Its supporters claim recruitment via geofencing is cheap, targeted and effective – but are there ethical considerations HR should worry about?
You might already have heard of companies such as L’Oreal, Starbucks and Subway using geofencing as a way to market themselves to specific customers, and wondered what it is. Geofencing basically works by digitally fencing a ring around a specific area in the real world to detect when someone enters or exits that area. So in marketing, when someone from a targeted group enters the geo-fenced space, advertising is pushed out to them (either through an app, a text message, etc).
The fact that everyone has a mobile phone, and so much of our personal information is online, has allowed targeting of specific groups to become far more precise. For example, during the last US presidential election, a candidate giving a speech in support of the gun lobby could push out sympathetic advertising to mobile users within the vicinity.
So it shouldn’t be very surprising that the potential of geofencing for targeted recruitment and locating hard-to-find talent is starting to be realised.
NPR reports the case of John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Florida that was having trouble recruiting highly specialised acute-care certified neonatal nurses. The hospital decided to try a new tactic and purchased lists of potential candidates gleaned from online profiles and educational records. It then set up geofencing zones where coveted nurses live and work. When one of these specialised nurses entered a zone, job ads appeared on their phones inviting them to apply.
It worked! Responses went from practically nil to several candidates a week.
Carol McDaniel, the hospital’s recruitment director, told NPR: “We have invaded their space in which they live and work, so it’s a much better use of our dollars. We’re not just throwing out a wide net and seeing who comes through the pipeline.”
In a case from California, a freight company targeted licensed truck drivers by geofencing rest stops along one of the company’s major routes with a radius of around 3000ft. Messages were delivered to apps with a call to action detailing a signing up bonus and linking to the company’s career page and job posting. The campaign had more than 75k impressions with 330 actions and a 44 per cent click through rate (CTR).
The logic behind these campaigns is obvious. An employer knows what their ideal employee looks like. So if they have information on a person’s work history and qualifications they are in a better position to pursue them by delivering detailed, relevant messages to the right person based on their current location.
Is geofencing ethical?
But what’s to stop employers targeting a competitor’s canteen space for example? Nothing, in fact there is already a name for this tactic. It’s called geo-conquesting and retailers are using it to steer customers away from rival establishments.
From an HR recruiter’s point of view, this all sounds like manna from heaven. From a potential employee’s point of view, it could sound like high-tech stalking. I guess it boils down to how much disclosure individuals feel comfortable with. Clearly geofencing campaigns have advantages for potential job candidates as they can be matched with roles close to where they live.
Comparing the average cost of a geofencing marketing campaign and the time it takes to find the right person for a vacant position using traditional recruitment methods, it’s no wonder that larger corporations are turning to the former.
However, some of the conversations turning up on forums about geofencing serves to highlight the ethical problems that are only beginning to be thought about. On the IOPsycholgy subreddit, one commentator describes the use of geofencing at a large company they used to work for. “They didn’t want to accept [job] applicants from certain zip codes, as they had experiences in the past where individuals living in these location had difficulty getting to work on-time due to traffic and the commute. This zip code was also a predominantly minority area, so you can imagine how this type of policy would look on paper to a court or judge…”
Just because we can target some people and exclude others, doesn’t mean we should, the writer concludes.
Professor Petrina Coventry FCPHR, industry professor and director of development with Adelaide University Faculty of Professions and Business school, believes there are definite moral boundaries of which we must be aware.
“When demographic information is used to profile an audience using information such as race, age or gender and then wielded to disadvantage an audience – either by restricting information or access to services – an ethical line can be crossed,” she says.
As geofencing in recruitment continues to expand apace, the lack of an ethical framework is a cause for disquiet. And the need for regulation to catch up with technological developments is fast becoming an urgent area for debate.