Employer Branding -Taking it Social in Web 2.0

Written by Livia Julica Busch

Demographical aging, a cause for Employer Branding

Due to the demographical ageing, which is affecting many countries world wide (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, 2009), organizations have been struggling to attract the right personnel (Farrell, Ghai & Shavers, 2005). The “talent crisis” (König, 2008/2009, p.46) or “war for talent” (Chambers, Foulon, Handfield-Jones, Hankin & Michaels, 1998, p.1) is in full play and therefore employer branding, first coined by Amber and Barrow in 1996 (Berthon, Ewing & Hah, 2005) has become a very important aspect in companies’ recruitment strategies. According to this, Backhaus and Tikoo (2004) elaborate on the process of establishing a unique employer identity, to distinguish a company from its competition.

Several years ago companies focused their recruiting efforts solely on the announcement of vacancies to gain the attention of the most suitable personnel (Trost, 2009). This however has shifted dramatically since employees are now empowered to choose between several job offers (Trost, 2009). Therefore, employer branding has become a common practice (Han, 2010).

This paper provides an overview of the field of employer branding within the context of online and Social Media activities. The focus will be on external employer branding (Franca, 2012) and therefore the reach of potential employees. Here the best practice case of Bertelsmann AG, a multinational media company, will be introduced in order to emphasize opportunities, possibilities and ways for implementation of Social Media for employer branding purposes. Conclusively, vital factors for successful online employer branding will be summarized and two innovative campaigns will be mentioned as an anticipation for practice.

Employer Branding - An Overview

Employer branding is defined as a combination of all the efforts taken by a company to be perceived as a desirable workplace, for current staff as well as potential candidates (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004; Hieronimus, Schaefer & Schröder, 2005). The field of branding has mostly been linked to product or corporate brands. This however has changed over time, as it has become a more vital topic for Human Resources (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004). Only little attention has yet been paid to the field of employer branding in research (Love & Singh, 2011), as it originally stems from business practice (Moroko & Uncles, 2009).

Love and Singh (2011) suggest the linkage of branding knowledge to Human Resource policies, to create a successful employer brand that not only attracts talent but also helps to retain employees (Berthon, Ewing & Hah, 2005). Here the two concepts of brand association, and brand loyalty are highlighted. Brand association explains the emotionally driven perception of a company as a future employer (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004), while brand loyalty focuses on the strong emotional attachment to a company as current employer (Keller & Lehman, 2003). Moreover, Knox and Freeman (2006) emphasize the importance of consistency within an employer brand image as a vital point regarding the decision for or against a future employer.

According to Backhaus and Tikoo (2004) the following three criteria should be in the focus while developing and communicating the value proposition, (1) consistency with reality, (2) appealing to the target audience, (3) differentiation from a company’s competitors (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004; Maxwell & Knox, 2009). Moreover, Trost (2009) supports this by declaring the employer value proposition as a key determinant of the employer brand. Furthermore, Moroko and Uncles (2008) claim that attractiveness and accuracy are two most influential factors to a successful employer brand. In addition, Backhaus and Tikoo (2004) call for the necessity to align the employer brand with the overall corporate image the company conveys. This becomes even more vital since the practice of employer branding has more recently been taking online (Laick & Dean, 2011).

Employer Branding - Going Social

Social Media, as mentioned by Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy and Silvestre (2011) is a matter of creating, discussing, modifying and sharing User Generated Content (UGC). Yet, the “social revolution” (Laick & Dean, 2011, p.297) does not only serve entertainment purposes, it also provides great opportunities for companies to advertise and promote themselves and their brand (Elena, 2011). In this context, Laick and Dean (2011) explain the development of Social Media as a new channel for employer branding that offers an authentic and transparent way of communication. Here Yan (2011) mentions Facebook and Twitter as part of a brand manager’s daily routine and a widely used practice by corporations to not only inform but also interact with their stakeholders. Han (2010) supports this perspective by emphasizing the benefits of the simplified access to a company’s target audience,

Furthermore, Doherty (2010) suggests a wider approach to a company’s employer branding strategy and discusses the importance and the role of Social Media within online employer branding. Through Social Media, companies are enabled to not only promote their brand, but to also interact and engage with stakeholders (Elena, 2011). Deriving from this, companies are offered a great opportunity to actively and informally interact with prospective job applicants (Doherty, 2010).

