Social media screening can protect employers and strengthen recruitment, but needs to be undertaken in a fair, effective, and compliant way.

Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the recruitment process. In fact, 92% of employers now use social networks to find talent, according to research by job site Zippia. This is more than use adverts, employee referrals or job boards, with LinkedIn being the platform of choice.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, 67% of recruiters also say they use social media sites to research potential hires as part of their background checking activities. Some 54% even admit to having rejected candidates based on the content in their social media feed alone.

This situation makes some applicants a little nervous, our research revealed. Just under one in five admitted to hiding social media profiles and posts to avoid scrutiny from prospective employers.

45% thought that employers should not undertake social media checks due to concerns over invasion of privacy. For example, 12% were afraid they could reveal protected characteristics, such as age and sexuality. A further 9% were anxious about their confidential medical history.

Given these concerns, should employers be using social media screening at all? What are the benefits and what are the key risks to avoid?

1. Why use social media screening?

Social media checks are a popular way for employers to understand if candidates are the right fit for their organisation. It fits into the wider practice of employment background checking. Taking on the wrong person can be a costly mistake if they end up damaging company culture and reputation.

Such checks enable you to recognise whether jobseekers have the right attitude and aptitude for a given role. It also helps you determine if applicants could potentially pose a risk to the business. Such risks could include espousing of extreme and inflammatory views, or having been involved in violent activities or previously undisclosed criminal actions.

On the upside, screening can also be used to unearth positive activities, such as charity work, to provide a more holistic view of applicants.

2. What are the risks of social media screening to avoid?

When undertaking social media checks in-house it’s important not to over the line and invading an individual’s privacy. This can happen quite easily when researching personal social media sites, such as Instagram. It is less likely if reviewing professional sites, such as LinkedIn.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that screening involves finding and reviewing publicly available information on an individual. This information should be within prescribed boundaries and correlate with their ability to perform the role for which you are hiring. It is not about actively trying to find skeletons in closets. So be clear about what you are looking for and why.

Another risk to avoid is unconscious bias, unfair discrimination, and adverse selection based on inaccurate information. If you happen to know the candidate or their family, possible accusations of favouritism are a further pitfall.

The issue of bias is particularly marked when dealing with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences to your own. Everyone uses social media differently. The problem is that subjective interpretations of what people share risk being perceived as discriminatory.

3. How can third-party social media screening help?

Working with an expert, accredited provider ensures that all social media checks are conducted swiftly, accurately, cost-effectively, and without bias — by a neutral third-party rather than by your employees.

This is possible because a good provider will use leading-edge technology to form a more complete picture of each applicant. The technology also employs the same standard processes to check the same social media platforms each time, which ensures all candidates are treated equally.

Because all checks conform with clearly defined policies and procedures, providers like our partner Neotas only check social media sites and information likely to reveal role-related risks. The search will not cover an individual’s protected characteristics, such as age, gender, or ethnicity.

All activities comply with local social media screening and other legislation, which includes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the UK and European Union. As part of the process, it will be made clear to candidates that they are to be subject to screening.

Zellis social media screening keeps your employees and reputation safe. Learn how