The Use of Social Media in Recruitment and Selection: Risk vs. Reward

The Use of Social Media in Recruitment and Selection: Risk vs. Reward

By Amber Potier



Social media has rapidly become a commonly used term among today’s society. Most individuals either have one or more social media profiles or have some idea about what social media is. There are billions of social media users across various platforms. Current social media statistics are higher than ever before as established platforms grow and new platforms are developed. In fact, Smith (2018) reports Facebook is currently the most widely used platform with 2.32 billion users, followed by Instagram (1 billion), LinkedIn (610 million), and Twitter (326 million).

So, what exactly is social media, and should businesses, specifically HR, be using it during the recruitment and selection processes? According to Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), social media is “a group of Internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.” The users of social media are both the customers and suppliers of the information on the platform.

Social media has very quickly infiltrated the business world. We can see it being utilized in HR functions such as recruitment and selection, with SHRM (2016) reporting that 84% of companies use social media for recruitment and 43% use it for screening their applicants. However, there still does not seem to be a consensus among academics and practitioners on whether the use of social media is beneficial or how best to use it (Heathfield, 2018). Essentially, research cannot keep up with the rapid growth of social media in businesses. However, without sufficient empirical evidence, employers and HR professionals are left using their best judgments when trying to implement social media within their organizations.

Recruitment & Selection

The Society for Human Resource Management (2016) conducted a survey to determine the popularity of utilizing social media in recruitment by organizations. Among the organizations surveyed, LinkedIn was shown to be the most effective social media platform for recruitment with Facebook and Twitter quickly gaining more popularity. A staggering 70% of organizations use social media to search and screen job candidates while about 48% use it to check in on current employees. 58% of organizations noted that they look for information that supports the candidate’s qualifications. Employers are also less likely to hire an applicant due to inappropriate information or photographs posted on their social media with 40% of organizations stating that they have not hired someone due to inappropriate content on their profiles (CareerBuilder, 2018).  

social-media-1405601_960_720.pngObviously, organizations are following the trend and trying to utilize social media to their competitive advantage. It only makes sense as a majority of the upcoming workforce has some sort of social media presence. However, while it may make good business sense to be where your future employees are, there are potential problems associated with how it is being used, specifically in the selection of new employees. In fact, the extant research paints a bleak picture when it comes to the validity of using social media as a predictor of job performance. For example, Van Iddekinge, Lanivich, Roth, and Junco (2016) found that social media assessments were unrelated to job performance, turnover intentions, turnover, KSAO ratings, and suitability ratings. They also found that there were subgroup differences among the social media ratings. Specifically, there were higher ratings for women over men and Caucasians over African Americans and Hispanics. Schneider (2015) found similar results as Van Iddekinge et al. (2016). Ultimately, Schneider (2015) also recommends avoiding using social media in selection due to low validity.

Potential Legal Issues

With limited validity evidence supporting the use of social media for selection, potential legal implications become important. Generally, the use of social media in the hiring process in not illegal as per EEOC standards. However, profiles often contain protected class characteristics such as race, religion, age, and gender. Even if organizations are not using that specific information when they review applicants’ social media platforms, it can be hard to prove that in a court of law. Removing applicants from the hiring process based solely on information found on a social media profile can be risky, as evidenced in Gaskell v. University of Kentucky. In this case, Dr. Martin Gaskell was applying for an open faculty position at the University of Kentucky. He was a top candidate for the job before someone looked through his social media profiles, where they found information on his religious beliefs. He was then removed from the selection process (Oppenheimer, 2010). Ultimately, the University of Kentucky ended up having to pay Gaskell and his attorneys $125,000 but never admitting to doing anything wrong (Branch, 2011). With increased use of social media for screening, cases like this one may become more common against employers.


social-media-2690966_960_720.jpgIn regards to social media and recruitment, there are no problems with advertising an organization’s brand and culture on social media. Many employers are also using social media to post jobs and receive a higher volume of applicants. However, it may be problematic to make social media the only source of recruiting as that may bring on a new set of problems. For example, if social media is the only means of recruitment for an organization, those who do not have profiles would not be aware of or able to apply to the open positions; therefore, potentially limiting the selection diversity, particularly in age with younger individuals dominating social media platforms.

