Balancing the Benefits and Risks of Using Social Media Data When Hiring

By Tony Restell

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The meteoric rise of social media has created new opportunities and challenges in the workplace, affecting each and every department in different ways. The recruiting and HR departments are no exception, with businesses of all sizes increasingly looking to access candidates' social media profiles when shortlisting.

Social Media Candidate Vetting

 

However, with great power comes great responsibility and recruiters need to strike a fine balance in deciding how deep to go when tapping into social media data.

To get a thorough understanding of this dilemma, I spoke to Fiona McLean, CEO of The Social Index. With a background in both corporate hiring and HR, McLean is in the perfect position to shed light on the benefits and risks associated with social media profiling.

 

Why Tapping into Social Media Profiles Makes Sense

McLean highlighted three key areas in which social media profiling can add value to the recruitment process:

First, using social media data to refine the information on file about a candidate enables recruiters to draw up a stronger short-list. They can also more accurately assess whether a particular candidate will be a good cultural fit or not. As covered in previous TalentCulture blog posts, creating a strong company culture is now a big concern for businesses of all sizes. Social media can be a powerful tool in matching talented employees with the compatible workplaces they are looking for.

Second, a candidate's social media footprint can indicate how extensive their professional network is, as well as how engaged they are with their contacts. Although this is especially relevant in roles such as business development, being able to leverage employee connections can be valuable in many different organisations and roles.

Third, social media activity can also provide invaluable information about how a candidate deals with certain situations. For example, recruiters may seek to assess how they are likely to react during conflict or how empathetic they can be. This is potentially a valuable source of insight when assessing somebody's suitability for a customer service role, for example.

 

The Dangers of Discrimination and Inconsistency

While the above points illustrate some of the many benefits of mining social media profiles during the recruitment process, McLean was eager to point out that there were also potential downsides.

One of the main issues of contention with social media research is where we draw the line when it comes to collecting data. It can be difficult to judge which data is relevant to a candidate's prospective role and occupation and which is not. Getting this wrong can have serious implications.

For example, if a candidate has reason to believe that they have been denied an opportunity due to their ethnic background, religious beliefs or political ideologies then there is a real risk of a company being on the wrong end of a discrimination claim.

Another potential problem when looking at candidates' social media profiles is ensuring consistency. Some people are more active and public than others in the social sphere, making it difficult to agree on a consistent and sufficient set of data to use when assessing suitability. A tried and tested methodology for assessment is needed to ensure a level playing field.

There is also the important issue of consent. How do recruiters communicate their social media research process and ensure that candidates are comfortable with that?

 

Setting Parameters with Social Media Research

According to McLean, recruiters should be actively looking to utilise social media research while minimising the pitfalls highlighted above.

Companies already communicate the various stages of their recruitment process (e.g. interviews, selection criteria, assessments, etc.) and social media research can be incorporated into this. This should be clearly tied to the specific requirements of the business and job role to help put candidates at ease and secure consent.

Using a third party which specialises in collating and presenting relevant social media data for recruiters will also help to allay fears over potential bias and discrimination.

The upsides of using social media profiling in hiring suitable candidates are just too important for it to be left out of the recruitment process. Balancing social data collection with respect for boundaries and applying this research in a clear and consistent manner is a task all recruiters need to be engaged in.

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