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Why Your Company Should Not Conduct Social Media Background Checks

By Roman KniahynyckyjAug 3, 2011

Would you disqualify a job seeker who tweeted about sending an x-ray of Kim Kardashian's butt to one of his underlings? What about a candidate whose previous Facebook status chronicled the killing of a pig and goat? Would you be leery of hiring me because I post pictures of myself and my puppy (in matching sweaters, of course) on Facebook?

Social Media Background CheckA recent New York Times article highlighted the trend of social media screening of prospective employees. The company discussed in the Times article, Social Intelligence, summarizes its services on its website:

Social Intelligence Corp solely generates reports based on employer pre-defined criteria, both positive and negative. Negative examples include racist remarks or activities, sexually explicit photos or videos, and illegal activity such as drug use. Positive examples include charitable or volunteer efforts, participation in industry blogs, and external recognition.

If you are an executive or HR Director contemplating social media background screening, take the following into account:

  • Does your company have an existing social media policy? Have you defined acceptable use of social networks within your organization? A recent study indicates that nearly half of all businesses do not have social media policies in place. If you don't have a sense of what's OK internally relative to social media standards, how will you know what criteria to use in a social media background check? 
  • Performance - You ultimately hire people for what's in their head, not what's on their Facebook profile. There are certainly measurable, job-specific skills each candidate must possess. At a broader level, however, you should consider a candidate much like professional sports teams select players - using data and results. Has a player led his team to a championship? How has an executive grown or positioned his organization for success? How would a 'negative' social media background check (however it's defined) affect your hiring decision when viewed through the lens of a candidate's previous preformance and results - if at all. 
  • Shareability - as both sharing and shareability become the lingua franca of social networks, it may be worthwhile to use a social media review of a job candidate to assess their implementation of sharing. Specifically, would the sharing patterns exhibited by a job seeker be beneficial as they move up the organizational tree? Will candidate 'A' have more of a tendency to share knowledge, wisdom, and power than candidate 'B'? Would previous behavior on social networks be an accurate predictor of management aptitude?

Do you think a social media background check would be valuable in your organization? Does your company already have an internal social media policy that it could extrapolate to job applicants? Should social media activity even be considered in a hiring decision? 

Related Resources:

How the US Air Force Constructs Social Media Policy

Does Your Social Media Policy Violate the Law?

Why Doesn't Congress Have a Social Media Policy - With Teeth?

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