If you’re debating the merits of adding social media to your background screening process, you aren’t alone. A Harris Poll survey found that 70% of hiring managers consider screening candidates’ social media profiles to be useful during the hiring process. Recently, we discussed the benefits of social media screening with Ben Mones. As CEO and Founder of Fama, a world-leading social media screening company, Ben knows both the potential pitfalls — and real-world benefits — of incorporating social media into the background screening process.
First, the potential pitfalls. Correctly identifying candidates’ social media accounts is challenging on its own, but manually combing through them can slow your hiring process to a crawl. For more common names, like John Smith, identifying the correct person can be especially difficult. Ben notes that using advanced technology (i.e. natural language processing and machine learning) complemented by human expertise helps HR staff to filter out the noise and view the most relevant information.
Another pitfall comes from the regulatory landscape. Compliance with federal, state, and local employment and privacy laws is always a top-of-mind concern for human resources teams. Social media screening can reveal more than what you might discover in interviews, including candidates’ views on religion, politics, lifestyle, and other topics they feel passionate about. But because of the wide variety of information that may be shared on social media, it’s important to align your process and policies to meet Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and other relevant compliance laws and guidelines.
As our recent article in Recruiter.com notes, “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.” Certainly, HR leaders need to set a clear process reflective of their corporate values while also establishing what kind of information is relevant, making sure to only consider information as it applies to the role being filled.
Now for the advantages: clear reasons that your organization may want to incorporate social media screening in its overall background screening process:
#1: Meet the Expectations of Today’s Consumers & Employees
A strong, fair background check process demonstrates your commitment to these values. Ben notes: “Modern background checks cover elements like employment history, education verification, and criminal background checks. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. But now we’re finding that employers are also starting to look at the sorts of things that their customers and employees care about.”
Social media is filled with this type of information. Ben encourages employers to consider what their brand stands for: what important stances should it take? By doing so, brands can identify what matters most. For example, when deciding how best to support a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, HR professionals could decide to add social media screening to their hiring process to help detect behaviors which violate specific laws or policies identified by their employers. After all, background screening is about protecting your employees, your customers, and your brand. “The wrong hire could alienate people and make them not want to patronize your business,” says Ben.
This benefit leads to our next reason for social media screening:
#2: Strengthen Your Organizational Culture
A strong workplace culture is all about authenticity: do workers really share your organization’s corporate values? To this end, social media screening helps organizations spot patterns that an interview or typical background check might not capture (for example, extreme political beliefs). According to a recent survey on authenticity in the workplace, candidates and employees alike may act less authentic at work for a number of reasons. In fact, 7 in 10 people said they adopt a different personality at work than they do at home. The survey also found that 3 in 5 people admit to hiding something from their current employer:
- 37% hide their political views
- 36% hide information about their families
Most often, these details are hidden for specific reasons:
- 49% do it so people won’t feel uncomfortable
- 43% do it to avoid stereotyping
- 41% do it because they fear it will impact career advancement
This is especially true for individuals in the LGBTQ+ community and those of different religions, races, or nationalities:
- 85% of LGBTQ+ employees say they have a different personality at work, compared to 64% of heterosexual employees.
- 52% of African Americans have hidden information about themselves or their lives out of fear of stereotyping and 47% out of fear of being discredited.
Interestingly, remote work has a freeing effect, with 92% of people reporting that they were in fact authentic at work. The survey also found they also felt more relaxed (61%) and more inclined to speak their mind (40%) compared to in-person or hybrid employees. Cultivating authenticity across your organization helps HR staff to build a happier, more productive workforce. To this end, adding social media as a component of your background screening process can help maintain a strong work culture. “Authenticity can be a key component of job satisfaction. Employees who feel they can be authentic in the workplace have a sense that they’re valued as individuals and trusted,” the survey found. Which leads to our third reason for social media screening:
#3. Improve Employee Retention by Avoiding a Toxic Workplace
Not sure how background checks lead to good or poor employee retention? Social media screening can be used as a way to help identify if the people coming into an organization might contribute to a safe and productive workplace culture. That’s particularly important now, as companies everywhere struggle with both hiring difficulties and a flood of resignations.
Citing a study into drivers of the Great Resignation, MIT Sloan Management Review notes, “Not surprisingly, companies with a reputation for a healthy culture, including Southwest Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and LinkedIn, experienced lower-than-average turnover during the first six months of the Great Resignation.” And while many attribute hiring and retention problems to poor compensation, a worker’s hourly rate or salary isn’t the biggest issue. When the researchers evaluated 170+ cultural topics, they found that a toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation.
The article suggests that “The leading elements contributing to toxic cultures include failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior.” By defining what’s most relevant to their business, employees, and culture, HR leaders can customize social media screening and empower their HR teams to make well-informed decisions.
Ben explains, “Screening isn’t like a Klout score: it’s not a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. You determine your goal and draw the line to flag what is most critical to your culture, including signs of intolerance, threats, or harassment.” When management hires people who have a history of acting intolerant or threatening towards others, it can have a negative impact on everyone’s productivity and make good employees want to leave. Employee background checks are a good investment. Companies already have an existing focus on employee recruitment, onboarding, training, engagement, and retention. Investing in expert background checks and social media screening can be a great way to support all these initiatives, particularly if it helps attract and hire candidates that support a positive culture.
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