Imagine this: In the near future you could be matched to, and hired for, a new job based on your Facebook activity. That seems almost counter-intuitive, right? The pervading narrative around social media circles is that you need to be careful about what you post on Facebook because it could lose you job opportunities when prospective employers go there and find out about your recreational pursuits. But Facebook has a larger data set of personal information than any company has ever had - and when that data's balanced out across the 1.59 billion profiles they have on file, those individual traits and behaviors translate into very actionable insights. As researchers from Stanford University and the University of Cambridge found last year, your Facebook 'Like' profile can actually be a more accurate indicator of your personality and psychological make-up than your workmates, your friends - even your partner.
Put simply, Facebook knows you. The platform's algorithms have learned your interests and figured out what you like, based on your on-platform actions. And it doesn't take a heap for Facebook to have a good understanding of your traits - according to the aforementioned study, researchers needed less than 250 registered Facebook 'Likes' for each individual to be able to predict personality traits with a high level of accuracy.
Consider that in the context of how many things on which you've clicked 'Like' on Facebook over the years. The more reference points the system has, the better it can learn - this is why Facebook's algorithm, despite the concept of it not sitting well with all users, is actually very accurate and a very good indicator of what you're likely to be interested in. The proof of this lies in Facebook's usage numbers - both active users and time spent on platform continue to rise at the social giant, with the latest data from comScore further underlining The Social Network's dominance in this regard.
Given this level of insight, and what Facebook knows about each individual user, it would stand to reason that that data could also be used to help people find their ideal job - and employers find their perfect employees. And maybe, Facebook's looking to capitalize on exactly that.
Testing the Waters
In the last month on Facebook's Research Blog, The Social Network has released two employment related studies which, on the face of them, don't come to any significant, new conclusions.
In the first, Facebook's Core Data Science team examined the question of whether jobs run in families - essentially, whether people's choice of profession is influenced by what their parents or siblings do. The researchers utilized Facebook data, based on listed connections and occupations as noted on Facebook profiles, and came up with some impressive visualizations of the connections between the occupations of different family members.
"We see that people within a family are proportionally more likely to eventually also choose the same occupation, and this is especially true of twins. However, in absolute terms the vast majority of kids strike their own path and choose a profession different than that of their parents or their siblings."
In other words, people are a little more likely to follow in the footsteps of their relatives, but not much. Nothing ground-breaking there.
In a second study, Facebook's data team looked at who's more beneficial in helping you find a job - a very close friend or an acquaintance.
As noted in the paper:
"Previous academic work finds mixed results: weaker ties may bring novel information, but strong ties might put more effort into helping you."
That makes sense, right? Your best friend will put in more effort to help, but you have a lot more weaker ties, which increases the probability of them connecting you to a job, simply through volume.
Facebook's research team conducted a range of studies on this, with specific measures on how to detect the closeness of each person's connection.
"We chose a few different measures spanning the year before ego [subject] started her job at Firm A: how often ego tagged alter in photos, how many posts ego wrote on alter's wall, and how many mutual friends they had. Results were similar for all three measures of tie strength."
And their findings?
"Weak ties are important collectively to job finding, but individually strong ties are more helpful."
So, pretty much the same as had been previously indicated by other studies - again, no major result.
But then again, the results themselves are not what's worthy of attention here. The question is why is Facebook conducting this research at all - why is Facebook's data team examining the potential of the network for job finding and career related insight?
Given their data insights and the over-arching aim of Facebook to 'connect the world', could they be looking to extend that purpose into the realm of recruitment?
The Next Battle Front?
The more you think about it, such a move actually makes perfect sense. Late last year, Facebook released Facebook at Work, a new, enterprise version of Facebook that's contained within the network of your business.
The benefits of the platform are pretty clear - everyone already uses, and is familiar with Facebook and how the platform functions, Facebook at Work enables businesses to capitalize on that in a professional setting, providing you with your own, closed-in and individualized Facebook system, which operates in isolation from Facebook proper. As you can see in the example image above, your company essentially has its own Facebook - your regular Facebook friends aren't on it and the company maintains control over who can join and access their intranet. Employee familiarity with how the system works saves the company a heap in additional training them up on new systems, and the advanced, refined communication features of Facebook help streamline internal collaboration - there's a lot to like about Facebook at Work, and already over 300 companies have adopted the new system.
