Social media screening: what should employers be looking for?

Social media screening: what should employers be looking for?

Screening and background checks are vital for managing risks, remaining compliant, and ensuring you’re hiring the best person for the job.

Social media screening is a key check that can help to flag potential risks attached to hiring a particular candidate, corroborate work and training details, and gain an insight into a candidate’s likelihood of fitting in with your existing team.

With social media and online platforms becoming a large part of many people’s lives, publicly available online sources can hold valuable information about a candidate that might not be apparent through the application and interview process.

But what exactly should employers be looking for when it comes to carrying out social media screening?

What is social media screening?

Reviewing publicly available sources, social media screening evaluates and flags any adverse content posted by, or associated with a candidate, focussing on a number of factors. These include racism, sexism, hate speech, drug use, general criminality, and any other risk categories that an organisation may deem as indicating unsuitability for the position applied for or incompatibility with the culture and values of the organisation.

The search:

  • profiles key business contacts/co-directors/business acquaintances,
  • confirms addresses and locations,
  • identifies family and friends of interest or concern and freelance roles and directorships not otherwise disclosed,
  • identifies behavioural and personality traits,
  • documents attitudes to work, lifestyle and other pertinent aspects that may influence the employer's hiring decisions.

Why is social media screening important?

Criminal activity 

The most pressing reason for conducting social media screenings is to mitigate the risk of bringing an employee into your business that is likely to be a security threat. Social media screenings identify instances or endorsement of criminal behaviour such as drug use, theft, or possession of illegal weapons.

It can also identify any affiliations that can pose a risk, such as links to terrorist groups, organised crime, or anyone who could expose your business to corruption, bribery, or fraud.

Aside from connections with legally dubious groups, it can also uncover connections with politically adverse groups, indicating a potential risk to your business.

Reputational Risk

Once criminal links and behaviours have been ruled out, social media screenings can identify any potential reputational risks. This might include any instances of racist behaviour or comments, sexism, hate speech, or other behaviours that may reflect negatively on your business.

This can also include adverse behaviours such as stalking, trolling, or harassment via social media. In recent years, many businesses and public figures have suffered reputational harm due to the resurfacing of historical social media posts and comments that have breached accepted social standards, so ensuring that your new hire’s online past is not going to cause your business reputational damage is important.


While not as serious as links to crime or reputational damage, ensuring your new hire is a good cultural fit the company is a smart move.

Hiring a poor fit can cause serious disruption to your company’s performance and hiring costs. Lowered morale, reduced productivity, and higher turnover are all potential results of a poor cultural fit.

Therefore, using a social media screening to check for commonalities and potential sticking points can help to choose a candidate that is going to be an asset to your business as a new hire.  

Who should carry out a social media check?

Employers should be wary of carrying out social media screenings themselves without professional or external help, for a number of reasons:

  • Unconscious bias – if you as a key decision maker in the hiring process happen to see something on a candidate’s social media profile that you don’t agree with, or don’t like, but that wouldn’t affect the business’s performance or reputation should the candidate be hired, this can lead to unfair hiring practices. By allowing someone who is not directly connected with the hiring process to carry out the search, you’ll only be notified of information that is pertinent to the position.
  • More thorough searches – screening professionals use specified platforms to conduct searches and build reports. For example, Reed Screening enables social media checks through a platform that sifts through all open web sources, including, but not limited to media sites, international and legal records, social media platforms, online discussions and dark and deep web sources – only about 5% of which would be available through a standard search engine query.
  • Inaccurate data – the internet is full of misquotes, untruths, and other dubious material. Conducting social media and online checks without a professional platform and training can return unreliable or inaccurate results, even results of a completely different person, if they share a name. This can result in not hiring the perfect candidate due to someone else’s social media history, or hiring a candidate that poses considerable risk to the company without proper screening.

How can Reed Screening help?

With so much at stake, it’s important to ensure that hiring risk is minimised through thorough screening. With over 60 years of experience in recruitment, and over 9 years’ experience as screening specialists, Reed Screening is ideally placed to advise your business on the best way to ensure that new hires are a boost to your company’s performance.