A small social media experiment…


You may remember my recent bewailing of the baffling levels of online advice available to jobseekers who want to use social media tools. It made me question whether anybody would actually be using them as part of their job search (particularly young adults, who are the focus of my study).

In an attempt to allay my fears, I decided to conduct a small experiment and discuss it here on my blog. But to avoid a really long winded entry, I will stagger my findings and discussion across a short series of posts over the next couple of weeks.

What did I do?

Using only social media platforms, I decided to have a good old root around online to see what information I could find that would be of interest to a potential jobseeker. To make it interesting I set myself a time limit of 10 minutes, and created a folder to save as many screenshots as possible of my findings.

There were no strict boundaries on my search i.e. I didn’t approach it from the perspective of an individual seeking a specific job role, or who would be bound by a specific environment/set of circumstances. Also, because it was all done off the cuff, the whole thing was devised and carried out within a total timeframe of about 15 minutes. So the exercise was pretty haphazard by nature, and guided purely by my own idiosyncratic whims.

In the end, I used only Twitter, Facebook and a public discussion forum (which shall remain nameless, but is very large and caters to a very generic audience, discussing anything and everything).

My first search was on Twitter, because it was already open in front of me. I searched:

  • “#jobsee….”

and was prompted with the following:

  • “#JobSeekersSA”.


The search term I started to type was a total stab in the dark, and short of time, I didn’t try and find out what “SA” actually stands for.

Anyway, I clicked on the suggested hashtag, and was greeted by the following screen:

Twitter hashtag #JobseekersSA



The above screenshot from the search shows the 4 posts at the top of the page, all posted within the previous 3 hours. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it would be possible for me to continue scrolling through all of the historical posts which contained the same hashtag (#), for as long as I could be bothered.

The first thing that drew my attention from the screenshot is the user (whose face and name have been blanked out for privacy reasons) who has Tweeted asking for help with a cover letter. Using the hashtag in their Tweet will have ensured their request found a larger audience than just their own merry band of followers.

It is also notable (from the wee icon to the left of the loveheart) that the message has been retweeted twice by other benevolent followers/fellow Twitter users. This will have assisted with the overall diffusion process, as then their (i.e. the “retweeting Tweeter’s”) followers, who are not necessarily mutual friends, will also have seen it.


Secondly, you can see from the screenshot that two jobs have been posted, and a bursary opportunity for budding mechanical engineers. The Tweeters on these occassions appear to be recruitment/careers guidance organisations.


And so there we have it. Within about 20 seconds, and by using a randomly selected hashtag which contained the word jobseeker, I managed to unearth some data which is instantly informative.

From the jobseekers perspective, I could see that another user was asking for help with their covering letter. Maybe I should try that as well, or check out what help that person received in the end? Also, I could see instantly that there was a steady stream of jobs being posted online. Maybe I could follow those Twitter accounts too, or find others which are more suitable for my own job search goals?

From my own research perspective, this small search demonstrates the networking potential of social media tools, which just wouldn’t be available in an offline environment. For example, asking for help across geographical boundaries, from people with whom you don’t necessarily share an existing network connection. It is also possible to receive a constant stream of job updates from organisations, direct to your mobile phone.


According to job search theory, there are three types of strategies jobseekers generally use. (1) focused, (2) exploratory, and (3) haphazard.

It’s safe to say that my experiment was a mixture of (2) & (3). But despite the lack of focus, and relative lack of effort, it was a reasonably fruitful information seeking attempt. From a networking sense, it could easily have led to me connecting with organisations, and increasing my levels of social capital.

More from the experiment to follow soon…




Vague ramblings about social media use and job search

I’m moving ever closer to the actual field work stage of the PhD process, which is both exciting and slightly unnerving. I’ll explain why.

Firstly, it’s exciting because conducting primary research is essentially what a PhD is all about (in the majority of cases – I’m sure some arts and humanities projects may differ). Your work contributes to the field, and so should be suitably distinct from the other work which is already out there. This means (in theory at least) that I will soon be collecting data which will provide a unique perspective to online networking during job search, within the paradigm of information science.



At a more basic level, it will get me off my backside and mingling with people from the real world again (as opposed to the academic world). Be it day-to-day research work, seminars, conferences, symposiums or teaching, I have spent a substantial amount of the last year in a bubble of intellectualism (or pseudo-intellectualism on my part, as the cynics amongst you may note). There is nothing wrong with that world per se (ach, I like it), but if I’m being honest, it will be nice to pick the brains of somebody who is not preoccupied with an overarching theoretical framework*.