At the time it was released, many speculated that Facebook was gunning for LinkedIn, among others in the professional space, though the challenge to LinkedIn itself is less direct - Facebook at Work seems more aimed at in-house solutions like Yammer and Slack. But now, when considering the research being undertaken by Facebook's research team, the quiet evolution of Facebook at Work and the recent difficulties faced by LinkedIn, maybe the time's right for Facebook to take a big step towards the professional social network and challenge them on recruitment and career intelligence.
Of course, LinkedIn still leads on this front - they have more information on career histories and job progression than any other provider in history. But as noted, given Facebook has so much access to additional, deeper personal insights and interests, maybe the career histories themselves don't matter. Maybe Facebook can beat LinkedIn regardless.
We've written before about how LinkedIn's looking to transform recruitment as we know it - through their 414 million+ members, LinkedIn has an unprecedented data set of professional experiences and developments, data they could use to, eventually, provide a highly accurate prediction of your ideal career path, and provide employers with advanced direction to the perfect job candidates for positions. LinkedIn's already taken the first steps towards this, with their updated LinkedIn Recruiter tool now taking into account the skills sets and experiences of your current employees to help detect and recommend the right people when looking through job applicants.
The idea behind this is that by using LinkedIn's algorithms, you can find better fit employees by matching their LinkedIn profiles against a template of your ideal employee. And independent research has shown that such algorithms can help in this regard - in fact, a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that computer algorithms may actually make better hiring decisions than people.
"The researchers looked at the employment record of 300,000 low-skill service sector workers across 15 companies. The jobs had low retention rates, with the average worker lasting just 99 days, but researchers found that employees stayed in the job 15% longer when an algorithm was used to judge their employability. The researchers also looked to see if those hired by human managers against the algorithm's recommendation had higher productivity to counter their short tenure, but found that this was not the case. Hiring against the machine's recommendations went completely against better outcomes, the authors said."
Given the potential for advanced algorithms in the recruitment process, LinkedIn, and their career and employment data, would seem to be in the box seat. But then again, as noted, Facebook knows a lot more about you. Sure, Facebook doesn't have all the career data LinkedIn has - and it'd be interesting to see how many people actually list their occupations on Facebook to get a baseline as to just how much info that might have in this regard - but Facebook's vast data resources may actually be able to fuel a better, smarter recruitment engine, one which could out-perform a similar tool from LinkedIn. Facebook would also have more resources to throw at it, more ways they could refine and improve their system, as they're already using similar data tools in their News Feed algorithm and for other purposes. And if Facebook built such capacity into Facebook at Work, that could provide a significant draw - there could come a time where adoption of Facebook at Work leads to the development of a new recruitment platform which would outmatch LinkedIn and render much of the interactions on the platform obsolete.
Now, maybe that's too much to read into a couple of research reports from Facebook, maybe there's nothing to it, maybe Facebook's data team's just pushing things around and seeing what they can do. But it does raise some interesting questions - particularly when you consider that despite continued growth in overall user numbers, LinkedIn's on-platform engagement dipped slightly in their last report.
To put that chart in perspective, LinkedIn has 414 million members, but only 100 million of them are active users, less than 25%. Facebook's daily active user count is over 1 billion. And growing. When you consider this and the functional role that LinkedIn plays, is it really an essential social network? Could Facebook, if it put focus on this area and pushed to develop new recruitment and career related tools, actually squeeze LinkedIn out of the market entirely?
As noted, there's no definitive indication that is where Facebook might be headed, but there are some clear signs that Facebook's giving attention to this space. Recruitment and human resources could be the next front on which Facebook moves in their efforts to swallow up the entire internet.
UPDATE (11/9): Facebook has confirmed that they're now testing job listings for Pages, putting them in direct competition with LinkedIn.