The much-anticipated film The Social Network was recently released. One interpretation of David Fincher’s generation-defining opus is that Facebook, along with several other lesser-known social networking outlets, may have sounded the first notes of a threnody for individuality and personal interactions as we know them — think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
But the social networking explosion is certainly not all doom and gloom. There is an obvious bright side — particularly in terms of its seemingly endless implications for the business world.
The same week The Social Network opened in theaters, Santa Barbara start-up company Social Intelligence Corp., a screening and monitoring service for employers, launched its unique Social Intelligence product line, designed to dissect the social media activities of potential employees to assess any risk to prospective employers.
President and CEO Max Drucker said the creation of Social Intelligence Corp. was a natural entrepreneurial response to the booming social media landscape.
“Social media is obviously all the talk these days. Well, we identified a hole in the market that there needed to be some strategies for employers to view this information without exposing them to all kinds of discriminatory risk,” he said. “When employers Google a potential hiree, they open themselves up to all kinds of information that is not allowable in the hiring process. Even though they are legally obligated to ignore that information, human elements make it hard to be nonbiased.”
The background screening services market is a $3 billion a year industry in which social media had been a previously untapped category. By exploiting the need in the expanding market, Drucker said Social Intelligence Corp. is not only providing a valuable service, but protecting employees from discrimination, while simultaneously protecting employers from litigation resulting from negligent hiring.
“The employer can no longer put their head in the sand, because if they are Googling for information, they are exposed to discrimination lawsuits, and if they are not, then they are exposed because of negligent hiring,” he said.
The process by which the company obtains and disseminates information is actually two-fold. First, unique software scours the vast array of social media outlets on the Internet — including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, MySpace and even individual blogs — to compile as much data as possible about a potential hiree. Once the data has been compiled, a three-person team manually goes through and reviews every bit of information retrieved, flagging certain information based on employer-specified guidelines.
Within 24 to 48 hours, Social Intelligence Corp. can create a full, accurate candidate screening report, while removing any erroneous or potentially bias-forming information that can accidentally be viewed when using a fully automated system.
Drucker, 36, co-founded the company earlier this year with Chief Operating Officer Geoff Andrews, and the entrepreneurial duo are off to a blistering start, already receiving write-ups in Forbes and Fast Company. Before creating Social Intelligence Corp., Drucker and Andrews worked together at Steel Card, an enterprise software company, which focused on creating Web-based applications for insurance companies. Steel Card, which was also co-founded by Drucker, was sold to ChoicePoint in 2006.
Despite the early success of the burgeoning company, there has been no shortage of naysayers quick to accuse Drucker and the company of infringing on personal privacy. But Drucker says the screening process employed by the company is in total compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, filtering out potentially discriminatory things such as sexual orientation, race or religion.
One example Drucker gave was of a job applicant who had blogged about having fibromyalgia, a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain, fatigue and joint-stiffness.
“This woman had blogged about how it was a debilitating disease that had made it very difficult to hold down a job,” he said. “So, if a hiring manager were to stumble across this information — while they may know that it is not allowable in the hiring process — it would be very difficult to ignore that in the evaluation of the person’s application. So, in this case, not only was the woman protected, but on the other side, the employer was protected, because this person had no ability to allege that she was discriminated against, because nobody in the hiring process ever had access to the information.”
Social Intelligence helps human-resources personnel make informed hiring decisions without any of the associated risk.
“We know that we will come under some fire for what we do,” Drucker said, “but we are really the good guys.”
There is also a manual review process in place as a protocol for all incidents. If an employee feels falsely represented for wrongdoing in his or her social media activity, a manual review by a social media expert ensures consistency, and gives the employee a form of recourse without frivolous litigation. Because company defined filters are used and can be customized, each company will screen for different types of potentially aberrant behaviors and inappropriate material.
Drucker balks at the notion that Social Intelligence Corp. is promoting some sort of dystopian state, insisting that people need to take responsibility for the things they choose to share in their social networking worlds.
“I didn’t create the Internet,” Drucker said. “I didn’t put all this information out there. What I’m doing is simply providing a fair solution for all parties involved.”