The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Screening

It’s tempting to check out someone’s social media profiles—be it a first date, a new neighbor, or a potential or current employee.

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While in most cases, this “research” is harmless and simply provides some insight into these individuals’ personalities, when it comes to the workplace, it isn’t as simple as seeing if you have the same taste in music.

When Hiring

If someone’s profile is public, viewing it isn’t an intrusion of privacy. However, companies need to realize that using someone’s social profile to inform a hiring decision can open the door for potential bias on the employer’s part. This can get even more complicated when you think about the number of people involved in hiring in this day and age—not just HR screeners but the person’s manager, his or her colleagues, and often people outside his or her team who come in for a culture-fit interview.

In fact, if an employee isn’t hired due to what someone discovered via social media—his or her religion, political views, sexual orientation, etc.—the business can be found to have violated antidiscrimination laws. Depending on how the profile was discovered—and if questionable tactics were used—there can be serious issues of privacy invasions and illegal searches, as well.

A Current Employee

Once someone is hired, social media “research” tends to continue. The entire team may search profiles of someone they know is coming on board or someone whom they will be working with on a new project. This can be as simple as viewing the person’s LinkedIn profile to see what his or her background is like to diving deep into his or her Instagram posts from the past few years. As an employer, you have little control over what other members of the team are able to find out about an employee online.

And this can no doubt cause issues, as everyone has biases he or she brings to the table. Some of this is inevitable and happens outside of social media. But being able to learn about an individual based on his or her social profiles quickly, and without actually knowing a person, can lead to a harder time breaking into a team’s culture, especially if the early assumptions aren’t positive.

In addition, there are potentially many eyes following your employee’s social media presence that may find things offensive or not in line with company values. If these are brought to your attention, before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to get all the facts by having a conversation with the individual in question. Not only can knee-jerk reactions lead to losing a great employee, but there are also legal issues, including wrongful termination and issues with hostile work environments.

Best Practices

Social media is a topic that can be hard to navigate, to say the least.

If you do look at social media profiles of candidates or current employees and find something you feel questions their character or fit with the company culture or values, here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Are you making assumptions? Does any of the content explicitly go against company values—or does it just not sit right with you personally for one reason or another? It is important to step back and really dig into why you believe what you do about a person or situation. Reflect on where your assumptions are coming from. Are they coming from past experience? A personal opinion? A gut feeling?
  • Is there a pattern of behavior? Is there a consistent theme of behavior or attitude, or is it a onetime thing? Do you know the full story, or are you reading things into a single post or comment?
  • What does the individual have to say? Before making decisions, in many cases, it is critical to have a conversation. Questioning is the antithesis of assuming. It is about being open and curious rather than passing judgment. When in doubt about where a person is coming from, ask. Come into the situation with a clean slate and genuine desire to be informed. Share what you noticed and are concerned about, and ask about it during either a one on one meeting or an interview. Understanding the situation before making any decisions will be valuable on both ends.

We highly recommend being open and having conversations with current employees, as well as those involved in the hiring process. Being mindful of assumptions early and often can be incredibly useful and can help flag personal opinions vs. larger organizational issues. Oftentimes, companies bring in conversation training to better equip their employees to have the skills—and the confidence—to navigate situations and enrich relationships.

The bottom line when it comes to issues with social media is to avoid jumping to conclusions and, instead, address issues head on. Be open, be curious, and have set expectations for everyone involved.

Stacey Engle is the EVP at Fierce Conversations.

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