According to Pew Research, approximately 70% of Americans use social media despite ongoing controversies and the public’s “relatively negative sentiments about aspects of social media.” Among Facebook users, 70% use the site daily and nearly half check it multiple times per day. Since social media use has become a ubiquitous part of daily life, employers need to pay attention and include employees’ social media activities when evaluating risk.  

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Social media presents numerous threats to reputation, cybersecurity, productivity, and compliance. That’s why more organizations are taking a hard look at including social media screening as part of their applicant background check process, as well as implementing effective social media policies in the workplace. In this post, we’ll examine some common social-media-related risks and share best practices employers can use to conduct effective and compliant applicant screening, set policies for social media usage at work, and establish rules that protect privacy. 

Why Companies Need Social Media Policies 

Social media has become ingrained in our lives for both personal and professional use, so it’s easy for the lines to blur. For example, when LinkedIn is used during working hours, does it help or hurt productivity? The answer to that question will most likely vary—sometimes it is used for learning and development or recruiting that helps the company. Other times, it could negatively impact an employee’s productivity if they get stuck in a vicious cycle of reading unrelated posts or seeking other job opportunities outside of your company. Or what happens when an employee shares that they landed a big client on their personal Instagram account before your company made the news public? These are just a few scenarios that demonstrate why it’s important for employers to set policies and regulations to set appropriate expectations for social media usage and conduct. 

However, according to 2021 research by Zippia, 45% of companies do not have a social media policy for their employees even though the average employee spends more than 10% of their working hours using unproductive social media sites. It is important for employers to minimize risk.  

The Omnipresent Risks Associated with Social Media 

One of the most obvious risks associated with social media posts is the impact on brand reputation. It does not really matter if it is posted on an official business account or a personal employee account, we’ve all seen the negative attention that goes along with a misstep. Think Burger King UK’s “women belong in the kitchen” tweet last year on International Women’s Day. Controversial posts can lead to the company’s image being damaged and needing some rehabilitation. In other examples, an employee made an error in judgment that resulted in divulging corporate information before an official announcement that exposed the business to risk. 

Another problem associated with increased employee social media activity is cybersecurity. According to RM Magazine, “The increase in remote work and the blurring between corporate and home networks have exacerbated this problem. Now, many employees routinely access corporate assets via personal networks or devices, which creates an opportunity for malicious actors to conduct social engineering or phishing attacks, for example, via malicious links posted on social platforms.” 

Tips to Protect Your Company Before a Candidate is Hired 

To protect the brand and company reputation from employee social media usage, more businesses are conducting social media screenings or social media background checks before an applicant can officially become an employee. This way, businesses can get a different level of insight into an individual that is not typically found on a resume and potentially find out about concerning activities a person engages in outside of the workplace that could negatively impact employment.  

When conducting social media screens, employers must still follow guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to avoid discrimination. Similar to job applications, employers must ensure that the process is handled in a way that maintains legal compliance. That’s why many businesses partner with a reputable background screening provider.  

Before you conduct any social media screenings of job applicants, here are three important considerations: 

  1. What is a social media background check? 
    It is important to note that this type of background check is not simply Googling a candidate’s name. In fact, it is imperative that hiring managers do not do that at all. To avoid bias, your HR department, recruiter, or other third party should conduct a thorough, unbiased review of a candidate’s social media profiles. 

  2. When should social media screening take place? 
    Similar to traditional background checks, social media screening should take place later in the interview process to avoid discrimination claims. Employers should make their offer of employment contingent on successful completion of a comprehensive background check that includes social media screening. Remember that disclosure and written authorization is a mandated component of the process to remain compliant with local and state regulations. Documentation of the process should also be retained to protect the business from discrimination charges. 

  3. What happens if we find something and want to withdraw our offer? 
    If a candidate’s background check uncovers something of concern, the candidate is entitled to a copy of the report and a summary of rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The employer must also provide a “pre-adverse” action notice, so the individual has a chance to clear up any misunderstandings or dispute the accuracy of a claim.  

Create a Strong Social Media Policy for Your Workforce 

It is crucial for businesses of all sizes to create and update social media policies to provide employees with clear guidelines about appropriate and inappropriate use and behavior. Here are five best practices to follow: 

  1. Build a team from across your company to ensure you respect different perspectives and address concerns of senior leadership, HR, legal, marketing, public relations, and IT/cybersecurity. 

  2. Consider issues of privacy and make sure your policy does not overstep. For example, be mindful of “lawful off duty conduct” laws and understand what is protected speech. 

  3. Clearly spell out what business information should remain confidential and inform employees not to share this information on social media such as personal information about a customer or sensitive company financial data. Explain the consequences should this occur. 

  4. Continuously review policies to ensure compliance with changing federal, state, and local regulations. 

  5. Train employees to understand social media provisions such as anti-discrimination and harassment policies and best practices for privacy protection online. Also provide training to help employees recognize and avoid phishing and other cyberattacks that originate on social media. 

To be successful, employees must understand how their activities and sharing can impact corporate security. A copy of your social media policy should be included and regularly updated in your company’s employee handbook. A well-written, compliant employee handbook continues to be one of the best employee relations tools for businesses of all sizes—it sets the tone for an environment of mutual respect and serves as protection for your company in the event of an employee lawsuit. 

Need Help Crafting Your Social Media Policy? 

It can be challenging to create an easy-to-understand social media policy that is both legally compliant and respected by employees. HR Consulting Services can provide the expertise to produce policies and procedures that support business growth while maintaining compliance. 

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