Social media snoopers…

Try to imagine your reaction to reading the following in your usual paper or news website:

Major corporation proposes to send ‘scouts’ out to spend 2 weeks with all job applicants to assess their private, social interactions and personal habits. Speaking on behalf of XYZ Corp, Stikma Nozyn, Head of resourcing, said “Despite having a set of existing robust measures to select and identify suitable candidates, we decided it would be better to go one step further and have one of our people spend time with each applicant 24/7 so we can see what they are saying and doing at home and in the bar when they are with friends.  We think the information gathered will provide a much better and more accurate way of assessing candidates suitability for a role and their overall future potential.”

If we had read that 10 years ago there would have been an outcry.  So why, when its happening now, is our response a placid “seems fair enough to me”?!

I’m talking here about the worrying (but perhaps inevitable) trend for organisations to monitor our social media activity and use it to influence hiring decisions.  Its not the first time I have commented on this issue, but it was brought to light by a post from Bill Boorman yesterday regarding another new piece of software called Social Intelligence (Oh please!) that purports to use “a mix of automated interpretation and analysis” to screen out candidates and flag those that appear to have ‘poor judgement’, use ‘drugs lingo’ or ‘Demonstrating potentially violent behaviour’.

As if a human being snooping into persons world and judging them on the basis of random conversations wasn’t bad enough, we are now handing this task over to a ‘HAL’ to sift out the subversives.  Pure madness.

People just are not getting it and many are treating this ‘social revolution’ like its something new and its not.  Twitter is really no different to the chat rooms of the 90’s, only on a much bigger, more open scale.  And twitter in particular is like a conversation in a big almighty bar.

Unlike LinkedIn or Facebook, it has no single purpose or flavour.  One minute I’m talking shop with work colleagues, The next minute I’m having a chuckle about the latest episode of The Inbetweeners.  (Snooper alert – does the fact that I watch the inbetweeners mean I’m a deviant who likes watching teenagers experiment with sex and drugs?!)  Just like I do down the local in the evening or at the weekend.  (Snooper alert – does the fact that I mention going down the pub in this post mean that I have alcohol issues?!)

Aside from the recruiting madness though, the most worrying thing I picked up from on Bill’s post was this comment

“The other concerning thing here is that the service is being marketed for not only employment checks, but also for monitoring employees.”

This single sentence alone demonstrates that organisations are just so out of the loop when it comes to engagement and the benefits of ‘social engagement strategies’.  Or at least those that might buy this software.  Jason Seidon remarks that this is a result of the fear of social technology and I would agree although I would go further and say I’ts an unreasonable fear of social collaboration itself.   The fact that an organisation can’t control the social conversation amongst their employees doesn’t stop them trying.  Perhaps soon they will realise it’s as pointless to try it with your employees as it is with your customers.  And potentially more dangerous.

It’s time we woke up to what is going on here and started to see the benefits of participating in these conversations as opposed to snooping in on them or trying to control them.  And to those who argue its just ‘transparency’, think again.  Transparency is a two way thing.  This is simply no better than the one way mirror in the airport or at the local ‘nick’ (Snooper alert – does the fact that I used a parochial slang term for police station demonstrate a lack of cultural diversity awareness?!)

So here’s the deal.  You want transparency?  Then step up to the plate.  You can access individuals’ conversations on any of their social media platforms on one condition.  They can access yours.  Yes, that’s right.  If you want to see what they are saying about you then let them see what you are saying about them.  That means you should transcribe – or better still, record live on twitter – those closed door conversations in HR or in management meetings (or in the bar after work!) where you discuss such gems as:

“That Bob in accounts, he’s so lazy. He should lose some weight”


“Between you and me, is there any way we can get rid of Jane?  I’m sorry but this whole baby malarkey is just a pain in the a**e”

or even better

“I know the employee survey results show X, but we need to find a way to manipulate the results to highlight Y.”

Not so easy now is it?  Bottom line we have to stop obsessing over the negative implications of social media and embrace the huge potential it has to offer.  Until we allow ourselves to do that, I believe, we will never be able to unlock the true capability of people and organisations.


  1. Something strange here……….. I am finding myself agreeing with you Gareth!

    Firstly in the “You can access individuals’ conversations on any of their social media platforms on one condition. They can access yours. ” comment – like it! (But only with reference to the extremem social searching – normal FB, Twitter and LinkedIn tracking is ok, as it is the same for everyone, if they can be bothered).

    Secondly – who in their right minds would accept a prospective employer employee (who will obviously be a nosey b***ard by default) into their lives, just to secure a job? Seriously – that is taking it way too far isn’t it?


    1. Well thats a first! 😉

      Yes its all a bit extreme in my opinion and worrying that we are using algorithms to flag the bad boys. Based on some of my tweets and blog posts, im not likely to be getting a job anytime soon with a company using this software!

      thanks for commenting.


