Social media and employment: Friend or foe?

A new report ‘Social Media and Employment’ is a must-read for employers, employees and graduates looking to find their first job.

Produced for the Glasgow Employer Board, the report looks at the implications of social media on employment and recruitment.

The insights, sensible advice and tips on the impact of social media on recruitment and in the workplace demonstrate clearly that both bosses and staff ignore social media at their peril.

In the report’s foreword, Patricia Rainey, chair of Glasgow Employer Group and director of HR North UK, Marriott Hotels, says that the question “social media – friend or foe?” has triggered heated debates around Glasgow. From our own experience we know that it is not just Scottish businesses that are weighing up the pros and cons of social media.

The report quite rightly asserts “the issue regarding social media and organisations is similar to that regarding the internet a decade ago – it’s not if, it’s when”.

‘Social Media and Employment’ covers issues and topics including checking up online on current and prospective employees, how to recruit using social media, the impact of it on company policies and guidelines and how social media can be used to create a sense of community in an organisation.

The section on using social media for checking up on your employees and new recruits is particularly useful – and maybe eye opening for employees and staff alike. Here are three tips to take into account if you use Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media for screening staff.

1. Ethical practice and legal implications

It is quite common for employers to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for checking up on new recruits and existing staff, but they should consider the implications carefully. For example, an employer could be open to charges of discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, sexuality or other criteria if this information can be deduced from a personal profile. On no account should you ‘friend’ applicants in order to access their non-public information.

2. Accuracy of information

You can’t assume that an individual posted the information themselves. Could it have been placed by a mischievous friend or a disgruntled colleague? The Employment Practices Data Protection Code states that an employer should “not place reliance on information collected from potentially unreliable sources.” “Allow the applicant to make representations regarding information that will affect the decision to finally appoint.” The code also states that employers should “only use vetting as a means of obtaining specific information, not as a means of general intelligence”.

3. Checking up on prospective employers

Recruitment is a two way process so candidates will research companies and the individuals within them when applying for jobs. Some students follow companies on Twitter and Facebook and one HR director reports that more candidates than ever are looking up prospective employers and interviewers on LinkedIn.

Have you used social media to check on new recruits or even current staff?

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Carol Arthur is senior account director at Northern Lights PR. A trained journalist with wide-ranging experience in business, education and consumer markets, Carol has worked in or headed up the PR departments of two colleges - the North Eastern Co-operative Society and Northumbria Tourist Board. A graduate of Common Purpose, Carol is currently regional chair of the CIPR, the industry’s professional body. She is a member of the PR degree employer advisory panel at Leeds Metropolitan University. Carol is an active supporter of local charities and the community helping with fund-raising and PR activities.