Social Media Screening: Pros, Cons, and Tips

Social Media Screening: Pros, Cons, and Tips

Statistics show that currently there are 3.2 billion social media users worldwide, which translates roughly into 42% of the world’s population. 90.4% of those users are Millennials, who also make up the bulk of today’s workforce. It is no wonder that there are more social media recruiting strategies now than ever before. It is a cost-effective way of encouraging job seekers to apply for vacancies, it can boost your employer branding and create a positive candidate experience. But if you ask HR experts how to use social media to recruit, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey, 90% of them use social media screening to vet applicants before an interview.


What is Social Media Screening?

You’ve probably been using some kind of a background check service for employers, to ensure your new hires are all they claim to be. Just because they wrote something on their resume, doesn’t mean you have to trust them blindly. In some positions, such as healthcare and social work, it is even more imperative to make sure you hire honest, trustworthy people. 

A social media screening tool can be an additional way of looking into your candidates, to make sure you’ve made the right decision. The way they communicate with others online, how they choose to present themselves, their professional experience on LinkedIn — all of these are tools that can help you vet your candidates. However, there is a fine line between looking into your future employees and violating their privacy.


The Pros and Cons of Social Media Screening

Pro: It can uncover illegal, anti-social or violent behavior

No one wants to hire a person that could potentially pose a risk to their colleagues. But just because someone has a clean criminal record, doesn’t mean that they have never committed any offenses. A social media screening tool can uncover pictures of your candidates in compromising situations, posts of them being violent or abusive online — all sort of behaviors that they can easily hide during an interview.


Pro: It can verify their professional experience

LinkedIn is the best tool to do so, making sure that your candidates didn’t add anything to their resume to make themselves look better. If they have recommendations from their previous employers, it may even convince you that you’ve made the right decision. With digital and visual professions, such as web design, photography, journalism and more, the candidates’ social media often reflect their portfolio and will help you gain a better view of their past work. This is especially true for social media managers.


Pro: Fast, convenient and cheap

Unlike other background checks, social media screening can often be done by an HR professional, without the need for outside help or additional funds. A simple Google search will lead to most of the candidate’s social accounts. Through Facebook, the employer can learn about their social interactions, through LinkedIn, about their past experience, through Twitter about their opinions and through Instagram about their day-to-day life or their portfolio, if they’re in a visual field of work. 


Con: Lack of reliability

Just like it can help verify some of the information about the candidate, it can also do the opposite and mislead the employer. Unfortunately, it is easy to falsify information on social media, and candidates who really want a position can easily write what they wish. Moreover, not all that you see on social media is written by the candidates themselves. Some may be written by people who hacked their accounts, some may be inside jokes that will be misunderstood, some are angry exchanges with past partners — it is hard to judge these things without the full context.


Con: Unlevel playing field for candidates 

Not everyone uses social media in the same way. Some may be on all of the social media networks, while others prefer to not even have a Facebook account. While those who share every day offer a lot of information for your social media screening, it may backfire on them, and create a situation where you find things you disapprove of.  Does that mean that the person with no Facebook is a better fit for the role? This may not be the best indicator.


Con: May create unconscious bias

When going through the applicants’ accounts, you will be inevitably exposed to their gender, ethnicity, disabilities, age, marital status, and sexual orientation. Even if you don’t intend to, this may affect your final decision, as we are naturally drawn to people who are similar to us. And even if you didn’t make your decision based on any of those factors, it can open you up for legal action, should that suspicion come up.


Tips For Using Social Media Screening

1. Keep the screening for after the interview

To avoid the appearance of bias (and the bias itself), it is best to perform the social media screening only after you meet the candidate in person. It is also advised to give them a proper warning that you will be looking into their accounts, so they don’t feel ambushed. 


2. Don’t take it at face value

Keep in mind that a lot of what you see online happened in personal situations when the person had their guard down and was outside of a professional environment. Try and put yourself in that situation and see if you’d like one picture from a party four years ago to change your future.


3. Don’t use it as the only tool for screening

We said it is cheap and fast, but social media screening should not be your only tool. Combine it with reference checks, background checks, and other means, to make sure you cover all of your bases and give your candidates a fair shot.


4. Outsource, if necessary

There are outside companies that can deal with social media recruiting strategies and more specifically, social media screening. If you are not sure about the legalities, logistics and don’t want to make a mistake, you can always outsource this task. Better safe than sorry.