Within the following chapter, a best practice example will be introduced to examine the practical usage of Social Media within the field of employer branding.

Employer Branding – Going Social in Practice

In practice many companies have already created their own career and recruitment sites (Braddy, Meade & Kroustalis, 2008), which according to Peters (2001 cited in Braddy, Meade & Kroustalis, 2008) are amongst the most frequently visited areas of a corporate website. Additionally, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are known to be the most popular Social Media channels companies employ to reach candidates (Doherty, 2010). Weitzel, Eckhardt, von Stetten, Laumer, Kaestner and von Westarp (2011) support this by identifying Xing, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as the most commonly used Social Media channels applied within the German Top 1,000 Companies.

Nevertheless, some companies have been considered to be forerunners within the field of Social Media and Web 2.0 employer branding. One of these companies is Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, a Germany-based multinational mass media corporation with more than 100,500 employees (Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, 2011). The company operates in four divisions, namely RTL Group, Random House, Gruner + Jahr, and Arvato (Bloomberg L.P., 2012) that are active in the sectors of broadcasting, book and magazine publishing and outsourcing services (Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, n.d.).

According to Gero Hesse, Senior Vice President Human Resources, it is compulsory for a media holding to be present in Social Media not only for marketing but also for employer branding purposes (Weitzel et al., 2011), which can be seen as one of the reasons why Bertelsmann is continuously implementing online media into their employer branding strategy. Bertelsmann uses several online channels in order to represent itself as a favorable employer and has been one of the first German companies to use Social Media as a tool for employer branding (Schröter, 2009), since Social Media is a strong tool to actively seek and address potential personnel (Weitzel, et al., 2011). Their employer branding strategy Create your own Career (CYOC) has been implemented from 2008 onwards and links offline and online media to achieve a more holistic approach (Schröter, 2009). Alongside with its career platform the company extensively uses Social Media channels to deliver its message and reach talents (Schröter, 2009). The overall idea behind the strategy is to address high potentials and to communicate the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial talent and knowledge within the company (Nagel, 2011).

CYOC is present in several Social Media channels, reaching from LinkedIn to Flickr (Nagel, 2011). Dr. Nico Rose, Director Corporate Management Development, emphasizes the necessity for the company to stay up-to-date and to use the appropriate channels to connect with its audience (Nagel, 2012). Here the Bertelsmann Facebook site can be seen as a stepping-stone towards reaching the targeted audience. More than 6,000 likes, is probably not too much but Hesse states that the aim of the employer branding strategy is not a broad reach but the reach for strong talents, which according to him is being accomplished (Schröter, 2009).

An observation of the activities on the company’s career Facebook site clearly illustrates the goal to interact with, entertain and inform the audience. Hesse elaborates on the importance of UGC and the achievement of nurturing a dialog with the audience (Neubauer, 2010). This is accomplished in a very authentic manner, by addressing the audience in a sociable way and the continuous delivery of interesting content to be picked up by its followers. Moreover, Hesse mentions authenticity as one essential factor for a strong online communication with prospective personnel (Schröter, 2009), which is also noted as a key pillar for Social Media performance in general (Kietzmann, et al., 2011).

Likewise, Twitter a micro blogging service (Doherty, 2010), is effectively used by Bertelsmann. Not only is this channel used to inform about vacancies but also as a communication tool for news feeds and entertainment purposes. In January 2013 Bertelsmann tweeted the ‘Wearing Jogging pants in the office’ challenge in connection to the international Jogging pants day. Within this contest, people were encouraged to take pictures of themselves in their jogging pants and to upload them on the company’s Pintrest site. Hesse underlines the importance for every involved employee to write their own tweets and the personal responsibility for answering questions (Schröter, 2009).

Furthermore, the employer branding strategy also integrates YouTube, where a whole channel provides informational, creative and inspiring content (Weitzel et al., 2011). Here Bertelsmann keeps more than 200 videos, providing snapshots on diverse topics within the company. But this is not the only way videos are used at Bertelsmann. Hesse illustrates a case where a vacancy for an internship was staffed within hours after a video was launched online. This short video was produced within two hours and displayed the future colleagues talking about the vacant job their experiences and the characteristics of the person they were searching for. The creativity and innovativeness of the company can clearly be examined within this case and shows the ease of Social Media implementation within employer branding. Furthermore, videos trigger emotional attachment and can be seen as being beneficial for employer branding practices (Kürn, 2009). 

