the space betweenWhen the ball dropped on 2012, we weren’t just ringing in the New Year — we were also ringing in a start to social media privacy laws in the workplace. Many of these laws were passed in 2012 but only went into effect when the clock struck midnight on January 1st. Indeed, 2013 will be the year when employers and employees will need to worry about how social media interacts with the workplace.

At the start of 2013, Michigan joined five states in protecting the rights of workers to retain access to their social media passwords. It was already illegal in New Jersey, California, Illinois, Delaware, and Maryland to ask potential or current employees for their social media passwords.

Social media has become a huge part of the talent search, with a survey from Jobvite showing 92 percent of recruiters using the networks to find candidates in 2012. So how do you balance your need to use social tools with these new privacy laws?

Here are some things to keep in mind in 2013 as you take to the social web for talent:

Never ask for a password
The most important part of these new laws protect a worker’s right to social media privacy. You might wonder about what your applicant is saying on their private social networks, but you can’t ask for a password to find out. The laws protect applicants and employees’ social media from the prying eyes of bosses and hiring managers.

Recruiters and hiring managers aren’t just curious gossip hounds. The reason many seek entry into personal social media is because it can often backfire in a company’s face. Companies have found themselves minus an employee when a worker posted something inappropriate or even incendiary on a social media channel. Many hope to find out before hiring a candidate if their postings will reflect negatively on the company.

However, there is no situation in which asking an applicant for a social media password will fly. Even if you’re not located in one of the six states with legislation, it’s likely other states will be following suit. And more important, the negative candidate experience of being forced to submit a private password will likely drive more talent away from your company than protect it from future harm.

If it’s public, it’s fair game
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t look at a candidate’s social media profiles at all. Nearly two in five companies use social media to research potential employees. With social media becoming a more prevalent part of our everyday lives, this number is sure to rise.

If a candidate has left their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media profile pages open to the public, it’s fair game to check it out. You can use these public profiles to see if the job seeker is posting inappropriate content or if they’re using social media to build their own personal brand.

Indeed, looking at a candidate’s social media profiles might actually help you find the great talent you need for your company. Many candidates are savvy enough to use social media not just to chat with friends but to connect with hiring managers and to show off what they can bring to an organization.

Smart job seekers will even link additional information on their candidacy like work portfolios and video resumes where you can see their personality and communication skills. Social media isn’t always a hotbed of controversy and the best candidates know how to use it to their advantage.

Don’t be afraid of new technology 
Social media has been around for a little while, but it’s still a growing technology and therefore we will still be ironing out the finer details on how to use it in the hiring process. This, however, doesn’t mean we should totally abandon utilizing social media or other emerging technological tools.

New technology is here to help us cut down time-to-hire, connect more personally with applicants, and get the right people into open positions. Just like anything, there will be some hiccups and bumps along the way. Whether you’re using video interviews in your hiring process or sourcing candidates through Twitter, embracing new technology is the only way to move forward.

It’s just important to know how to utilize this new technology without taking advantage of the system. Focus on what candidates put out in public and don’t demand access to their private networks. In today’s more open technological landscape, most candidates are saying everything you’d need to evaluate them out in the open. And candidates who lock down their social profiles are smart enough to be circumspect in their online dealings and should be treated with the respect they deserve.

What are some ways you use social media to find great people? How are you careful you’re using social media the right way? Share in the comments!

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