , in Alexandria, Virginia, also turned to virtual meetings to interview staff for its Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, office.

The company, founded in 2002, looked to expand its business from U.S. government contracts a few years ago after the economic crisis, said CEO Mohamed Abuagla. Growing up in Saudi Arabia gave Abuagla business connections in that market, and Intelligent established an office there last year, he said.

Abuagla uses video conferencing interviews as alternatives to "passive" email interviews and the costly and time-consuming option of flying candidates from Saudi Arabia, where the company began doing business a few years ago, to the U.S. Hiring local staff played a key component in the company's business plan since it needed staff who understood the country's culture.

Trading emails and phone calls "doesn't totally give you experience that you want. You don't get to see who is talking, or get to feel out the body language," he said.

With the company looking to fill some positions that require direct client interaction, a professional appearance and demeanor are required. The company needed an interviewing process that allowed hiring managers to see and interact with interviewees, according to Abuagla.

Video conferencing adds visual and nonverbal communication components to the interview, allowing candidates "to articulate and use gestures to communicate," he said.

Virtual interviews help Intelligent "reach enough candidates to make sure that we're picking the best ones," said Abuagla. Ultimately 30 to 40 candidates, some of whom did not live in the nation's capital of Riyadh, were selected to interview for five positions. In the Saudi Arabian business culture, people who are selected for a job interview but live in another city must finance their travel expenses, he explained. If the company had limited its candidate search to Riyadh, qualified candidates from other cities may have decided against applying for the jobs, he said.

"Until they're hired, the expense is on the candidate," he said. "You're not necessarily getting compensated for travel at that level. They have to spend money to go there and maybe they'll get something. For some people, that may not be a winning proposal."

Although businesses have been conducting interviews with video conferencing since the 1990s, more user-friendly interfaces and high-definition capabilities increased the technology's use in the late 2000s, said Forrester analyst Phil Karcher. Typically, using video conferencing for interviews is a savings mandate from executives, he said.

Online interviews should be treated like in-person interviews and "have a huge advantage over just a phone conversation," Karcher said. "You're looking for the same things. I don't think you should treat the interaction much differently. Of course, there's some differences. When you're on video you're watching what's in the background of someone's call. If they're doing it from home, you're going to be seeing their personal life."

Using the technology, though, is not without its challenges.

Karcher points out that with video conferencing interviews there are "more technical hurdles than an in-person meeting." Video quality may "slip" depending on the quality of a country's networking infrastructure. In some markets ISPs (Internet service providers) may lack the necessary bandwidth to handle the demands of uploading and downloading video to the Internet.

Intelligent hasn't experienced this problem in Saudi Arabia, but the company did select Vu TelePresence's video conferencing product partly because it was not as "demanding" on its network compared to other options. Telecommunication costs in Saudi Arabia are high, Abuagla said.

The only time Abuagla has noticed a shortcoming with video conferencing interviews is "when you want to be more personable with someone." Virtual meetings don't allow handshakes, he said.

Virtual meetings, though, are a proven technology and do allow significant savings, according to Abuagla.

The technology has now become Intelligent's chief communication tool, he said, noting that staff use virtual meetings for functions such as internal training, daily meetings and tech support.

"We don't think about the phone much, never mind traveling."

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Tags internetbusiness issuessocial networkingvideoInternet-based applications and servicesnimbulaIntelligent Technologies Labs

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