The risks and benefits of social networking

Starting to utilise social media as a networking and recruiting tool at your workplace may seem scary, but social networking holds the potential to change the way companies across the globe do business. It not only has the ability to help your company connect with its clients, it is also a valuable resource for drawing in prospective employees and recruiting the finest candidates for jobs.

Social networking enables you to get your message across to thousands of people very quickly, which makes it a valuable public relations and viral marketing tool. However, popular social networking sites, such as Facebook®, LinkedIn®, Twitter® and Google+®, can present a hazard to your company and its reputation depending on how you and your employees use them.

Not all publicity is good publicity. It is important to project a positive company image, which you can do through setting up your own social networking account; but it is just as imperative that you control other users’ conversations about you.

Who’s saying what about you online?

Facebook, the largest social networking site today based on monthly unique visitors, has more than 800 million active users. According to statistics provided by Facebook, the fastest-growing group of users is people who are older than 35—which means it is becoming increasingly likely that your workforce is getting involved with social networking. While this has many potential benefits, you also want to be careful no one—whether it is a competitor, former or current employees—is tarnishing your company’s name or reputation. The same holds true for blogs, where damaging content may appear without your consent.

The key to keeping your risk low is identity management. The best way to prevent Internet buzz from becoming a hazard is to monitor the use of your company name. Periodically type it into a search engine and make sure that your official website is the top hit and that nothing offensive comes up in the first 20 hits, which is statistically as far as most people will dig in a search.

If you do find references to your company name in the first 20 hits that could be hazardous to your business or your reputation, you have a few options. If social networking sites are the culprit, consider enacting a policy prohibiting employees from mentioning the company name on their personal sites. Explain the negative outcomes this could have for business and help employees understand how acting as poor representation of the company through scandalous photos or negative comments on a social networking site could affect them directly.

Negative and harmful comments

If negative or derogatory comments about your company have seeped into other sites outside the control of your employees, however, the risk to your business is even greater. What’s more, this type of hazardous publicity is more difficult to manage. One approach is to flood the Internet with positive information about your company so that the negative write-ups are no longer within the top search results. Contacting sites and asking them to remove fictitious and defamatory material is another option.

If you have a serious public relations issue and your company’s reputation or legitimacy is on the line because of material on the Internet or social networking sites, it could cost you thousands of pounds in lost business. Consider hiring an identity management company, which will help organise, analyse and control the information about you that appears on the Internet.

Social networks and screening candidates

The practice of using social networking sites to further research potential employees and weed out candidates based on content in these sites is risky. Not only does it cause you to dabble in issues of legality, but it also could place you in thorny situations when it comes to personal differences you become aware of via social networking tools. A 2009 study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com revealed that 45 per cent of employers are already using social networking sites to screen job candidates. This is nearly double the number of employers who did this one year ago. Before you engage in this practice, know what types of hazards you face.

By using social networking sites as a filtering tool, you are exposing yourself to potential lawsuits. Many users post personal information such as their religion and age. Even if you decide not to hire them for legal reasons, such as improper educational qualifications, the candidate could accuse you of basing the decision not to hire on information obtained from their social networking site.

When it comes to looking on the Internet for information on potential job candidates, you should consider talking with your co-workers to come to the best solution. There is no right or wrong answer regarding whether Internet research on candidates is a good idea, so it is up to your company to weigh the options. Whatever you choose, remember to examine the underlying risks and consider all feasible scenarios and outcomes to make the most informed decision possible.

Please contact us for more information about this increasingly popular trend.