A bad hire costs employers an average of 30% of that individual’s first year of potential earnings. Keeping in mind the potential high costs of a bad fit employee — not to mention the potential cost of damages caused by a bad fit employee — it’s no surprise employers are looking for ways to make more careful, informed hiring decisions.

One way employers are learning more about their job applicants is through social media screenings. Because this type of screening is new to many hiring managers, we’re sometimes asked if it’s necessary a step of the background screening process.

To help you figure out if social media background checks are right for your candidates, it’s important to understand how the screening works.

What’s a Social Media Background Check?

A social media background check reviews a job applicant or employee’s publicly available social media content. The goal of the screening is to get additional insights about a person that can’t be found through a traditional criminal background check or reference check. Employers use this screening to find alarming online behaviors that indicate the individual could put the organization, its employees or its customer’s in harm’s way.

Platforms that may be audited in a social media background check include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Google
  • Bing

When conducted by a trained third-party, a social media background check follows Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guidelines and ensures employers only learn information that’s legally permissible in the hiring process. For example, a third-party wouldn’t report on information that could cause hiring bias, like information about a person’s sexual orientation. They could, however, report on social media posts where the individual used racist language.

Common red flags found during social media screenings include:

  • Racist or intolerant language
  • Violent or potentially violent language or activity
  • Illegal activity
  • Inappropriate (but not illegal, like nudity) activity
  • Drug use
  • Racist or intolerant language

What Jobs and Organizations Benefit Most from Social Media Background Checks?

While having a thorough understanding of your candidates is helpful for any organization looking to make more informed hiring decisions, some jobs and organizations stand will find social media screenings particularly beneficial. That’s because jobs and organizations that have either a wide-reaching audience or the potential to harm the people they’re trusted to help can face backlash and penalties should their employees behave unacceptably.

We strongly recommend social media background checks for:

  • Healthcare Organizations: If your organization is responsible for the wellbeing of others, it’s critical you know who you’re hiring. Healthcare organizations are already subject to strict hiring protocols; social media screenings give employers an additional level of confidence in their hiring decisions. Not only can social screenings find bad behaviors — like bigotry that could translate to biased care — but they can reveal if candidates have previously violated HIPPA laws (such as posting about a patient on social media) or harmed patients.
  • Schools: Organizations that require their staff to interact with children — like schools — can greatly benefit from knowing how their job applicants behave online. Bad online behavior may indicate a candidate isn’t fit to keep children safe or foster a fair school environment. Preventable incidents involving teachers and school staff can cause backlash from the families of students and the public. A social media screening provides an extra layer of protection for schools trying to reduce the likelihood of their staff causing harm.
  • High-Profile or Public-Facing Positions: If your candidate will have a public-facing role — like a spokesperson, PR manager or on-camera talent — it’s critical that you know what they say online before hiring them. You’ll want to know if they’re prone to bigotry, illegal substance use or harassment before they represent your organization.

Should You Screen Candidates’ Social Media Activity?

Social media screenings offer insights into your candidates’ personalities and behaviors that you may not otherwise learn during the hiring process. If you care about spotting bad behaviors — including those that may not be criminal but could still harm your brand, your employees or the people your organization helps — these types of background checks are a great option.

You can learn more about social media background checks here.