However, all Social Media practices described above require a company to trust its employees, as reputation is vital for the company’s corporate as well as its employer brand (Winston, 1999).

Findings and Conclusion - Employer Branding what comes next?

Several companies have seemingly gone all the way in order to meet their future employees where they are, namely online on social networking sites. Here the employer branding example of Bertelsmann not only provided an overview on a strong employer brand, but also stressed several variables that influence the employer branding strategy and its insertion within a company.

Firstly, it is highlighted that an overall employer branding strategy needs to be existent in order to successfully implement the usage of new media channels. Moreover, it needs to be aligned with the companies’ overall corporate strategy (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004), Bertelsmann has done this through integrating the companies core values into their employer branding strategy (Nagel, 2011). Secondly, Manuela Ebbes-Barr, Director Recruiting Services, announces that the media mix should consider online and offline channels equally (Weitzel, et al., 2011). Moreover, online and offline media need to be aligned and should provide linkages vice-versa. Correspondingly, the different online channels in use should refer to each other to provide a more holistic approach.

Thirdly, it is important for companies to carefully select the channels they want to be present in. This can be achieved through monitoring of the sites in order to find out where the target audience is located.

Last but not least, content is everything (Meerman Scott, 2011). This counts for all Social Media platforms. The focus should be authentic and transparent content, which triggers discussions and interactions with stakeholders.

But there are many more buttons to push in order to communicating a strong employer branding strategy.

Two short examples are a gaming solution by L’Oreal and a music video from Bayer AG. The gaming solution, broadcasted in 2012 encouraged potential personnel to take part in an experiential online game, where participants worked on business challenges and were provided with insights into a future job at L’Oreal (employerbrand.com, 2013). This platform was used for self-assessment and for the screening of prospective staff, who was later provided with guidance to job opportunities (employerbrand.com, 2013). The innovativeness of this employer branding strategy mirrors the company’s approach towards their audience.

The second example stems from Bayer AG, which created a music video for recruitment purposes under the headline ‘The guitar player could be your future colleague’ (Hesse, 2012). The video displayed employees from different divisions at Bayer at a recording studio, recording a song. Furthermore, the video informed about names and positions of the musicians within the Bayer AG.

Concluding it can be stated that there are many opportunities out there to get involved with potential staff in a personal and authentic manner (Laick & Dean, 2011). In order to reach the people where they are at, companies should be aware of and use online and especially Social Media channels. 


Backhaus, K. & Tikoo, S. (2004). Conceptualizing and researching employer branding. Career Development International, Vol. 9, Iss. 5, pp. 501-517

Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA (2011). Bertelsmann Facts and Figures, Available:

http://www.bertelsmann.com/Bertelsmann/Facts-%2526-Figures.html [Accessed 18 February 2013] 

Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA (n.d.). Bertelsmann Structure, Available: http://www.bertelsmann.com/Bertelsmann/Structure.html [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Berthon, P., Ewing, M. & Hah, L. L. (2005). Captivating Company: Dimensions of Attractiveness in Employer Branding, International Journal of Advertising, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 151-172

Bloomberg L.P. (2012). Company Overview of Bertelsmann AG, Available Online: http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=519888 [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Braddy, P. W., Meade, A. W. & Kroustalis, K. M. (2008). Online recruiting: The effects of organizational familiarity, website usability, and website attractiveness on viewers’ impressions of organizations, Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 26, pp. 2992–3001

Chambers, E. G., Foulon, M., H.-J. H., H. S. & M. E. (1998). The War for Talent, The McKinsey Quarterly , n. pp.

Doherty, R. (2010). Getting social with recruitment, Strategic HR Review, Vol.9, Iss.6, pp. 11-15

Elena, A. (2011, 05 31). What is the future of employer branding through social media? - A delphi study among academics. Univeryit of Twente - The Future of Employer Branding through Social Media: A Delphi study among Academics . Twente, Netherlands.

employerbrand.com (2013).  Using business gaming to deliver an immersive employer brand experience for potential candidates, Available Online: http://www.employerbrand.com/showcase/loreal [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Farrell, D., Ghai, S. & Shavers, T. (2005). The demographic deficit: How aging will reduce global wealth, McKinsey Quarterly, Iss.2, pp. 61-66

