How to Do a Social Media Background Check

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how social media can boost your marketing, but social fluency helps in other areas as well.  Today one of our contributors, Karen Schweitzer, shares how social media background checks can help you find out who you’re really dealing with.  Karen writes about background checking for

Social media background checks are becoming increasingly common nowadays, and whether you’re an employer taking a closer look at a potential new hire or an online dater seeking a sneak peek of a cyberspace match–you might gather some information from social media sites that will either give you hope or haunt you. If you’re not sure how to go about conducting a social media background check, the following steps will help guide you along the way.

Notify Job Applicants Ahead of Time

Using social media to check into the backgrounds of job applicants can result in all sorts of legal ramifications if the search isn’t done properly. You can avoid trouble down the road by notifying job applicants that you may use social media to conduct background checks. Have a potential new hire sign an authorization form releasing you of any legal liability should you decide not to hire them based on your social media findings. A large number of people who use sites like Facebook, for example, keep security settings pretty tight. You’ll most likely need a job applicant’s approval to view a social profile anyway–so be up front about using social media to do a background check on them and get their okay before moving forward.

Know Where and What to Look For

Determine the reasons for your social media background check before you begin. Are you looking into the background of a job applicant? What kinds of things might you find that could make or break your decision to hire that particular individual? Maybe you’re looking up someone you recently met on a dating site. If so, ask yourself what it is you hope to find out–and keep in mind that the results could be wonderful or seriously disappointing. Whatever your reason may be for the background check, it’s important to think about the purpose and be open to the fact the results might not be what you expected. Make a list of places you intend to search for background information on a particular person. Jot down a few notes on the various social media sites you visit and compare them once you’ve checked off all of the sites on your list.

Be Objective

What you see when you do a social media background check on someone could actually be very misleading. While popular social networking sites might give you glimpses into someone’s real life, you’re not really getting the entire picture. Friends and other contacts may post things on someone’s profile and although the profile owner can delete or monitor the content, they may not catch everything that gets posted there until it’s already been viewed by someone like yourself. Also, if you haven’t gotten permission from someone to search, you’ll most likely have limited access to their online profiles. If you’re looking up someone with a common name, you could gathering information about the wrong person and not even realize it. Try to be objective when you’re doing this type of background search, and put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. If you’re looking up job applicants, keep in mind that even though someone may have a busy and possibly questionable social life, it doesn’t always indicate that they will be a bad employee. Consider the sources before you make a judgment call and give the person a chance to answer any questions or explain something that you find questionable. If you find that you’re unable to be somewhat objective, ask a third party to do the background check for you.

Doing a social media background check on someone is a great way to find out some valuable information about someone you’re thinking about hiring, dating, or even someone that will be spending time around your children. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to be a contact on a social media site if you want to get to know them better. If they are going to be involved with you or your family either socially or professionally, it’s good to know who they are and what they’re all about.

About the author: Entrepreneur with ten years of experience running a digital marketing agency out of New York City. I work with startups and brands such as Virgin Airlines, L2 Inc (Gartner), American Express, Fabletics, LOFT, and more. When I’m not helping companies increase their audience and revenues, I love to travel, sail, and read. I also moonlight as a bartender at a classic cocktail bar.

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