By Nick Zieminski and Bijoy Koyitty
NEW YORK/BANGALORE (Reuters) - Monster Worldwide isn't looking so monstrous lately.
Shares of the parent of online job board Monster.com are down nearly 70 percent this year, with most of that loss coming since early July. A company that once boasted a multi-billion dollar market valuation is now worth less than $1 billion.
Worries over slowing U.S. and European economies have dragged down employment-related shares in recent weeks, but Monster has fallen harder than peers because it faces a second threat besides a possible double-dip recession: increased competition from social media.
For a graphic, see http://r.reuters.com/jud43s.
Monster serves as an illustration of how rapidly sites like LinkedIn and Facebook are creating wrenching changes for companies in the recruitment business.
LinkedIn's Hiring Solutions business, roughly half of its sales, is forecast to reach $384 million in revenue next year from 2011's estimated $243 million, according to JPMorgan.
With Monster and CareerBuilder together generating about $2 billion in annual revenue, that competition could hurt.
"The revenue impact will be so substantial that they could go into a tailspin," said Doug Berg founder of Jobs2Web.com, in reference to Monster. His firm provides recruitment marketing services for Best Buy, General Electric Co and others.
Companies are building their own career sites and are savvier about using search engines to attract applicants. Microsoft, for example, optimizes search results so its openings are more visible.
LinkedIn and Facebook offer unprecedented access to information. Someone looking at a position at a company can now reach out to the person who has just left that job; an employer can quietly target people at a competitor with the same title.
Citigroup downgraded its view of Monster this month, in part because competition "appears to have become more material more quickly." Deutsche Bank reiterated a "sell" rating, saying pricing appears soft and Monster is at a disadvantage to online peers.
Like many Internet stocks, Monster stock has never approached its 2000 peaks. But even as recently as 2007, the company, which was founded in 1994, was worth more than $6 billion and was considered a possible takeover candidate for Gannett, Yahoo! or Microsoft. Some speculated about a $60 per share buyout -- it traded late on Wednesday at just $7.50.
Social media offers a cost-effective way to find skilled workers who may not be actively looking for a job, while those searching for work can connect with hiring managers or tap their network of contacts.
"LinkedIn is probably the best positioned and probably going to cause Monster and Dice the most problems moving forward," said Morningstar analyst Vishnu Lekraj.
Apart from LinkedIn, Monster's competitors include specialty jobs site operator Dice Holdings Inc as well as CareerBuilder.com, owned by several newspapers, Indeed.com and The Ladders.com for high-income earners.
It has a fast-growing presence in emerging markets, a well-established brand, and, for now, double-digit growth in job postings to its network of websites.
But in the near-term, concerns about slowing growth and pricing pressure dominate. Whether its stock slide represents an opportunity to buy into a company with a solid franchise at a low price or a sign that its best days are in the past depends on how a number of things play out soon.
The Internet recruiter typically signs a large number of its contracts to post job openings at the end of the calendar year and those contracts could be smaller this year, said Avondale Partners analyst Jim Janesky.
"There could be even increased pressure from competition when we are in a more difficult economy because a lot of aspects of social networking (are) free," Janesky said.
Employers feel pressure to cut recruiting costs, but that could ease when and if the economy improves and hiring picks up, he added. If it does not, Monster would have to cut costs and scale back its marketing budget.
Recent jobs data have shown only modest U.S. employment growth and the jobless rate remains stuck above 9 percent.
The competitive pressure on Dice Holdings is less acute, Janesky said, because it specializes in higher-margin areas like finance and energy, unlike a generalist like Monster.
Janesky rates both Dice and Monster "outperform," partly because of their international prospects. In emerging markets, the migration of classified ads from print to the Internet is still in its early stages.
Monster, too, is looking to capitalize on social networks. In June it launched an application, "BeKnown," that encourages Facebook users to refer friends for jobs, or see what contacts are connected to a company where they're seeking work.
BeKnown has won praise for separating personal from professional profiles, but daily active users are down by a third from July peaks, according to analytics tracker AppData.
The company has moved beyond a business model that relies purely on job postings, said Monster spokesman Matt Henson.
"We are moving to a platform-agnostic model that meets every recruiter need," Henson said. "If you're a recruiter and you want an integrated solution, that's where we've gotten."
Monster CEO Sal Iannuzzi has said social networks are "beneficial" to Monster by allowing it to offer more products and said the company can enjoy robust demand even if customers shift some portion of their budgets.
Among job seekers, opinions are mixed: some complain about online scammers or irrelevant search results; others say they found work through the site and would use it again.
Second-quarter results, to be sure, raise no alarm bells about the near-term future of generalist job boards.
Monster's Careers North America revenue was down slightly from the first quarter but up 26 percent from a year ago, partly reflecting its HotJobs acquisition. CareerBuilder's North American revenue rose year-over-year and sequentially and was cited as a highlight of Gannett's earnings last month.
The rapid adoption of social media extends to traditional staffing companies that link jobs with candidates, such as Manpower Inc and SFN Group, which are both customers of job boards and occasional competitors.
Manpower, the world's third-largest staffing company, has embraced Twitter. Chief Executive Jeff Joerres, "@ManpowerGroupJJ," has 1,800 followers and uses the microblogging service to comment on labor market trends after the U.S. government's monthly employment report.
Social media is both an opportunity to market the Manpower brand and, increasingly, an operational tool to match jobs with workers, said Manpower communications director Britt Zarling.
"Twitter is a really effective means of communicating with our candidate population," Zarling said.
Risk-averse corporate HR departments have in the past been wary of pitfalls from the intersection of personal and corporate worlds in social media. They have more likely used Facebook as a defensive check on candidates that can prevent job offers - if, for example, risque personal pictures or uncensored life commentary are discovered.
But more recruiters are now shifting to social media to better target candidates including the more desirable ones who are currently employed, said Abby Euler, product marketing director for social strategy at Kenexa Corp an HR consultancy and software vendor that serves large retailers and energy companies, among others.
Early adopters like accountants Ernst & Young LLP and Starbucks have long had job sections on Facebook. But only about 16 percent of the U.S. labor force is actively online, leaving 84 percent of the market untapped. Euler predicts a huge influx of Facebook career pages.
"Two years ago, people said, 'I can't believe you're telling me to recruit on Facebook. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.'" Euler said. "Now it's, 'Oh, I get it. There's no way we can be a viable company without a social strategy for recruitment.'"
An example of an employer shifting its strategy is Eaton Corp. The industrial giant with 70,000 employees is shifting investment away from job boards and expects to reallocate more than 15 percent of its U.S. professional recruitment budget to social media.
Eaton is actively recruiting through LinkedIn and passively marketing the company, its products and job openings via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Orkut and Xing, said Jeff Scolnick, Eaton's vice president of talent acquisition.
"Job boards are still an important channel and will continue to have their place, but as companies choose where to spend their money, they go where the candidates are," he said.
(Additional reporting by Fareha Khan in Bangalore. Editing by Martin Howell)