When I ask HR professionals how successful their social media activities are and they start telling me how many followers or ‘likes’ they have it really worries me. I hate to break it to you, but – this number is irrelevant.

A study by the Altimeter Group found that 70% of businesses believed social media could meet business objectives, but only 43% had a formalised strategy for how social media activity could be measured against their specific business goals. As employers continue to invest more money in social media activities you will be put under more pressure to measure the ROI of recruitment via social channels. I was recently asked by Engage For Success ( to join their task force created to come up with some answers for how social ROI in recruitment can be achieved. While we as a group are still forming our opinion I thought I could share my thinking so far.

The most important thing is to measure social media ROI in the same way you would measure ROI for any other recruitment activity that you already engage with, so that you can compare them like for like. The ultimate question you want to be able to answer is: where should I spend more or less money next year to increase ROI? The ROI by source should give you solid data to back up your decision. Here is a five-step approach to enable measurement of the ROI of your social media activities.

1. Define Goals

Naturally, different organisations will have different goals at different times, so you want to make sure you compare all your sources like for like. Consider what you value the most and how much each source costs; ratio application to first-interview, cost-per-hire, time-per-hire, etc.

2. Establish Benchmark

Before you can hold any one source of candidates accountable for the ROI it is delivering you need to know what the ROI figures are for all the other sources. If you’re hiring for different types of roles in different geographical locations, break it down as far as possible; for example, retail staff, IT staff, etc. What is the cost-per-hire per category? It’s easy to say you want to ‘save money’, but if you don’t know how much you’re spending and getting in return elsewhere you’re none the wiser. Don’t forget to factor in how much time you spend administrating each channel; if you use LinkedIn for four hours per day that is adding to the cost of using it as a source vs another source requiring less of your time.

3. Realistic Expectations

I once discussed a social media recruitment activity with a global consulting firm and they only wanted to run it for three months, because that was their current average time-to-hire cycle. I explained to them that if they just ran the social media recruitment activity for three months, then only candidates discovering them on day one (of 90) would be taken into account when evaluating the success, as the others wouldn’t have been given enough time (three months on average). We had to give each candidate at least three months to complete the cycle to be able to evaluate the success; hence the campaign was set to run for six months. In other words, be realistic; you need to allow sufficient time for enough data to accumulate before you can make meaningful decisions.

4. Credit The Source

Before you start spending money with a social media channel you need to be satisfied that you can track candidates coming from that source. Are they integrated with your Applicant Tracking System (ATS)? If not, speak to your ATS. Maybe the ATS can offer you a bespoke link that you can use for different social channels. Only when the social channel you want to evaluate can be fully tracked automatically can you draw conclusions about its effectiveness. For example, from experience I know that asking candidates to choose where they found the job from a drop down list as part of their application process is NOT a reliable measure.

5. Improve ROI

Once you start to get some data, work with your social media channel account manager to figure out how you can improve the results. The more transparent you can be about how they are performing, the better they can help you. The most effective recruiters I’ve worked with in the past have even shown me what results they are achieving from other suppliers (or as an overall average number). Some of the quick fixes you can use to improve the ROI include seeking general social media best practice advice (which there are many books about); ensuring you keep your messaging up to date, engaging with your audience in a timely fashion and making sure you’re giving them something worth their while (new insight, role specific interview tips, etc.).


Informatica is a software company that employs 2,600 people and one of their biggest challenges is to hire engineers in geographically small and highly competitive markets. Over the years they had, as a result, seen one of their KPIs, Cost-Per-Hire, escalating to £6k-9k. They decided to advertise their roles on and said that if they could get one hire for £9k they would break even. Within 12 months the cost of Glassdoor vs volume of hires resulted in a drop in cost-per-hire to £2k, a significant improvement on ROI only made possible by making sure they followed through on steps 1-5, above. Note two things: a) to start with the aim was just to break even (everything else was a bonus) and b) they ran the activity for a full 12 months, giving them plenty of data to analyse. 

In conclusion, just because social media channels like to offer you stats on growth of ‘likes’ and followers doesn’t mean you can use that information to gauge success; you need instead to start using the KPIs that you are being measured against and perhaps even bonused on, as they relate to the way your department does business; this approach should make ROI your friend.

Christer Holloman, author of The Social Media MBA Guide to ROI: How to Measure and Improve your Return on Investment, published by Wiley, May 2014 (ISBN: 9781118844397; RRP: £19.99).