Office Explosion: Top 10 Tips for Social Media in the Workplace

As more companies learned about social media tools, they began to devise strategies for researching and sifting out candidates based on their online presence. When this debate first became a hot topic a few years ago, many people claimed it was an unfair practice. Young college students especially thought their weekend partying had no relation to their ability to work hard during the week. However, companies started turning away applicants who didn’t pass the Social Media Recruitment Test.

The debates regarding social media use in the human resource department will continue for many years to come. While job seekers try to capture employers’ attention with complete and impressive LinkedIn profiles, those employers are scanning for red flags that you might not be the best person for the position. A site such as LinkedIn is handy for both recruiters who post jobs, and those wanting to apply for them. Moving beyond the professional network to personal blog and Facebook pages can get a company into some gray legal areas. Here are five tips to keep your company legally compliant, using best practices for hiring the best new employees and keeping them around.

1. Develop a formal company policy. Determine when an online review will take place. What types of information will be looked for and considered when filtering profiles? How do you weigh a negative comment or posting when attempting to judge a person’s character? Who will be reviewed—current employees, job applicants, or both?

2. Hiring – Don’t dig too deep, too soon.

  • When reviewing a candidate’s social media presence, do so as part of a post-interview screening. Looking at an applicant’s Facebook page could reveal personal information such as age, race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views that normally could not be asked. You will reduce your risk of a discrimination case if you interview first. This information should not be used in decision-making anyway.
  • Do not allow supervisors or hiring managers to conduct social media reviews. Treat these as you would any background check by a third-party HR professional.
  •  All candidates must be subject to the same social media check at the same step of the candidate review process. Note this in your formal policy.
  • Clearly document what piece of information lead you to dismiss a candidate after their social media review.

3. Harassment – It does not occur just in the office any more.

  • Consider the ways in which employees might engage in social media as a representative of the company. All formal office policies should apply and be stated.
  • Employees personal engagements online will typically be protected, unless inappropriate comments or actions adversely affect working relationships. In such a case, employers should take some corrective action, even if there is not just case for termination.
  • LinkedIn reviews are a space where co-workers and supervisors are encouraged to comment on personal skills and achievements. Make use of these social tools and mutual recommendations at the close of your working relationship. These are almost always positive and can be moderated, unlike a blog post ranting about managers and co-workers.

4. Disparagement – Tough times make employees want to vent.

  • Understand the difference between negative comments and disparaging comments that raise legal issues. For example, “I hate my employer. The company’s products suck!” is just nasty without supporting claims or evidence. On the other hand, “My supervisor at CompanyX is discriminatory and treats employees unfairly,” brings up key issues that warrant investigation and employee protection. It would be wrong to fire the employee without listening to the specifics of their complaint.

Ultimately, employees’ social media activities can stir a whole lot of problems if they connect with co-workers, managers, or reflect negatively on the company. Human resource departments need to discuss potential issues and methods for taking corrective actions in a variety of scenarios. Naturally, cases will arise that require special consideration because they were unplanned for or there simply is no clear answer for reaction. A solid rule of thumb would be to connect with colleagues on professional networks only. When you no longer work together, but wish to remain friends, it would be an appropriate time to connect in more personal spaces.

Read about all these tips and more in HR Magazine and at

P.S. A completely relevant webinar through the Portland Business Journal is taking place April 26th.

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