Check Out Social Media without Understanding the Risks

by Joe Killinger

Many human resource professionals rely on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to find and recruit promising potential hires. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 77 percent of companies use social media to identify candidates for positions. In fact, according to some experts, social media may be one of the best ways to engage with the highly coveted passive candidate, who is unlikely to have posted a resume on a job site.

Yet social media engagement statistics drop sharply when it comes to using these networking sites as a form of pre-employment screening. The same survey found that only 20 percent of HR professionals used social media to research candidates. Those who did tended to pay the most attention to inappropriate or unprofessional public posts that might shed a negative light on the organization in the future.

To be sure, the use of sites like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook for vetting potential candidates is a contentious issue in the HR community. Some argue that the practice is unethical and violates candidates’ right to privacy. Still, HR teams who turn to social media often feel the information and photos posted on these platforms is in the public domain, and it would be foolish not to use it.

Social media releases information that employers are not allowed to consider when making a decision about hiring. Due to the personal nature of social platforms and privacy laws, employers who use it for hiring purposes are at a greater risk for a discrimination lawsuit. It’s very tempting, and mostly legal, to use social media when investigating a candidate or employee. However, what you find and how you apply the information you uncover is what can get you in trouble.

Using social media as a screening tool is all about managing risk. Probably the best way to use social media screening safely and effectively is to find and hire a professional background screening company to do it. A professional firm will make sure the information is treated with the same due diligence applied to every other source, and guide employers to take the right steps in compliance with FCRA.

Ultimately, social media research should be only a small part of the pre-screening process. HR professionals should be sure to conduct a thorough screening that includes a criminal background check and reference check to get the full picture of the applicant. Relying on social media simply won’t do.