Social media has changed how our world operates, and it would be ignorant to think that it wouldn't also change the hiring landscape. But as we enter this new era, the rules for how to use social media when vetting an employee have not yet been defined. And the risks that exist when searching those social media sites are big enough to warrant exercising extreme caution before using this as a hiring tool.
That is not to say that applicants shouldn't still be careful about what they put online, because hiring managers are most certainly still looking - but here are a few reasons why you might want to stop:
Discriminatory Information: You can find out a lot about a person online that you would never be able to ask about on an application. Things like religious affiliations, sexual orientation and race. Unfortunately, there are certainly still hiring managers today who take those factors into consideration - even when doing so is illegal. So if you view an applicants social media networks and then opt not to hire them, you had better be prepared to defend that decision. If the applicant later makes a claim of discrimination and it is discovered that you were able to glean certain information from their online profiles - you could be in trouble.
Applicant Notification: To bypass this, some companies will hire third party sources to run background checks on applicant's social media profiles. In this way, they can be supplied with only applicable information and they avoid the risk of getting in trouble for discriminatory decision-making. Unfortunately, when choosing to go this route you have to first inform applicants you will be completing such screening. By doing so, you give those applicants the chance to lock down all of their information, and you also give the impression that you are not a trusting employer to work for. The results may very likely backfire on you.
Incomplete Pictures: Let's not forget that social media, while an enjoyable tool, is not necessarily the best way to get to know a person. When reviewing social media accounts, you could be looking at information that hasn't been updated in years and is no longer an accurate representation of the applicant you are looking into. Or you could be making snap judgments based on small details of a much larger story. In essence, you could be bypassing quality candidates based on an incomplete picture of who they are.