Small Businesses Embrace Social Media Background Checks

When looking for new talent, every business owner wants to protect and maintain a company's reputation and degree of professionalism. So in the burgeoning age of web 2.0, it's only natural that it's become standard protocol for employers to look up potential candidates on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook  and Twitter.

But what employers don't understand is that this background-screening process they think is protecting their business could actually harm it by violating employment discrimination laws and in turn, land them in every business owners' worst nightmare: a lawsuit. And while no business wants to be slapped with a lawsuit, small businesses and startups especially can't afford the bad press or legal fees.

With this is mind, Max Drucker launched Social Intelligence, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company that conducts legally-compliant social media background checks that protect both employers and job seekers. "Protecting the job applicant is protecting the employer,” said CEO Drucker.

In fact, Drucker came up with the idea back in 2010 after Google-ing himself. "When you Google 'Max Drucker,' I do feel my privacy is violated,  but I understand that companies need to do these screens to maintain their competitive edge."

When companies do an online search of a prospective employee, they may take into consideration private information such as race, religion, marital status, familial status, military status and health (pregnancy, disability) that could lead them to make potentially discriminatory and illegal decisions about who to bring in for an interview or hire. Social Intelligence’s reports only include employer-defined criteria such as racist remarks, potentially violent behavior and sexually-explicit conduct.

Drucker gave the following example of an online search dipping into illegal territory: "Say a company Googles a job applicant, finds a Tweet where she announces her pregnancy and subsequently opts against hiring her. Sure, it's technically illegal – but it happens all the time."

By law, employers need to be fair and consistent in hiring. Social Intelligence, unlike random online searches, provides a strategy for employers to conduct fair and consistent screenings.

According Drucker, Social Intelligence is the first company to market that has figured out how to conduct social media background checks in a legally-compliant manner. They've been through a Federal Trade Commission inquiry and make a concerted effort to adhere to the Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines.

Drucker explains the traditional background screening industry is already a $2 to $3 billion market. "We believe social media background checks are just another necessary screen in today's job market."

It comes as no surprise that small businesses make up the majority of Social Intelligence's clients. By outsourcing background checks small businesses save time, money and the danger of discriminatory lawsuits.

Although Social Intelligence offers various packages, the going rate ranges between $20-$60 per candidate check, putting its pricing in line with traditional (criminal, credit, drug) screenings. As far as turnaround goes, Social Intelligence conducts all social media background reports in less than 48 hours.

The increased popularity of social media background checks doesn’t mean applicants should go delete every Tweet, Facebook photo and Tumblr post they’ve ever made. While companies like Social Intelligence may get a bad, "Big-Brother-esque" rep, they aren't exactly looking for red Solo cups. In fact, Drucker advises job seekers that one of the best ways to gain prospective employers' attention is to build a positive online presence through a blog, LinkedIn profile or well-maintained Twitter account.

Plus, if an employer decides not to hire an applicant based on a report generated by Social Intelligence, the applicant receives a copy of that report – and in the instance that information was taken out of context, the applicant has a clear opportunity to dispute the report.

As for the percentage of job applicants who are turned away based on their social media checks, the figures are surprisingly low. Drucker says, "It's in the single digits."

Almost two years after its founding, Social Intelligence boasts more than 40 employees and is undergoing what Drucker calls an "astronomical growth in clients," the majority of whom are small businesses. Still, the biggest obstacle Drucker faces is dismantling the stigma against social media background checks. "All of the privacy guys need to embrace us -- not fight us."

You named your small business, you set up a Web site, and you even started seeing profits from it. What's next? You could set up a profile page on a social networking site, such as Facebook or Myspace. And/or you may want to head to Twitter, the member-based site that boasts of allowing you to virtually shout your company's message from a technological rooftop.

Every week, Fox Small Business Center will highlight companies that are making their brand known through social media. As small businesses, you are on the frontlines of re-starting our economy, and we want your voice to be heard.