  2. I struggle to understand the sort of organisation that would buy into software like this. It wouldn’t be one that I would want to work for that is for sure. Have I got stuff to hide? Of course I have, like everyone out there. Because my private and work lives are completely different. And as long as one doesn’t impinge on the other then that is ok.

    I have to say the use of a tool like this doesn’t seem a million miles of something that the Nazis or Stasi would have quite enjoyed. As a final point, I’ll remind people of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”


    1. Theo you make a great point – you wouldnt want to work for a company that does this. And thats where i think this will come back to haunt companies as there is a general movement of non toleration which i think will culminate in some organisations becoming places to be avoided.

      I wasnt aware of that line in the HRA – thanks for pointing it out. I shall use it if someone ever pulls out some of my social media gaffs in an interview!

      thanks for commenting.


  3. Fascinating Gareth! I wrote a post a while back about how social media could help with recruiting and be used in place of a traditional CV, and the range of information you now have available. And then to read there are companies out there making an effort to ‘snoop’ in this way. That’s just bad practise all over the place.

    Interestingly enough, something I’ve encouraged at my company is almost the reverse of what you’re describing. We have a company blog, twitter account, facebook page, Flickr account, bells, whistles and all wondrous things in between. I’ve been encouraging our teams to make sure our new starters know about all those so that before they even start with the business, they have some insight into the culture, how people interact with and talk about the company. It’s working for us, but I suspect that’s because there’s so many of the workforce involved in so many of those social media channels.


    1. Hi Sukh – fascinating. You are one of the few organisations to adopt social media in this way so far. Where do you work? Can you make it to our unconference? I’m assuming you are in HR or internal comms. So few embrace social media in that way – esp the onboarding stuff – it would be good to have you share the story of what you do.

      If not, get in touch anyway. A coffee to compare notes would be good!

      thanks for commenting.


  4. Spot-on blog post Gareth.

    I see many posts covering a similar sort of topic and every single time, all I think is WHY do so many organisations use social tools negatively rather than harnessing its potential? Imagine a collaborative workplace where information was shared socially, ideas were bounced around socially, relationships were strengthened socially… the list goes on.

    Yet EVERY time, all I ever read is ‘snooping, privacy, libel, distraction, time-wasting, vetting candidates, catching people out’.

    Social media is a TOOL – and just like a hammer can be used to construct a house for homeless people, so too can it be used to smash someone’s head in (if you happen to have murderous tendencies). If we embrace this tool for positive use rather than negative use, the workplace and subsequently employees will be infinitely more productive and accessible for good reasons.

    There’s no secret that Gareth is my boss – we are connected on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – the work and Inbetweeners joke examples he cites above I recognise as interactions with myself. Many people are worried that Gareth, ‘as my boss’ will ‘snoop on me’, check out what I’ve been doing at the weekends, see drunk pictures of me. So what? Although I expect this comment to generate some facetious response in jest, I do work hard and deliver projects at work for Gareth – so what does it matter what I do out of work??!!! I think this is a generational thing – Gareth is of the mentality that social and transparency is very much here to stay and accepts this dichotomy between personal and private life.

    Hopefully in 10 years, many more people will have a boss like Gareth (can’t believe I said that) who embrace social and understand that people are entitled to a life outside of their professional work commitments.


  5. I enjoyed your post, Gareth. I think the points you make about organizations fearing social media, and failing to see its potential are spot on.

    To me, there’s a whole mindset in many organizations that implicitly mistrusts people. To use Transactional Analysis language, they work from an I’m OK, You’re Not OK place. We saw it in action last year when whole policies were being written for catching people who could be taking advantage of the swine flu epidemic by taking “sickies”. This social media snooping development is more of the same but on a more systematic level.

    Organizations definitely need to start seeing the enormous potential benefits of social media for resourcing, engagement and learning. AND they need to rethink their fundamental ethos to people. It needs to come from an Adult-Adult, I’m OK, You’re OK place, or it will fail.


  6. I recently wrote a blog post/white paper entitled “Social Screening: Candidates – and Employers – Beware.” After sharing it with Nick Fishman of EmployeeIQScreen, I was directed to the post on SocialIntelligence, which then led to all these other posts. I have enjoyed reading the extended digital conversation.

    I think it’s important to remember that social background checks, the service that SocialIntelligence provides, are only part of the story. Social media is used as part of the candidate sourcing process as well. My thoughts on social screening can be accessed here:

    Blog post –

    White paper –

    I plan to write a follow-up post and will include a link to this piece in it. It’s a great way to extend my ideas and the discussion.

    One of the unique tangents with this post and its comments is the focus on using social media technologies for “good,” recognizing its positive potential. That was part of the primary motivation for my founding the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community in May 2009. I invite everyone to visit to learn more and join us. The Community now has over 6000 people across multiple platforms, but most of them are rookies and lurkers. We could use more dialogue and thought leadership.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, SMinOrgs Community


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