And that leads me on to what I am finding quite unnerving – the prospect of trying to extract meaningful data from jobseekers about their social media use. For the last few days I have been surfing through and hoarding as much online advice as possible which relates to seeking employment with the help of social websites. The process has thrust a realisation to the very forefront of my mind that I have been desperately trying to suppress for months:

Using social media to find a job is terrifying.

Okay, that’s not a very scientific statement, but let me qualify it.

There are loads of great web pages out there (a significant portion of which are linked to academic institutions) which offer jobseekers advice on how to channel their social media use to develop useful networks, and find relevant employment opportunities. See here, here and here for example.

The problem is the sheer amount and diversity of the information which is on offer. You see, reading tips about online networking reminds me a wee bit of what it was like when I started the literature review phase of my research. There is a mountain of advice out there on yonder internet, and after a few hours valiantly battering away at it with a meagre pickaxe, you are eventually swamped by an avalanche of disillusionment and uncertainty. Basically, it is bewildering.

Also, reading the advice, it soon becomes apparent that being effective in the online battle to secure employment will take, if not a gargantuan effort, then at least dogged persistence and consistency on behalf of the jobseeker. Notwithstanding a decent grasp of language, an understanding of how to judge information sources/where to find them (see information literacy), some technological nous, and the ability to promote a positive and personable brand self-image that is a fair reflection of reality.

Ironically, when you put it like that, being ‘good’ at social media during job search appears to be quite a difficult job which requires a carefully nuanced skillset. Which begs the question: who out there is bothering with all of that effort?

Thankfully, there is a flipside to all of this (isn’t there always). For example, simply having a Twitter account, or being a member of a certain Facebook group, could be the gateway to the job information we need. After all, digital technologies can be very powerful platforms for passive information acquisition. Online communities such as public discussion forums, provide ideal opportunities to mine information with very little input required on behalf of the user.

And of course, these things are seldom black and white. It is very unlikely that a simple divide exists between avant-garde social media afficionados, and shadowy, passive receptors.
For me though, this presents its own challenge when it comes to collecting data – if social media tools can be useful for both highly proactive and largely inactive jobseekers, then conceptualising user activity is unlikely to be a straight forward process. I will try my utmost.

* Crude exaggeration, for effect.





The link between social media use and employment

I have submitted a paper to the 2nd International Data and Information Management Conference, which is hosted by the Centre for Information Management at Loughborough University in January 2016. The conference theme is “Exploring our digital shadow”.

The paper analyses secondary data taken from Understanding Society: The UK household longitudinal study1, relating to the use of social networking sites (SNSs) amongst a stratified sample of 18-24 year olds across the UK. Some other key variables were also considered – of particular interest was the employment status of the respondents, and determining if a link exists between the use of SNSs and being in work.


The short answer to the above is yes: at the time of the survey (2012) there was a statistically significant relationship between membership of SNSs and being in paid employment. Specifically, 92.0% of those in employment were members of SNSs, compared to 83.2% of those who were unemployed.

To give more credence to the finding, a logistic regression was performed to predict the likelihood of being in paid employment. This included the variables (1) membership of a SNS, (2) number of close friends, (3) age and (4) sex. The model successfully predicted those in employment, thus confirming the association.

The above exercise was useful in a number of ways. For example, it allowed me to carry out some empirical work, and analyse actual data which is relevant to my PhD project. If my paper is accepted to the conference, it will give me the chance to discuss the findings in relation to the wider context of social media use during job search, as tools for sourcing information.

One of the key aspects of this discussion is the need for a holistic project, which implements a mixed methods approach to data collection. In my opinion, qualitative data is an absolute necessity to understand the use (or the non-use) of social media tools amongst young jobseekers.

The results of my analysis suggest that there is a link between the use of SNSs and being in paid employment, but even if this is the case (there is no guarantee, as unknown variables may explain the association), then this knowledge is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are a multitude of other questions which must be answered:

  • What tools are being used?
  • What is the nature of the use?
  • Who is in these online networks?
  • What information is being sought?
  • What barriers prohibit use?

Those are just off the top of my head.

My literature review unearthed a great deal of scientific work which relates to the adoption of social media tools in various contexts. However, perhaps due to the speed at which these new digital platforms have pervaded our existence, knowledge on their impact still seems to be very scattered and shallow.

I’m hoping that by writing this paper I have given myself a decent springboard from which to research the use of social media tools in more depth, and from a perspective that has received scant prior attention – job search.

[1] University of Essex. Institute for Social and Economic Research and National Centre for Social Research/TNS BMRB, Understanding Society: Innovation Panel, Waves 1-7, 2008-2014 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], July 2015. SN: 6849