December 8th, 2017 | Sterling

What is a Social Media Search?

Social media is used in all aspects of the hiring process from recruiting to background screening. Over 90% of recruiters say that they use social media to vet a candidate before the interview. According to The Sterling 2017 US Benchmarking Survey, 66% of employers do some form of social media screening. In the UK, a survey by and YouGov revealed that 36% of UK employers had rejected a candidate based on their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles, while more than half of UK HR professionals admit that a candidate’s online reputation can influence their decision to hire them.

What is a Social Media Search?

The number of active social media users in the UK is now over 38 million, so it is no surprise that recruiters are increasingly using social platforms as a tool to source and vet candidates as a part of the hiring process. Social media search is the process of capturing any activity on the internet that an applicant has made publicly available and that is potentially incriminating. Vetting social media profiles can provide unique insight into a candidate and may reveal potentially unlawful, violent, racist, intolerant and sexually explicit behaviors that would not show up during the interview process.

Why Carry Out Social Media Screening?

Social media profiles can reveal red flags from a CV as well as evidence of drug use, bad-mouthing a previous employer or co-workers or even disclosure of confidential information. There are also positive characteristics about a candidate that may be revealed in social media posts including seeing if the candidate would be a good team player, if they would have a cultural fit and concise written communication skills. Employers can also learn about a candidate’s goals and ambitions by seeing the professional connections and recommendations.

Considerations for Social Media Searches

Employers are advised to keep the following considerations in mind when processing social media searches. Due to the depth of information available on social media, there is a very real risk that employers can be exposed to information that should not be used to make employment decisions – these ‘protected characteristics’ may include gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. As with other checks, when it comes to social media screening, employers must be compliant with the UK Data Protection Act 1998 (and eventually the General Data Protection Regulation) as well as the Employment Practices Code.

It is a good idea to have someone other than the hiring manager search a candidate’s social media profiles. HR professionals are more likely to know what information is appropriate for consideration and can inform the decision maker appropriately. Employers should be transparent about the screening process by informing their candidates if a social media or other online source is being used to research information that could affect their application. Social media searches should be conducted after an interview. By doing the social media search then, a company is less likely to be accused of relying on protected characteristics evident in social media profiles when they are making the hiring decision. Personal data collected during the recruitment process should not be kept for longer than necessary where the individual was not hired. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office recommends that record retention should be six months.

Using a Third-Party Screening Partner

It is highly recommended to use a third-party screening company for social media searches. A third party social screening solution will only focus on the relevant information that relates to job performance and workplace safety. Whereas, a hiring manager could look at a social media profile and unconsciously (or consciously) make a hiring decision based on looks or post types. There is a fine line between being compliant and looking at information about a candidate’s personal life from their online profiles.

How does an outsourced social media check work? Third parties adapt their searches to only use information that applies to the job. Sterling offers two types of screening: Character or Reputation searches. A Character Search will look for negative behaviours that are publically available user-generated content. A Reputation Search provides a 360-degree view of a candidate’s reputation and includes user-generated content, both positive and negative.

Create a Clear Social Media Screening Policy

With social media screening becoming more prevalent in the hiring process, employers should develop a clear policy towards the use of social media for recruitment purposes, in consultation with employees or their representatives where this is required under the law. Companies should have a background screening policy in place to help document compliance and the hiring process.

Each organisation is unique and requires unique solutions for the hiring process to allow companies to hire with confidence. There are many types of background screening checks from criminal record checks to education and employment verifications to social media screening. Each type of check has specific practical considerations and compliance matters that must be followed. Sterling has many other types of checks that could be important components of the hiring process.

Companies need to determine which type of background screening check is the most important to protect their employees and businesses. Download a complimentary copy of our “Background Screening in the UK-Best Practices to Make Informed Hiring Decisions” eBook to find out more about the types of background screening in the UK.

Explore Best Practices of Background Screening in the UK

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.