A Practical Guide for Social Media Screening: Keeping it Simple in a Complex World

May 19th, 2021

Male hands using mobile smartphone with icon social media and social network. Marketing concept.

Social networks have developed into an excellent communication channel between candidates and employers. The latest numbers show an astonishing 3.78 billion social media users worldwide in 2021 across a variety of platforms.

Each social media site has its own unique audience. LinkedIn, for example, is the go-to professional networking site for more than 750 million active users in more than 200 countries and territories.

With more than half of the world’s population on social media, recruiters and talent acquisition pros have come to rely on social media as a key part of the candidate screening process. According to a survey from The Manifest, 90 percent of employers use social media to evaluate candidates, and 79 percent have rejected a candidate because of their social media activity.

3 Ways to Improve Your Social Media Screening Process

While social media is certainly useful in screening candidates, it’s important to follow a few best practices when looking at applicants’ social media profiles. In a standard job application, you will have access to a candidate’s resume, cover letter, portfolio, and references. Social media screening introduces additional information to the equation, and you need to use it properly to make the most of it.

Whether you’re entirely new to social media background screening or are looking for ways to improve your existing hiring process, here some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Define the top areas of risk at your organization: legal, brand, or culture? Everyone you hire is someone who will represent your brand, influence your customers, and have access to your company’s resources and assets. You need to tailor your social media screening policy toward the areas of most concern for your business. For example, if branding is your biggest area of risk, you want to look at how candidates’ social media activity reflects their ability to be positive ambassadors for your brand.
  2. Assess your current background screening program to determine where changes may be necessary. Determine whether your program needs to be updated to address societal and/or environmental changes.
  3. Work with a partner. Your screening process needs to be compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal consumer protection law that governs consumer background checks. It can be tough to navigate that compliance alone, and working with a third party can help. A partner may also be able to assist you in creating a process that leads to ethical decisions through proactive risk identification and the recognition of social media behaviors that align with company culture.

Why You Need a Social Media Policy

In addition to a policy that governs how the company uses social media to screen candidates, you should establish a policy governing how employees and candidates behave on social media.

Many organizations have created social media policies for their employees to adhere to. These policies guide employees to ensure the content on their social media accounts reflects their company’s values. For example, some businesses want all employees to use a prewritten statement when describing their jobs online. Others ask employees to add disclaimers to their bios indicating the views expressed do not represent their employers.

It is helpful to have a social media policy in place so that company expectations are clear and your brand reputation can be protected. Work with your legal department to update your social media policy or create one if you don’t currently have one in place.

The Benefits of Effective Social Media Screening

A consistent and robust background screening process that lays out 1) collection and documentation of information, 2) FCRA compliance, 3) information accessibility, and 4) who is authorized to make decisions on the information protects your business from negligent hiring lawsuits.

As employment attorney Pam Devata told social media screening provider Fama, “In general, the same rules apply whether you are using social media or more traditional methods for conducting background checks. The keys are consistency, accurate recordkeeping, ensuring data accessed is not legally protected information prohibited from being used in employment decisions, and that any decisions are rooted in business necessity.”

Social media screening can yield many rewards when performed correctly. It can reveal crucial data that helps organizations make more informed hiring decisions, allowing them to ensure every hire they make is someone who shares the company’s values.

So much has happened over the past year. These events, experiences, and challenges have caused many organizations to be more mindful of the people they bring into their workforces. Adding social media screening to your background checks gives you a window into the people who make up your culture, your business, and your brand.

Vincenza Caruso-Valente is the general manager of the staffing, retail, and franchise business of Sterling.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.