Examples of Companies Maximizing Reward While Minimizing Risk

Despite all the potential risks, companies do not need to completely steer clear of using social media. There are many organizations utilizing social media in ways that are beneficial to the company. In particular, the companies listed below have used social media to their advantage by marketing and promoting their organizational culture to reach a wider section of the workforce. Notice that none of these organizations use social media to screen or select applicants.

Sodexo - Currently, Sodexo is focusing their social media efforts toward mobile devices and apps to attract talent. They utilize Facebook and Twitter to prompt site visitors to visit their mobile app (Wood, n.d.).

United Postal Services - UPS reaches out to their diverse workforce through their social media platforms. An essential function of social media within UPS is to cast an exponentially large net during recruitment in order to gain a more diverse applicant pool to select from (Wood, n.d.).

The Home Depot - Home Depot uses social media to brand their organization to potential applicants visiting the sites. Across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, potential applicants will be greeted with the same organizational branding that is specifically targeted to recruitment by providing “Fast Facts” about the organization to site visitors (“3 Companies…”, n.d.).

Best Practices

If an organization decides to proceed with using social media within the selection process, there are known best practices that can be implemented. First and foremost, organizations should have a formalized policy discussing the use and goals of social media within the selection process. This allows for hiring managers and HR to know specifically how to use social media within selection. The formal policy should focus on consistent screening and parameters on what information is valuable. Organizations can also hire experienced third parties to conduct the social media screening. This allows for the agents of the hiring organization to not actually be allowed to see any of the protected class characteristics that may lead to legal problems (Wirthman, 2016). It is also recommended to wait until later in the hiring process to begin the screening, at least until after the interview (Wirthman, 2016). As always, documentation is also necessary as proof of decisions and actions taken.

Final Tips

  1. Consider the risks vs. rewards in utilizing social media. Remember to keep up to date with research as it plays catch up with current practices.
  2. Use social media to brand your organization to allow for better recruitment processes. Use the above listed organizations as examples of companies utilizing social media in the right manner.
  3. Be aware of legal issues that can arise from viewing applicant profiles and making decisions based on information found on those profiles. If necessary, use third parties.

 Author Bio 

amber_1_of_1_0.jpgAmber Potier is a second-year graduate student in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Human Resource Management (IOHRM) program. Before entering the IOHRM program, she received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Business Administration from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She currently works in the Dean's Suite at the Reich College of Education using her HR knowledge to assist with various projects throughout the office. Last summer, she worked in the HR Department at Lafayette General Health in Lafayette, Louisiana as an HR Generalist specializing in staffing and orientation. Amber enjoys reading and watching baseball in her spare time. After graduation, she hopes to begin her HR career in the healthcare field focusing on Talent Acquisition. 



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CareerBuilder. (2018). More than half of employers have found content on social media that has caused them not to hire a candidate. Retrieved from:

Healthfield, S. M. (2018). “Using Social Media for Recruiting, Screening, and Background Checks.” Retrieved from

Oppenheimer, M. (2010). “Astronomer sues the University of Kentucky, claiming his faith cost him a job.” Retried from

Schneider, T. J. (2015). Social networking sites and personnel selection: An initial validity assessment. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository.

Smith, K. (2019). “123 amazing social media statistics and facts.” Retrieved from

Society for Human Resource Management. (2016). “SHRM survey findings: Using social media for talent acquisition – recruitment and screening.” Retrieved from

Wirtham, L. (2016). “How to (legally) use social media to recruit.” Retrieved from

Van Iddenkinge, C.H., Lanivich, S. E., Roth, P. L., & Junco, E. (2016). Social media for selection? Validity and adverse impact potential of a Facebook-based assessment. Journal of Management, 42, 1811-1835. 

Wood. K. (n.d.) “5 companies that have nailed social media recruiting.” Retrieved from


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IOHRM program, Departments of Psychology and Management, Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Business, and Appalachian State University.