Franca, V. (2012). The Strength of the Employer Brand: Influences and Implications for Recruiting, Journal of Marketing and Management, Vol.3, No.1, pp. 78-122

Han, J. (2010). Employer Branding leveraging web 2.0, Master Thesis, Royal Institute of Technology, School of Computer Science and Communication Stockholm

Hesse, G. (2012). Saatkron. 05 May 2012. Klasse Employer Branding Aktion bei Bayer: vom Flashmob zum professionellen Musikvideo: Blog. Available Online: http://www.saatkorn.com/2012/05/05/klasse-employer-branding-aktion-bei-bayer-vom-flashmob-zum-professionellen-musikvideo/ [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Hieronimus, F., Schaefer, K. & Schröder, J. (2005). Is the resource based view a useful perspective for strategic management research, The McKinsey Quarterly, No.3, pp. 12-14

König, C. (2008/2009). Management Crunch, Brand Strategy, Iss. 228, pp. 46-47

Kürn, H.-C. (2009). Kandidaten dort abholen, wo sie sind: Wie Web 2.0 das Recruiting und Personalmarketing verändert, In Employer Branding: Arbeitgeber positionieren und präsentieren, eds. A. Trost, Köln: Luchterhand, pp. 148-155

Keller, K. L. & Lehmann, D. (2003). How Do Brands Create Value, Marketing Management, Vol. 12, Iss. 3, pp. 26-31

Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P. & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, Vol.54, pp. 241-251

Knox, S. & Freeman, C. (2006). Measuring and Managing Employer Brand Image in the Service Industry, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol.22, pp. 695-716

Laick, S. & Dean, A. A. (2011). Using web 2.0 technology in personnel marketing to transmit corporate culture, International Journal of Management Cases, pp. 297-303

Love, L. F. & Singh, P. (2011). Workplace Branding: Leveraging Human Resources Management Practices for Competitive Advantage Through ‘‘Best Employer’’ Surveys, Journal of Business Psychology, Vol.26, pp. 175-181

Maxwell, R. & Knox, S. (2009). Motivating employees to “live the brand”: a comparative case study of employer brand attractiveness within the firm, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 25, No.9-10, pp. 893-907

Meerman Scott, D. (2011). The new rules of Marketing and PR, Hoboken: Jon Wiley & Sons Inc.

Moroko, L. & Uncles, M. D. (2008). Characteristics of successful employer brands, Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 16, No.3, pp. 160-175

Moroko, L., & Uncles, M. D. (2009). Employer branding and market segmentation. Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 181–196

Nagel, K. (2011). Employer Branding: Starke Arbeitgebermarken jenseits von Marketingphrasen und Werbetechnik, Wien: Linde Verlag

Nagel, K. (2012). Employer Branding: Wie Bertelsmann das macht, Available Online: http://derstandard.at/1342139673828/Employer-Branding-Wie-Bertelsmann-das-macht [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Neubauer, Y. (2010). Gero Hesse über Social Media und nicht zu unterschätzendes Suchtpotential, Available Online: http://www.startupcareer.de/32/gero-hesse-uber-social-media-im-hr-bereich-und-nicht-zu-unterschatzendes-suchtpotential/

 [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Schröter, M. (2009, September 25). Interview mit Gero Hesse von Bertelsmann, Available Online: http://www.personalmarketingblog.de/interview-mit-gero-hesse-von-bertelsmann-2 [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Trost, A. (2009). Employer Branding: Arbeitgeber positionieren und präsentieren, Köln: Luchterhand.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. (2009). World Population Ageing 2009, Available at: http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WPA2009/WPA2009_WorkingPaper.pdf [Accessed 18 February 2013]

Weitzel, T., Eckhardt, A., von Stetten, A., Laumer, S., Kaestner, T. A. & von Westarp, F. (2011). Recruiting Trends 2011 - Eine empirische Untersuchung mit den Top-1.000-Unternehmen aus Deutschland sowie den Top-300-Unternehmen aus den Branchen Finanzdienstleistung, IT und Öffentlicher Dienst, Bamberg & Frankfurt Main, Germany

Winston, P. (1999). Brand risk management adds value, Business Insurance, Vol. 33, No. 46, p. 54

Yan, J. (2011). Social Media in Branding: Fulfilling a Need, Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 18, No. 9, pp. 688-696