Nearly everyone is using some form of social networking today. From Facebook to MySpace and LinkedIn to Twitter, there are many online resources that provide personal information about its members.

From a business perspective, some of these sites contain information that can positively or negatively impact your decisions about a potential employee. In essence, you can use social networks to conduct employee background checks. There are several different factors that you should consider before turning to social networks as a source of information on candidates for your job vacancies.

A Low-Cost Alternative

Using social networks to conduct employee background checks is a cheap and easy way to find information about prospective hires. If your small business doesn't have the time, money or resources to invest in professional background checks, then social networks might be an appropriate solution for you.

Work-Life Balance

Your employees are entitled to a sense of balance between their personal and professional lives. What they do outside the workplace is their choice to make, and you may discover things about potential candidates' personal lives that would never arise in a job interview with social networking websites. Keep in mind that it's important for everyone to have a healthy work-life balance. Social networks are a part of that balance for the people you are interviewing, and they are entitled to a certain degree of liberty and freedom.

Ethics and Social Networks

Social networks may contain personal information about potential employees. There are certain facts that should not influence your hiring practices. For example, information on social networks regarding marital status, sexual orientation, race, class or gender cannot be used when making a hiring decision. Having access to such information may have a negative impact on your ability to make objective decisions about who you want to hire and why. If you turn to social networks as a source of background information on employees, be sure to keep ethical and legal issues in mind.

Social networks should never be used as a sole source of information. You should always contact personal and professional references in addition to any background check. Remember that the ideal candidate may not have a picture perfect record. Regardless of what you might find on social networks, weigh skills, attributes, accomplishments and education carefully before making any hiring decisions.